The Breastplate must not come loose from the Ephod. (Ex. 28:28)

The Ephod hung from the High Priest's back down to his heels, while the Breastplate rested opposite his heart, in front. While the "back" represents the external and mundane (like the disinterest expressed in leaving something behind), the "front" signifies the internal and sublime (like the thoughts and feelings expressed on one's face). (See Tanya, chs. 22-3.) The fact that the Breastplate must not become disconnected from the Ephod therefore means that the High Priest cannot endure any gap between the sublime and the mundane, the internal and the external. What is true in his idealistic and inspired heart must express itself even in his mundane and routine heels.

Into the Breastplate of Judgment you shall place the Urim and Thumim1 (Ex. 28:30)

In our G‑dly soul, the Urim, which denote light and fire, are its brilliant awareness of its Source and its fiery yearning to dissolve in It. The Thumim, which denote wholeness and thoroughness (Yoma 73b), are its wholehearted sincerity and thorough devotion to fulfill the mitzvot. This devotion counterbalances the Urim experience, dragging it down from its rapture to engage the mundane and elevate it to divinity. [See Sefer HaArachim - Chabad, vol. 4, p. 264. The Urim and Thumim thus express the dynamic of "run and return", i. e. ratzo veshov.]

[Among the] five things that the First Temple possessed but the Second Temple did not were the Urim and Thumim. In fact, they were present, but inoperative. (Yoma 21b) The Second Temple was not able…to influence the mundane realm…

The Second Temple imparted a palpable divine awareness to those who entered it, precisely as did the first. However, unlike the First Temple, the Second Temple was not able to radiate that awareness abroad, to influence the mundane realm. Similarly, the Breastplate remained intact during the Second Temple era, too; its ability to render judgment for all mankind through the Urim and Thumim, however, did not.

This defect also exists in the contemporary spiritual Breastplate. The word for "Breastplate" [in Hebrew, "choshen"] shares the same numerical value as the words for "snake" [in Hebrew, "nachash"; cf. R. Chaim Vital, Sha'ar Hamitzvot & Ta'amei Hamitzvot] and that of "the Mashiach." (Me'orei Or, s.v. choshen, citing Rabbeinu Ephraim [of the Tosafot]; Chomat Anach) The primordial snake, which brought sin and confusion to the world, and Mashiach, who will exude clarity of purpose, are, of course, diametric opposites. Yet that is the paradox of Exile: The divine perception, goodness, and perfection of the Messianic era lie dormant, although intact; only the pretentious snakeskin of exile is apparent. The two exist within the same reality.

This is our challenge in exile: to restore the Urim and Thumim to the cosmic Breastplate - to "decode" the implicit Messianic perception, goodness, and perfection within reality - so that it assume its influential role.

[Adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaSichot 5748, vol. 1, p. 314; Likutei Sichot, vol. 11, pp. 137-8]

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