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Ureem and Tumeem: A Model of Brotherly Love

  • Ureem and Tumeem: A Model of Brotherly Love

    T'tzaveh, Exodus 27:20−30:10
D'var Torah By: 

Aaron and Moses: Two brothers with two different paths to greatness. Aaron was a prophet, preacher, and visionary, yet it was Moses, his younger brother, who was selected by God to lead the Israelites. Their relationship could have developed into a sibling rivalry without equal. It could have followed the pattern of their ancestors: Cain who killed Abel, Jacob who tricked Esau, and Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers. But according to the midrash, no animosity existed between Moses and Aaron. In fact, the midrash tells us, theirs was an exemplary relationship. Although the two brothers vied for the same leadership position, they never acted out of jealousy but instead rejoiced in the other's accomplishments and lauded the other's achievements.

When God tells Moses that it is he, not Aaron, who was chosen to address Pharaoh, Moses replies, "Please, Adonai, make someone else Your agent." (Exodus 4:13) The midrash questions Moses' reply, asking, "Do you suppose that Moses held back because he did not wish to go?" And answering its own question, the midrash continues, "Not at all. He spoke as he did only out of respect for Aaron." So Moses said to God: "'Aaron has been prophesying to Israel during all those years. Am I now to enter my brother's domain and he be meant to grieve?'" And it is only after God reassures Moses that Aaron would not be envious of him that Moses agrees to return to Egypt. Although it was Moses who was chosen to lead the people's Exodus from Egypt, Aaron was also destined to assume an important role.

In this week's Torah portion, T'tzaveh, we are told in great detail about the distinctive garments that Aaron is commanded to wear when he assumes the role of High Priest: "These are the vestments they are to make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash." (Exodus 28:4) The text seems clear enough: In fact, the Torah goes on to describe the colors, fabrics, and design for each garment and to delineate in great detail the craftsmanship required for creating the breastpiece. The breastpiece that Aaron wears is called the breastplate of decision: "Inside the breastplate of decision, you shall place the Ureem and Tumeem so that they are over Aaron's heart when he comes before God. Thus Aaron shall carry the instrument of decision for the Israelites over his heart before Adonai at all times." (Exodus 28:30)

We know little about the Ureem and Tumeem. It appears that the authors of the text were so familiar with these oracular stones that no further explanation was necessary. It seems the Ureem and Tumeem were divination stones or lots that were cast to make important decisions and to predict the future. Joshua used such stones to decide whether or not to send the people to war. (Numbers 27:21) Saul turned to these stones for military advice on two occasions. (I Samuel 14:41-42 and 28:6)

The breastplate of decision, the Ureem, and the Tumeem were important parts of the priestly vestments. Why? The midrash provides an answer: "R. Simeon ben Yohai said, 'The heart that rejoiced in the distinction accorded to his brother deserved to wear the Ureem andTumeem.'" The authors of the midrash take this distinction one step farther: They actually interpret the Ureem and Tumeem as one stone representing Moses and the other symbolizing Aaron. When Aaron wears the Ureem and Tumeem, the two stones come together for the sole purpose of divine prophecy. In this representational meeting of the two brothers whose hearts were filled with respect, admiration, and love for each other, God's voice can be heard.

On this Shabbat T'tzaveh, let us recall the relationship between Moses and Aaron. Let the Ureem and Tumeem serve as a metaphor for two men who not only shared familial bonds but also were united by the everlasting bonds of honor and pride. When we cast our lots with the dream of a time when all people will treat one another with love and respect instead of envy and conceit, then we, too, evoke God's Divine Presence: Hineh mah-tov oomanayim shevet achim gam yachad! "How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" (Psalms 133:1)


Reference Materials: 

"T’tzaveh, Exodus 27:20–30:10 
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 618– Revised Edition, pp. 561–576; 
The Torah: A Women's Commentary
, pp. 473–494"