The first reference to a “computer” of sorts can be found in this week’s Parsha. One of the special garments worn by the High priest in the temple was called a Choshen Mishpat, or Breastplate of Judgment. The Choshen was a square ornament that comprised twelve jewels. In these jewels were engraved the names of the twelve tribes as well as the Patriarchs. Whenever the High Priest was consulted about a serious matter that needed Divine guidance, the answer would miraculously show up on the Breastplate. For example, if the question was whether the Jews should go to war, and the answer was no, the two Hebrew letters, lamed and aleph, that spell the Hebrew word lo that means no, would illuminate.
Nachmanides explains that there were actually two steps in the process of receiving G-d’s guidance through the Breastplate. Firstly, the letters that formed the word of G-d’s response would glow. But, the letters would not necessarily be in order. It was up to the High Priest to know how to decipher the message by rearranging the letters and placing them in proper order. This ability to decipher the message, too, was given to the High priest by G-d.
This is why the Torah refers to this Divine “computer” with the dual designation as the Urim V’Tumim, “the Lights and the Completeness.” Simply, this means that this special garment would give both illuminating as well as perfect advice. But according to Nachmanides’ approach, this double designation, of Urim and Tumim, reflects two separate functions. It was called “Urim-Lights” because G-d’s reply would be illuminated, on the Breastplate. It was also called “Tumim-completeness” because the High Priest was also given the Divine inspiration to know how to decipher the Divine message.
The question arises. If G-d gave the High Priest the ability to decipher the cryptic message, why was there a need for the answer to appear on the breastplate in the first place? Why was there a need for the Divine reply come through in two stages?
Moreover, as we noted on numerous occasions, every aspect of Torah knowledge can be utilized as a source of guidance and inspiration for each and every one of us in all times, places and situations. What lesson can we learn from the High Priest’s miraculous Breastplate and the two steps that were needed in revealing the Divine response?
Throughout life there are times when we seek guidance. There are a myriad of ethical dilemmas that require us to make crucial decisions. Very often, people make these decisions on their own, relying on their own conscience. The Jewish approach, however, is to consult the illuminating and sage counsel of the Torah. The Torah — that includes the Bible, Talmud and the entire corpus of Jewish philosophical, ethical and mystical literature that is based on the Bible — is the repository of all the information we will ever need to cope with all of life exigencies. Torah is therefore referred to as “Torah Or– The Torah is Light,” and “Torat Chaim,” the Torah of Life, because it illuminates our way through life.
But, consulting Torah does not suffice. Even if one had all the requisite language and analytical skills to study the Torah, one still needs to find the “High Priest,” for his guidance in deciphering the Torah’s message. The High Priest is a metaphor for a mentor who is preoccupied with spiritual matters and who can also be objective. This is consistent with the directive of our Sages in Ethics of our Fathers, “Make for yourself a teacher.” While we might be knowledgeable and capable of guiding others, it is imperative that we do not rely on our own judgment when we deal with our own ethical dilemmas. Our self-love and subjectivity might cloud our judgment and the Torah’s illuminating answer might not be deciphered correctly.
The entire history of the Jewish people is a reflection of these two steps that are necessary for the Torah to guide our lives. While the Jewish people were aptly described as the “People of the Book,” we were also simultaneously the “People of oral communication.” Jews were never content with just reading the book, we always depended on finding the teacher(s) who would assist us in deciphering the words of the Torah and transmitting its soul to us as well. Having a teacher also enables us to have an interactive relationship with the Torah. The Torah commands the teacher to encourage questions and debates. The interactive nature of the internet, can serve as a metaphor for the way the Jewish people have preserved the knowledge of Torah.
The Messianic Age is the age concerning which the Prophet states “And your eyes will behold Your Teacher.” Then we will be able to communicate freely with our Divine Mentor and our interactive relationship with G-d will be realized. Then Torah will indeed illuminate and be complete.