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Jewish Insights into the Urim and Thummin of the High Priest's Breastplate, Exodus 28:29-30


Exodus 28:29-30 JPS 1917

And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually. And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the LORD; and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually.


The Urim and Thummim: Divine Revelation in the Bible

The Bible provides intriguing glimpses into the realm of divine communication through enigmatic artifacts known as the Urim and Thummim. These sacred objects are shrouded in mystery, serving as conduits of divine revelation and guidance for the Israelites. Although the Bible offers limited information about their form and function, their significance in the religious and historical context of ancient Israel is undeniable.


The Urim and Thummim are first mentioned in the Book of Exodus, specifically in the context of the high priest's vestments. Exodus 28:30 states, "And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the LORD; and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually."


The exact nature of these objects is uncertain, but they are presented as being placed within a special breastplate worn by the high priest, Aaron. Their positioning on Aaron's heart is indicative of their role in seeking divine counsel.

Urim and Thummin Revealed God's Will

The meaning of "Urim" and "Thummim" remains a subject of debate among scholars. These terms are often translated as "lights" and "perfections" respectively, suggesting their association with seeking clarity and completeness from the divine. Some interpretations propose that the Urim and Thummim might have been physical objects such as two stones, used in a sort of casting or divination process to elicit divine guidance. According to most traditions, the Urim and Thummim were a piece of parchment with G‑d’s four-letter name written on it. (1)


Klei Hamikdash, the informative Jewish resource we have often consulted informs us, "The [High] priest would stand facing the Ark. The person making inquiry was behind him, facing the [High] Priest's back. The inquirer would ask: 'Should I go up [to war] or not?' He would not ask in a loud voice, nor would he merely think about the matter in his heart. Instead, [he would speak] in a low voice, like someone praying to himself. Immediately, the Holy Spirit will enclothe the [High] Priest. He will look at the breastplate and with the spirit of prophecy see 'Go up' or 'Do not go up' written in letters emerging from the breastplate toward his face. The [High] Priest would then answer [the inquirer], telling him: 'Go up' or 'Do not go up.'" (2)


Biblical Accounts of Urim and Thummin

The Urim and Thummim are mentioned in several other passages as well, although their function is not always explicitly described. For instance, the Book of Numbers and Deuteronomy recounts instances where the high priest consults the Urim and Thummim to determine God's will (Numbers 27:21, Deuteronomy 33:8).

"God speaks through the Urim and Thummim," 1705 engraving by Jan Luyken. The breastplate projects the word ברקת‎ (barakat, "emerald"). (3)


Numbers 27:21

And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the LORD; at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation.’


Deuteronomy 33:8 JPS 1917

And of Levi he said: Thy Thummim and Thy Urim be with Thy holy one, Whom Thou didst prove at Massah, With whom Thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah;


King Saul Urim and the Witch

And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets. Then said Saul unto his servants: ‘Seek me a woman that divineth by a ghost, that I may go to her, and inquire of her.’ And his servants said to him: ‘Behold, there is a woman that divineth by a ghost at En-dor.’ 1 Samuel 28:5-7 JPS 1917


In this narrative, we gain insight into the experience of King Saul, who finds himself enveloped by fear upon witnessing the assembled Philistine army. His initial response was to seek guidance and answers from the Lord. He resorted to three well-established methods for discerning the divine will: through dreams, the Urim, and the counsel of a prophet. Regrettably, the specifics of these inquiries remain undisclosed, except for the outcomes, which yielded the troubling response, "The Lord did not answer him."


Amid his distress, Saul's apprehension led him down a perilous path, ultimately leading him to an illicit source of guidance. He turned to a woman in Endor known for her practice of divination involving communication with the spirits of the deceased. This woman, often characterized as a witch or necromancer, was known to consult the departed. It is crucial to note that such practices were forbidden and deemed taboo.


This narrative serves as a cautionary tale, illustrating the consequences of allowing fear and desperation to lead one astray from the path of righteousness. It underscores the importance of seeking guidance through legitimate and morally sound means while avoiding the allure of forbidden and dubious sources that may compromise one's values and faith.


"By the time Saul visited the witch at En-dor, he had already lost control over the kingdom due to his persistent transgressing of God's Law. On his last day on earth, Saul violated the law that forbids practicing or consulting a spiritual medium (Deuteronomy 18:10-11)." (4)


Urim and Thummim Fade Away

The use of the Urim and Thummim gradually diminishes and they eventually fade into obscurity after the destruction of the First Temple (Solomon's Temple). (5)


Personal Quest to Discern the Will of God

I stand now at a pivotal juncture, grappling with choices that will shape the path of my spiritual journey. In this phase of my life, as I reflect upon the will of God, I find myself contemplating its direction. Having retired from the noble vocations of prison chaplaincy and substance abuse counseling, I have been blessed to share my profound exploration of the Tabernacle of Moses through teaching props. This endeavor, made financially viable by my previous employment, has allowed me to illuminate the spiritual insights contained within this sacred structure.


For the first time in decades, the weight of tracking accumulated paid time off no longer burdens my

thoughts. Liberation from this concern grants me the freedom to embark on journeys of teaching without constraint. Yet, let it be known that deciphering the divine will remains as intricate as ever, undeniably challenging in its own right.

A multitude of pathways now lie before The Tabernacle Man, beckoning to be traversed. Upon introspection, the footprints of Providence are evident – doors opened and closed, unexpected financial provisions for teaching materials, and the timely arrival of individuals who aided in the creation of a YouTube channel and website. My journey has been punctuated by speaking engagements, often arriving like unpredictable blessings.


Spring's embrace during Passover and Easter, and the autumnal resonance of the fall feasts, have traditionally invited me to synagogues and churches to share my teachings. Conferences, though sporadic, have also woven themselves into this tapestry of experience. Audiences have graced me with their heartfelt gratitude, resonating with my style of teaching and finding delight in the tangible teaching props I employ. Notably, the realm of YouTube emerged as a platform where seekers discovered my message.


In prayerful contemplation, I find myself pleading, "Lord, guide my steps. Where can the life-sized Tabernacle of Moses yield its utmost impact? Does a centralized hub offer the greatest benefit, or should this transformative teaching tool journey to diverse locations? How shall it be funded? Can its vitality and upkeep be ensured? And, in a world that seems to drift away from scripture, is there ample interest to sustain the profound teachings encapsulated within these few chapters?"


Conclusion

I haven't encountered a dream containing instructions to proceed with the Tabernacle Man. The Urim and Thummim in my possession are simply instructional tools, lacking any divine attributes apart from the parchment holding the sacred name of the Lord, Ha Shem. Despite seeking guidance from mentors, they do not consider themselves prophets. I assure you, I have no intention of consulting fortune tellers or psychics.


The inquiries addressed at the beginning of this blog resonate deeply within me, encompassing the profound uncertainties that trouble me. With humility and a desire for divine insight, I share these reflections. I earnestly invite you to join me in this contemplation. Your prayers, perspectives, wisdom, and support hold the potential to illuminate the path ahead. Together, let us seek divine guidance and decipher the upcoming chapter of this journey, as we endeavor to bring the profound teachings of the Tabernacle to a needy world.



Contact The Tabernacle Man

If you would care to share your thoughts or have an interest in helping me to promote this ministry, please consider writing me at terryharman@thetabernacleman.com


References

(1) Rashi, Ramban, and Ralbag commentary on Exodus 28:30 and Ritva discussion in Yoma 73b.


(2) Chabad.org. "Klei Hamikdash - Chapter 10.11" Chabad, Accessed 20, August 2023. www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1008235/jewish/Klei-Hamikdash-Chapter-10.htm.


(3) Urim and Thummim. (2023, July 20). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Urim_and_Thummim


(4) "En-dor." Abarim Publications, www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/En-dor.html.


(5) Yoma 21b; Sotah 48b; Rashi commentary on Exodus 28:30.

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Aug 25, 2023
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