of the Priestly Breastplate
and annotated from Sefer Baal Shem Tov by Rabbi Eliezer Shore
posted on KabbalaOnline.org)
shall bear the names of the Children of Israel on the Breastplate of Judgment
upon his heart, when he goes into the holy place, for a memorial before G-d continually.
And you shall put in the Breastplate of Judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and
they shall be upon Aaron's heart, when he goes in before G-d...." (Ex. 28:29-30)
is known that the Breastplate barely contained all twenty-two letters of the Hebrew
alphabet, as our sages have said.
There were twelve precious
stones set in the Breastplate of Judgment. They were engraved with the names of
the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the names of the twelve tribes, and
the words "tribes of Yeshurun". Certain letters, such as the gimel or
the zayin, were written only once.(Yoma 73b)
of Judgment was a prophetic device, worn by the High Priest, through which questions
could be asked of G-d. When the king or the High Court (Sanhedrin) would ask a
question, the priest would see various letters sparkle or bulge out. Using Divine
Inspiration, he would then be able to combine the letters to spell out the answer.
Therefore, when they had to ask a question that used several
of the same letters, such as "Should I go to Bavel", how were they answered?
The question "Should I go to Bavel?" contains two
letters beit, and three lameds. However, it is likely that the author was only
using this as an example of a phrase with repeating letters, because there were
at least five beits and four lameds in the Breastplate - enough to spell out these
There is a very great mystery in this . . . I heard
from my grandfather [the Baal Shem Tov], that each of the twenty-two letters [of
the Hebrew alphabet] contains within it all the other letters of the alphabet
(except for the letter mem).
These can be attained by spelling out each
letter in full. For instance, writing out the letter alef in full provides a lamed
and a pei. Furthermore, each of these letters can be further expanded, to produce
even more letters, until the entire Hebrew alphabet is reconstituted. The exception
to this phenomena is the letter mem, which when written in full will not produce
any additional letters. (Original editor's note)
commanded that all twenty-two letters be inscribed on the Breastplate, when the
priest would be enwrapped in Divine Inspiration, the letters would shine in their
expanded forms. This enabled them to receive everything they needed to know. Understand
This is the meaning of "onyx stones and stones to
be set [in Hebrew, 'Avnei miluyim'], for the ephod, and for the breastplate".
"Avnei miluyim", can be read alternatively
as "stones that are filled out" - meaning that the engraved letters
shone in their expanded forms.
In a number of other lessons
on this theme, the Baal Shem Tov explains that additional letters can be derived
from a single letter by using the techniques of gematria, or by dividing the letters
into their component parts. It is possible that those approaches were originally
mentioned with this lesson, since there are a number of other letters, such as
the gimel, zayin, chet, tet and samech that could never be derived from the other
letters, no matter how many times they are spelled out. (See Baal
Shem Tov on the Torah, parashat Yitro, fn. 11, for more on this subject.)
Machane Ephraim, Likutim]
Yisrael Baal Shem Tov ["Israel, Master of the Good Name (of G-d),"
1698-1760], a unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed the Chassidic
movement and his own identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday,
18 Elul 1734. He passed away on the festival of Shavuot in 1760. He wrote no books,
although many claim to contain his teachings. (Also referred to as "the BeShT",
from an acronym of Baal Shem Tov.)
Eliezer Shore studied in yeshivot in New York and Israel for many years,and
received rabbinic ordination. He currently lives in Jerusalem, where he is a writer,
storyteller, and Torah teacher.