The Original Game of Anagrams By Leo Metzger


In Parashat Tetzaveh, amongst the many unique things that are to be crafted for the Mishkan, the Choshen, breastplate, is listed. It is to be made using various precious metals and twelve flawless gems, ranging from cobalt to diamond.

The Pasuk states, “VeHaAvanim Tihyena Al Shemot Bnei Yirael Sheteim Esrei Al Shemotam...Ish Al Shemo Tihyena LiShnei Asar Shavet,“The stones shall be according to the names of the sons of Israel twelve according to their names; each by his name, they shall be the twelve tribes” (Shemot: 28:21).

The Gemara (Yoma 73b) tells us that when the Kohein Gadol, the high priest, needed heavenly guidance on a particular issue, he would consult the Choshen. The Choshen would light up an assortment of Hebrew letters which he would decode and unscramble to get his answer. The Gemara asks: How is this possible? The names of the Shevatim do not contain all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet! The Gemara responds that on the Choshen there were also the names of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, as well as “Shivtei Yeshurun,” “tribes of Yeshurun.” When the Gemara begins asking about the missing letters, though, it does not start with the one closest to the beginning of the alphabet, but with one towards the end. It starts with the letter Tzadi, and only after it gets an answer to this does it ask about the letter Tet. Why would the Gemara do this? The answer is found in the Kehillat Yitzchak quoting an unknown Gadol. The Gemara assumed originally that the names of the stones, not the tribes, were listed on the Choshen due to the language of the Pasuk. Upon discovering that it was not so, they realized that the Tet was missing. This led them to say that the Tribes of Yeshurun were also listed on the Choshen.

One of the many instances in which someone used the Choshen is when Eli sees Chanah, the mother of Shmuel HaNavi, praying silently in the Mishkan. At that point in time, there was no concept of praying silently with only one’s lips moving. Eli thinks she is drunk, and being drunk in the Mishkan is a crime. Therefore, Eli asks the Choshen what he should do, so as not to falsely accuse her of being a drunk. The Choshen responds to his question with the letter Shin, Hey, Chuf, and Reish. These were supposed to spell “Kesheirah,” “she is justified.” Eli misinterpreted the letters to be “Shikorah,” meaning “drunk.” After Chanah convinced Eli she was indeed praying, he gives her a blessing that her prayers should be answered. Her prayer is that if she gave birth to a son, his life would be dedicated to work in the Mishkan. As a result of this blessing, Chana gives birth to Shmuel. Shmuel is later sent to the Mishkan to fulfill the mission that his mother had given to him when praying to Hashem.

This teaches us that even great people can make mistakes, just as Eli did when assessing Chana’s true intentions. It also comes to show that just as in anagrams, there are many ways to look at the same thing, there are many different angles from which to examine the Torah. We may find something completely new that no one else has ever seen, and eventually go on to reach great heights of Torah and learning.

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