The Choshen (breastplate) was adorned with twelve precious stones, each inscribed with the name of one of the twelve shevatim (tribes). The significance of these names on the Choshen is multi-faceted and carries meaning for the Jewish nation, as well as I believe, each person as an individual.
First and foremost, the names of the twelve shevatim represent the unity and diversity of the Jewish nation. Each shevet each had its unique characteristics and strengths. However, they were all united under their shared value system. The names of the shevatim on the Choshen symbolize this unity factor, reminding the Jewish people that they are all part of a larger whole, with equal representation.
Furthermore, the Choshen and its stones were also used in understanding Jewish halachic law. The Choshen Mishpat, a section of Jewish law devoted to aspects of Jewish law relevant to finance, torts, legal procedure and loans and interest, even takes its name from the Choshen itself. The names of the shevatim inscribed on the stones represent the diverse perspectives and opinions that were considered in making decisions. This system ensured that decisions were made with the input and representation of all shevatim, promoting fairness and justice in the community.
The twelve stones on the Choshen also carry individual meanings and symbolism and while there is some dispute as to which shevet is associated with which stone, there are general associations that have been made. For example, the stone associated with the shevet of Yehuda is believed to be a ruby, symbolizing strength as well as leadership. The stone associated with the shevet of Levi, is believed to be an emerald, symbolizing their role as disseminators of knowledge and wisdom.
But most importantly, the Choshen shows the unification factor in the fact, that when all is set and done, all twelve stones were presented within one single garment, and as one shared voice, demonstrating that no matter our differences, they are what bring us together and not what bring us apart.
So, let’s celebrate our unique differences, because, it is those differences, that makes us so shiny and beautiful.
And that, my dear readers, is set in stone 🙂