Moses was commanded to appoint his brother high priest, the one who would perform the service in the Tabernacle. Much of this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, is dedicated to the detailed description of the eight garments of the high priest, as G‑d commanded Moses, “You shall make holy garments for your brother Aaron, for honor and glory.”1

Aaron’s serviceWhy would Aaron carry the names twice? was performed for all the people of Israel. Therefore, Aaron would “carry the names of the children of Israel” on his heart and on his shoulders, in order to remind himself and to remind the people that everything he did was on behalf of the people.

But why would Aaron carry the names of the tribes twice, on his heart and on his shoulders?

The names of the tribes of Israel were engraved on the garments of the high priest in two places:

  1. On the choshen, the plate worn on his chest that contained 12 precious stones inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel: “Four rows of stones… And the stones shall be for the names of the sons of Israel 12, corresponding to their names; [similar to] the engravings of a seal, every one according to his name shall they be, for the 12 tribes.2
  2. On the efod, the apron-like garment that was worn on the back of the priest. Its straps reached the shoulders. The shoulder straps contained two stones upon which the names of the children of Israel were engraved. But instead of twelve stones, there were only two stones: “And you shall take two shoham stones and engrave upon them the names of the sons of Israel. Six of their names on one stone and the names of the remaining six on the second stone, according to their births.”3

Why the need to engrave the names twice? And why the change in from one tribe on each of twelve stones to six tribes on two stones?

The choshen sat on the heart of the high priest, representing the Jewish people who lead a healthy spiritual life, one imbued with passion and feeling. The names placed upon the heart represent a life where one does not only take the right action, but does so with a heart full of love and excitement, as well as a reverence for the holiness of the act. While every Jew follows the same commandments, we each do so with our own unique personality. This truth is expressed in the individuality of the tribes’ stones. No two tribes are exactly the same, just as no two people perform one mitzvah with the same feeling and intention. And this individuality is celebrated and cherished in the choshen.

Yet the names engraved on the choshen were not sufficient. For the leadership of the high priest was not reserved for those who were already inspired. A Jewish leader cannot be satisfied with leading those who have already established an emotional bond with the cause.

And so Aaron also had a efod, worn on the back, whichThe leadership was not reserved for those who were already inspired represents the Jewish person who may take the right action, but does so devoid of heart, without a feeling of connection. The efod represents the Jew who may show up at the Seder, but whose heart hasn’t arrived because he would much rather be elsewhere. In the action devoid of emotion, all of the Jewish people are equal, as we are all required to do the same action. Therefore there was no unique stone for each tribe on the efod.

Thus, the high priest represents and inspires all Jews.

The Torah commands that the choshen and the efod, the breastplate and the apron, must be attached to each other.4 This is a message to the Jew who does not feel connected to the practices of Judaism. She may feel that she is on the efod, disconnected from feeling her Judaism, as symbolized by the stones on the choshen. But the efod and the choshen always being connected expresses that, ultimately, the heart will follow the action; taking the right action will eventually fill the heart with inspiration.5