Rabbi BenZion ShafierThe writer is a veteran mechanech and noted relationships expert, served as a high school rebbe for 15 years before creating TheShmuz.com, a popular website that dispenses weekly Torah inspiration to 10,000 people across the globe in a down-to-earth, practical way. He also runs hashkafa workshops, and marriage seminars (like “10 Really Dumb Mistakes that Very Smart Couples Make”). He can be contacted through TheShmuz.com.
“You shall place both stones on the shoulder straps of the ephod, remembrance stones for the Children of Israel.” – Exodus 28:12
Moses Was Commanded to Make Garments for the Priests
Moses was commanded to make garments for the Tabernacle priests. Included in these was the ephod, a piece of clothing similar to an apron, with two shoulder straps on top holding the gold settings that contained precious stones. G-d told Moses to engrave the names of the twelve tribes onto these stones as a remembrance. Rashi explains that this was so that the memory of Reuben, Simon, Levi, etc. would be invoked when the High Priest performed the service and G-d would then remember their righteousness.
The Tribes Sinned
This Rashi seems to be difficult to understand. The service of the High Priest is vital and highly sensitive; the world’s very existence depends upon it. As a result, there are many items that are avoided in its performance so as not to bring up even the faintest memories of sin. While there is no question that the tribes were men of extraordinary greatness, that greatness was also tainted with the sin of selling their brother. Didn’t that sin permanently affect who they were? Shouldn’t that be reason enough not to mention their names in such a critical situation?
Every Diamond Has a Flaw
The answer to this is based on an issue of perspective.
Imagine that there are two large diamonds in front of you. One is a beautifully cut jewel with a minor flaw, and the other is the same as the first, but flawless – a perfect diamond. If we were to ask a diamond expert to appraise the two, there is no doubt that he would tell us that the difference between them is huge. He would say that the diamond with the minor flaw is worth a fortune while the completely flawless diamond is almost worthless — because it is a fake. One of the signs that a diamond is real is that it has a flaw. While it may be a very minor imperfection and almost unnoticeable, all genuine diamonds have flaws. The only perfect diamonds are made of cubic zirconium and are costume jewelry.
G-d Created the Human, Knowing He Would Sin
When G-d formed man, it was not for him to be perfect. Perfection rests in the realm of the angels. An angel will spend its entire existence without sin. Angels are perfect. But angels aren’t man. Man and man alone was given the unique opportunity in all of Creation: to determine his destiny, either becoming the greatest of all or sinking below the animals.
To allow man to create himself into who he would be for eternity, G-d gave him free will. However, free will doesn’t mean the theoretical ability to choose; it means being put into situations where either choice is viable and either option is real. Man has to be challenged. To allow for that, man has to be tempted to choose either good or bad and be given the ability to make mistakes. Every man has and every man will make mistakes. Some are large, and some are small, but the idea of man living without sin isn’t part of the picture.
The Tribes Were Like Flawed Diamonds
The answer to the question seems to be that the tribes were in fact men of unimaginable greatness, but they also had flaws and sinned. Each would be compared to a 200-carat diamond – with an imperfection. They were huge, beautiful diamonds. . . with flaws.
When viewing a diamond, you don’t see the flaw. To perceive it, you need to look through a jeweler’s loop that magnifies the stone by a power of ten times or more. Only via direct scrutiny does the flaw become noticeable. It is always present, but the eye doesn’t see it. All it can see is glimmer and reflected light in an object of extreme beauty.
What Will I Be Like in the Next World?
This concept has great relevance to us. People often wonder, “What will it be like for me in the Next World? I’ve done many good things in my life, but I’m no saint. I’ve also done plenty wrong, and I can’t even say that I’ve corrected everything.
“For eternity, I will be exactly what I made myself into. So what kind of reward am I going to have? Forever I will walk around with my faults permanently part of me. How will I ever enjoy eternity when I am sullied – permanently stained?”
I Will Be Like a Diamond with a Flaw
This teaching tells us that our imperfections are what they are, and unless we remove them with the process of self-improvement, they will be on our permanent record. However, all that means is that I will have flaws, like a diamond. Maybe I’ll be a two-carat diamond, maybe a four-carat – but a precious gem nonetheless. While the blemishes will be there, so too will the shining brilliance of a jewel. One doesn’t cancel out the other. The flaw isn’t eliminated, nor is the brilliance eradicated. Both are there. I will be a diamond with a flaw.
My work now, as long as I have time left, is to improve the quality of the diamond and to eliminate its faults. By learning Torah, doing mitzvos, and working on my character, I will change the weight, color, and clarity of the stone. Who I will be for eternity is in my hands. If I focus my attention and energies on growth, my reward will be perfection more valuable than the finest diamonds ever mined.