By Rabbi Nosson Greenberg
In this week’s parsha we learn of the actual manufacturing of the vestments worn by the Kohanim in the Mishkan. Among them is the Choshen – the breastplate worn by the Kohain Gadol. I saw (in a sefer whose name escapes me) someone who points out a subtle difference in the wording of the Torah between Hashem’s instruction to Moshe regarding the making of the Choshen and its actual execution. In parshas Tetzaveh when Hashem instructed Moshe on how to place the twelve precious stones onto the Choshen He said, “Meshubatzim zahav yihyu b’milu’osam” – “They (the rows of stones) shall be of golden settings with their fillings” (Shmos, 28:20). In other words, the stones were to be placed in rows upon the Choshen by fitting them into gold settings that were already attached to the Choshen. However, in our parsha where the instructions are carried out, the Torah uses an extra word in its description. It says, “Musabos mishbetzos zahav b’milu’osam” – Encircled with gold settings with their fillings” (Shmos, 39:13). Now we know that no word in the Torah is unnecessary. If musabos was not needed at the time of instruction, then why does the Torah deem it necessary to insert it into the description at the time of manufacture?
Perhaps we can offer a homiletic understanding using a magnificent vort I once heard from Rav Zalman Stern in the name of his rebbe, Rav Shmuel Birnbaum Zt”l. The above-mentioned twelve stones were extremely precious and valuable; each one in its own right was worth a king’s ransom. Stones of that size these days are of such fame that they are given names. The Star of Bombay sapphire, The Hope diamond, The Midnight Star ruby just to name a few. Yet look at how the Torah describes these stones: “Avnai Milu’im” – “The filling stones!” No unique name for each of the twelve, just one collective title that describes their function vis á vis the golden settings. Why does the Torah seemingly ignore the majesty and grandeur of each of these stones? Says Rav Birnbaum that the Torah is teaching us an important lesson. As fancy, as unique, and as famous as one may be, nothing can compare to having the ability to help out another. Yes, each of these stones were fabulously precious, but their true legacy was the comfort that each of them provided to the gold settings. Settings that, before being filled by the stones, sat there with a gaping void within them looking and feeling insignificant and foolish. And then they were filled, allowing them to feel accomplished and proud of their participation in the bigdai kehunah. This act of kindness to those settings was the real fame and pride of the stones and thus they were appropriately called The Avnai Milu’im .
With this gem (pun intended) of a vort we can now explain the insertion of the extra word musabos. You see, when one helps out another, such as giving tzedakkah or doing a chessed, there is a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and of being blessed. The ba’alai mussar tell us that this feeling should be to the degree that one should consider himself the recipient rather than the benefactor. [That is why “Venasenu” the Hebrew for “And they shall give” is a palindrome, for in truth when one gives he is receiving.] Similarly, with these stones. When Hashem gave instructions to Moshe, the stones had a job: to fill the empty settings. But then a phenomenon happened. When they filled those settings, they felt like any benevolent provider should feel. That the settings were doing them a favor by safely and securely encircling them and keeping them firmly in place on the Choshen. Instead of them feeling that they were Milu’im – fillers, they instead considered themselves musabos – recipients, encircled by the settings.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.