Exodus 28:15-17 – You shall make a choshen of judgment… and you shall fill into it stone fillings, four rows of stones.
The word טור is found in Machberet Menachem (quoted hundreds of times in Rashi’s commentaries), under the root טר, which he defines as סדר – order. In addition to this word, Menachem includes three other sections under the same root. One of these is the verses dealing with שמירה –guarding: Nachum 1:2 – The L-rd… guards wrath for his enemies. Jer. 3:5 – Will he guard a grudge for ever?
In the same guarding section, Menachem included two other topics. The first is a shooting target (Job 16:12, Lam. 3:12). Here the commentators explain that one must guard against distraction when seeking to hit a target (i.e. focus).
The third topic in this guarding section of טר is the jail called a חצר המטרה (Jer. 32:2). This too is connected by dint of the need to guard the inmates.
In another section of טר, Menachem includes the word טירה, a castle or tower. This word is explained in the Sifrei (Matot 157) as the place of the idolatrous priests, who guarded their traditions carefully.
Menachem’s final section in טר is comprised of the word טרי, today used to mean fresh, but defined by the commentators as moist. The Midrash (Gen. Rabba 98:13) says it refers to a three-day time period (during which the object in question presumably could retain [guard] its moistness).
All four sections of טר are therefore connected to guarding of one sort or another. But we see a number of different nuances of guarding, as follows: 1. Retaining resentment 2. Focusing/concentrating 3. Arresting/gripping/closing 4. Keeping traditions 5. Moisture –all these meaning are borne by the root טר. Another meaning to be added to these is order- סדר, the Targum of טור, the rows under discussion in Exodus 28:15-17.
One of the Biblical sources for the term סדר is the word שדרות in II Chron. 23:14. The commentators explain the word as referring to orderly military/police formations used to guard against infiltration of undesirables and/or escape of prisoners. So too were the stone rocks ordered in rows embedded in the חושן resembling military formations, guarded from falling and one being mixed up with the other.
This leads us to another טר derivative, the word שוטר/police. The word שוטר is translated by the Targumim throughout the Tanach (e.g. Ex. 5:6) with the Aramaic root סרך, gripping/holding – one of the nuances of guarding mentioned above. (See also Rashi Jer. 2:23 who connects סרך with the Hebrew שרך – tying).
The Torah (Gen. 25:1) tells us that following Sarah’s death Abraham took a wife named קטורה (root: קטר, Aramaic cognate of (קשר. Rashi explains that this was Hagar, who “tied herself up” – guarded herself from marrying any other man, hoping to reunite with Abraham.
Another טר derivative is the word אטר, used in Ps. 69:16 to mean closing/plugging. A left-handed person is called אטר יד ימינו (Ju. 3:15), because he appears to be guarding his right hand, closing and arresting its usage.
From closing and guarding we come to the root עטר, from which is derived עטרת, the crown that encloses and guards the head (see Shoresh Yesha, entry עטר). The word is also used as a verb for enclosing and entrapping in I Sam. 23:26. In the Mishna (Keilim 5:3) it is used to denote an enclosure of an oven used to retain and guard heat from escaping.
One may suggest a connection to the Aramaic term טרק, which means to close (vis. Brach. 28a). A טרקס is a wall or gate, i.e. an enclosure (Yoma 51b, Brach. 35b). Slightly farther afield is the word טרקלין, which originally meant a castle (see Rambam on Eruv. 6:6) – the most guarded of buildings.
Returning to the סדר/order nuance of guarding, we come to the word חוטר – a stick. This is listed amongst the tools of the judge in enforcing his rulings (Rif and Ein Yaakov Sanhed. 7a), i.e. to ensure law and order and guard against criminals. In Isaiah 11:1 the Messiah’s advent is described as a חוטר, which Rashi explains as his royal staff, but one which is also used in his role as judge (described in verse 4).
Rain/מטר is another טר derivative and can be explained simply as being the primary agent of life-guarding moisture (as per Menachem above). It can also be a reference to the fact that one generally has no choice but to wait patiently for the rains to arrive, there being no natural way to ensure or even hasten its arrival. This, Targumna (Gen. 20, p. 133) suggests based on the fact that שמירה bears the meaning of waiting as well (vis. Rashi to Gen. 37:11, and Ps. 130:6).
The final טר derivative is the word פטר, which actually means opening (vis. Ex. 13:2) – exactly the opposite of the meanings of טר heretofore discussed. However, the word in this case refers to the first born, the “initial opening of the womb,” the womb having been hitherto sealed closed (see Ararbanel Ex. 13:1). The initial פ here is the פה/portal – the opening of the closed/guarded womb, bringing new life to the world.
We here close our discussion of טר – guarded/closed with a word ironically denoting opening. But this is the way of Torah, closing one chapter and immediately opening a new one, continuing on to new challenges and new hopes. May we merit to be judged by the חוטר of the scion on Jesse and the judgement of the טורי אבן speedily in our times.