In Parashat VaYakheil, after being discussed already in both Parashiyot Terumah and Tetzaveh in far greater detail, the Avnei Milu’im are once again mentioned. There were twelve Avnei Milu’im -- the stones set into the Kohen Gadol’s breastplate. There were four rows, each containing three of these precious stones. Each stone was different from the next, had the name of a different Sheivet engraved upon it, and each stone itself had its own special name (e.g. Odem, Pitdah, and Bareket). While the Torah goes so far as to provide names for each of the precious stones, it does not so much as offer the smallest hint as to where they were to be found.
The Gemara (Yoma 75a) states that the stones were brought to a select group of individuals by the Ananei HaKavod. They could simply appear inside one’s home overnight at no expense and without any effort involved whatsoever, unlike almost all of the other items donated to the Beit HaMikdash. Gold, silver, and other precious metals had to be paid for. The wood that was burned on the Mizbei’ach involved many long hours of toil and sweat in foresting and delivering it to the Beit HaMikdash. But unlike all of these other items, the Avnei Milu’im were simply delivered by the Ananei HaKavod, free of charge and effort.
There is one specific person whom we know received one of these Avnei Milu’im. Ulah, an Amora, records (Kiddushin 31a) the story of one gentile named Dama Ben Netina. Ulah tells how his father owned one of these precious stones, and the Chachamim approached Dama while his father slept to ask him for the stone. They offered him six hundred thousand gold coins for this one stone which lay in a chest; the only issue was that the key to the chest lay beneath the head of his sleeping father. To get the key to open the chest, he would have had to wake his father, a violation of Kibbud Av.
The Yerushalmi (Kiddushin 1:7) asks why he didn’t simply smash the chest and take the stone without waking his father, and answers that while the key was beneath the head of the father, the chest was beneath his feet, and so smashing the chest would also wake him up. A year later, the Rabbis came back to Dama, for yet another miracle had happened in reward of his act of Kibbud Av -- a Parah Adumah had been born in his flock. When the Chachamim offered him any monetary compensation for the calf, he told them that he just wanted the six hundred thousand gold coins that he had lost out on for his act of Kibbud Av. Ulah uses this story of Dama Ben Netina to describe the extent of the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av Va’Eim.
There is something interesting about the two objects that happened to appear for Dama Ben Netina; the Avnei Milu’im (as mentioned before) and the Parah Adumah were both different from nearly all other objects in the Beit HaMikdash. The Torah in this week’s Parashah describes the law of the Parah Adumah as the “Chukat HaTorah”, “the unexplainable law of the Torah” (BeMidbar 19:2). This unexplainable law would allow those who were Tamei Meit (impure from contact with a corpse) to become pure again, and it is known as one of, if not the, greatest of all the Chukim in the Torah. This newfound purity would enable Klal Yisrael to become closer to Hashem. Likewise, the Avnei Milu’im were not only incredibly precious stones, but they were a medium through which the Kohen Gadol would communicate with Hashem, and ask Him questions that nobody else could answer. These two items were incredibly unique, and they each had their own special way of connecting the Jews to Hashem: the stones as a way of asking questions, and the Parah Adumah as a method of purification, so that we may come closer to Hashem.
It is fitting that these two items are used together in the case of Dama Ben Netina to describe the extent of Kibbud Av Va’Eim. This Mitzvah is special in its own sense -- it is the only Mitzvah that seems to be between man and his fellow, yet is considered one of the five Aseret HaDibrot that is Bein Adam LaMakom. The most well-known explanation for this dual-orientation (Kiddushin 30b) is that Hashem, a mother, and a father are all partners in creating and raising a child. Perhaps the story of Dama Ben Netina can further emphasize this point. The stones of the Choshen and the Parah Adumah, which bring us closer to Hashem, are the same items which are used to describe the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av Va’Eim. The fundamental shared nature of these items elaborates the true extent of Kibbud Av Va’Eim by highlighting its importance and fundamental connection to the Mitzvot Bein Adam LaMakom.