The Fair Garb by Kevin Beckoff


In this week’s Parsha, Parshat Tetzaveh, Bnei Yisrael are commanded to make a breastplate for the Kohen Gadol to wear as part of his priestly garb.  The Torah presents a very strange title for this breastplate: “Choshen Mishpat,” a “breastplate of justice” (28:15).  The Chachamim comment in Gemara Zevachim (88b) that the reason for this conglomerated title is that the breastplate was intended to atone for the “miscarriage of justice.”

In defining what this ambiguous sin is, the Akeidat Yitzchak presents four fundamental factors that can corrupt justice and how the breastplate directly compensated for and related to them.  He posits that the first item is favoritism.  Favoritism is usually evoked for someone of great wealth or erudition and is to be avoided as the Torah states (Devarim 1:17), “Do not show favoritism in judgment.”  By arranging the names of the tribes in order of birth, and not importance, the breastplate served as a Tikkun, a correction and preventative measure, for the problem of favoritism in legal disputes.  The second item, opines the Akeidat Yitzchak, is the judge’s disparagement of the case as being too petty a (financial) dispute to bother wasting his time judging it.  The Torah undoubtedly forbids such an attitude when it states (Devarim 1:17), “You shall consider the small matter just as the great matter.”  Because all the stones placed in the breastplate were of equal importance despite their true monetary value, the breastplate again served as a Tikkun.  Quite the opposite of the case of a judge’s condescension is the third scenario, whereby a judge is frightened of one of the litigants; this fear is also forbidden expressly by the Torah.  To alert the judges to “have no fear” from any being other than Hakadosh Baruch Hu, the sacred name of Hashem is engraved in the breastplate.  Finally, the fourth “miscarriage” is error due to lack of knowledge.  As such, the breastplate had within it the Urim VeTumim, a direct medium of communication with Hashem for receiving definitive answers to the most difficult questions.

Nowadays, with the absence of such constant reminders, the challenge to pursue proper justice is even more daunting.  It is important to not despair, but rather to realize what the Choshen Mishpat represented and to chase those great ideals of fairness.

--Adapted from Talelei Oros

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