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What did that breastplate just say?

February 11th, 2022 | 10th of Adar I, 5782 | Tetzavah תְּצַוֶּה


Dear Beit Rabban Community,

Reading our first ever edition of Beit RaBanter, the middle school's human interest magazine, I came across an excellent dvar torah. Seventh grader Ethan Weiss reflected on Josephus' description of the Chosen Mishpat, the High Priest's "Breastplate of Decision," relative to the description in this week's parashah. Parashat Tetzaveh describes the Chosen Mishpat as having twelve brightly colored gems embedded within it, and covering the mysterious Urim veTummim. This breastplate was attached to the Cohen Gadol's garment, called the ephod. The Torah does not exactly explain how this breastplate of decision worked, but it is traditionally understood to have been a sort of communication portal with God. The stones would light up to communicate different messages for the Cohen Gadol to decipher.

Inspired, I donned my DIY Chosen Mishpat, all decked out with fairy lights and a switch hidden beneath my ephod. I visited each class to give blessings and also offer the opportunity for students to try to decipher Hashem's message to them through the egg carton "stones” on my breastplate. Interestingly enough, many of our students saw a clear message that school should end early today. I explained that it can be hard to understand the message conveyed by the lighting of the different stones and sometimes a person can misunderstand, even see what they want to see.

In fact, when is it easy to decipher God's message? The times I feel most confident in my understanding of the "grand plan" as it relates to a particular decision are precisely those times that others feel equally confident in their understanding that is at direct odds with mine. Wouldn't it be great if these messages were delivered more directly and unambiguously. Alas, that was not even the case in the original God to human walkie-talkie design: even the Choshen Mishpat was set up to require translation/interpretation.

The past number of years have felt particularly strife-ridden, with vastly contrasting interpretations of the same circumstances. The pandemic added another axis of controversy for society to contend with on macro and micro levels. Each question that the pandemic raises poses an opportunity for vastly different interpretation and heated disagreement: masking, social distancing, vaccinating, and now unmasking. As society moves more toward unmasking, I worry anew about how our country, and even our community, will navigate differences of opinion. Some will allow political agendas to guide their interpretations, but most of us who disagree will simply understand the data differently from one another, or have differing appetites for risk.

What we don't have is the luxury to remain undecided. As I and our Medical Advisory Committee continue to make decisions for the community, I am acutely aware that these decisions will not feel right to everyone. And while I will always uphold these decisions for our community, I am also committed to remembering that everyone in our community is trying their best to do what they think is right.

As our community navigates this welcomed and confusing move back toward pre-pandemic norms, I hope we can remember that those who disagree with us may be looking at the same lit stones and interpreting them differently.

Wishing you all a restful and rejuvenating Shabbat,

Stephanie

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