Have you ever heard that being called a snake is a compliment?

The Kohen Gadol was adorned with special garments. On his heart he wore the Choshen Mishpat.[1] This was a breastplate that had on it twelve precious stones, representing the twelve tribes. Upon the stones were the letters of the names of the tribes as well as the Patriarchs. When there was a call for judgment, or a decision needed such as whether the nation should go to war, the letters would light up, revealing the direction to be taken.

Each of the garments served as atonement. Appropriately, the Choshen atoned for perversion of justice.[2] The Torah indicated that the Chosen should not be “loosened from upon the Ephod (apron).”[3] The word Ephod, excluding the vowel Vuv, is spelled Alef Pei Daled, which has the same numeric value (85) as the word Peh, spelled Pei Hei, mouth. Having the Choshen affixed to the Ephod, is a call that the heart, spiritual, should be affixed to the mouth, physical.

That has many implications. Prayer is uttered with the mouth. A higher level is achieved when it is fueled by the heart. Thus mouth symbolizes the general grouping, while the heart represents the level of Talmid Chacham, a person of a higher degree. A judgment that he is called upon to make, although expressed with the mouth, should emanate from the heart, a spirit of righteousness.[4]

Choshen, is spelled Ches, Shin, Nun, the same letters as the word Nachash, snake, spelled Nun, Ches, Shin. “Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadak, ‘Any Talmid Chacham who does not take revenge or bear a grudge like a snake, is not a Talmid Chacham.”[5] What is the meaning of this? Does that mean that a Torah scholar should be vengeful?

A snake operates in a unique way. It does not aim for the head, but rather for the heel. It has no pleasure from the wound it inflicts.[6] Thus the true colors of a Talmid Chacham can be seen in how he addresses the wrong that has been perpetrated. He is on target. He does not seek to destroy (unless it is warranted). His actions are controlled, not seeking personal gain or relief.

Laser Therapy uses powerful beams of light, so intense that it can be used to shape diamonds or cut steel. Procedures are performed with utmost precision, without which, they would cause greater harm than relief. Judgement calls and action taken should be precise as well. The more righteous the judge, the more directed and focused will be the verdict and plan of action.

How do we react when a person does wrong? Do we aim to excise the evil from the individual or do we go all out for total destruction?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Hershel D. Becker

[1] Tezave 28:30

[2] Zevachim 88b

[3] Tezvae 28:28

[4] Toldos Yaakov Yosef; Degel Machane Ephraim

[5] Yoma 22b-23a

[6] Shiurim B’Hagados Chazal Yoma