Exodus 35:24 – They attached (וַיִרְכְּסוּ)the Breastplate (Choshen) from its rings to the rings of the Ephod with a techlet string, so that it would remain above the belt of the Ephod, and the Breastplate would not be loosened from above the Ephod, as G-d had commanded Moses .
In a literally identical (save for vocalization) sentence above (ibid. 28:28), the Torah commanded that the Choshenbe attached to the Ephod, using the verb וְיִרְכְּסוּ. It repeats its use of this term in thisverse, which discusses the Israelites’ fulfillment of this command. In his comments on this term, Rashidefines וַיִרְכְּסוּas an expression of connection, and cites two additional instances in which this expression appears in Scripture with a similar meaning: i) [Shelter them in the cover of Your countenance] from the רֻכְסֵיof man (Psalms31:21)means from the evil gangs who join together in order to harm them. ii) And the רְכָסִיםwill become valley (Isaiah40:4) means “the mountains that so closely abut each other that one can only descend to the valley between them with great difficulty since their closeness makes that valley steep and deep — will become a flat valley that is easy to walk in.”
We find an additional allusion to the meaning “connection”if the root letters “רכס”are rearranged to form the root “סרך”, which also connotes attachment/connectionin the Talmudic vernacular, as Rashiexplains concerning the word סריך(Gittin69a), and the word מסריך(Yev.121b). The root סרךis itself derived from the Hebrew word שְׂרוֹך,strap/lace(seeGenesis14:23), which in its Aramaic form is spelled with a “ס”in place of the “שׂ”[see “משריכן”(harness straps) in Shab53a].
All the commentators agree that “וירכסו”refers to connectionin some general sense,since that is implied by this verse, which states that the Choshenwas connected from above to the Ephodwith chains between their respective rings, and that they were also connected via rings from below, although thisconnection was with a techlet string. However, they differ in how they define the underlying root “רכס”that links the meanings of the word in these verses.
According to Ibn Ezra,the core meaning of “רכס”is distortion/deformity,with its specific meaning in our verse being a “connection via entwining” (while the Isaiahverse refers to “unevensites” becoming a smooth valley, and the Psalmsverse refers to “crookedpeople”).
Ribagsees the underlying root as strength/power,with וַיִרְכְּסוּmeaning that the Choshenwas “reinforcedby attaching it to the Ephod”(while the Isaiahverse refers to “tall, ruggedmountains,” and the Psalmsverse refers to “toughpeople”).
Radaksees the underlying root as height,with וַיִרְכְּסוּmeaning that the Choshenwas lifted up so that it could be connected to the Ephodfrom below (while the Isaiahverse refers to “tallmountains,” and the Psalmsverse refers to “conceitedpeople who think highly of themselves”). [This view is also supported by Sharshos Kesef.]
To Malbim, the underlying root is a tight connection between two objects that necessitates a by-pass route,with וַיִרְכְּסוּmeaning that the Choshenwas connected tightlyto the Ephod(while the רְכָסִיםin the Isaiahverse refers to “mountains so closely connected that one must travel around them,” and the רֻכְסֵיin the Psalmsverse means man’s evil inclination and desires, which are so called because, like the aforementioned רְכָסִים, they force man off of the straight path).
Finally, Yerios Shlomoexplains that Rashi defines the root as “a perfectly aligned connection that does not protrude in any direction” (with theIsaiahverse referring to “mountains that jut out in perfect alignmentopposite each other, leaving no possibility of passing between them,” and the Psalmsverse referring to “untruthful people, who make an effort to align their statements perfectly to make them appear truthful”). He sees this explanation as serving to reconcile Rashi’sinterpretation with that of the other commentators.
The emphasis byRadakandSharshos Kesef on the aspect of heightand elevationin their definition of וַיִרְכְּסוּis especially interesting in light of the second part of the verse, which warns: and the Breastplate shall not יִזַחfrom above the Ephod.The word יִזַחhas no parallel in Scripture. Nonetheless, most of the commentators interpret this word in the sense of separation.Rambanand Chizkuniequate it with יִסַח(using the exchange of the similarly produced “tongue” letters,ז-ס-ש-ר-ץ), relating it to the words יִסְּחוּ(Proverbs2:22) and יִסַּח(ibid. 15:25), which mean separationand breaking apart. Hence, it matches the first half of the verse, as Scripture says that they shall connectthe Choshento the Ephodin such a manner that it will not be able to separatefrom it. Indeed, according to Rambam (Negative Commandment 87),the Torah does not merely provide a reason why the Choshenmust be attached to the Ephod, but actually issues a separate command that the Choshenmay not be removed from the Ephod.
Radak(under root “זחח”) also agrees that יִזַחrefers to removal. However, in keeping with his interpretation ofוְיִרְכְּסוּin the first half of the verse as connection via lifting, he also ties the word יִזַחtoelevation: “The meaning of and the Choshen shall not יִזַח[from upon the Ephod]is that ‘it shall not be raised above,’ i.e., you shall not remove or lift it off of the Ephod.Similarly, when our Sages state (Chullin7a), ‘Once the זְחוּחֵיof heart became numerous,’ it refers to ‘the conceited and elevated hearts.’” Thus, in Radak’sview, יִזַחconnoteslifting upin the sense of removal/separation.
To gain a fuller understanding of Radak’sdefinition, which is based on the words of our Sages in Chullin7a, let us look at a more extensive quote from that gemara: “[Rebbe said:] ‘In my case as well, my forefathers left a place [in Halachah] for me to stand out [by making a groundbreaking ruling].’ We see from here that a if Torah sage issues a halachic declaration, we are not מזיחיןhim (we should not separate himfrom his statement by demanding that he retract it — Rashi); others quoted this teaching as stating that ‘we are not מזניחיןit’ (we must not make abominablehis declaration by denigrating it — Rashi); and others quoted this teaching as stating that ‘we are not מזחיחיןhim’ (we must not make him elevated,i.e., say that it was due to his haughtiness that he failed to heed what his teachers said and issued this newly lenient ruling —Rashi). The one who said [the correct version is] מזיחין, meant it in the sense of the verse (Exodus28:28), and the Choshen shall not יזח(be lifted off) from above the Ephod; the one who said [the correct version is] מזניחין, meant it in the sense of that which is written (Lamentations3:31), For the Lord does not (יִזְנַח)reject forever; and the one who said [the correct version is] מזחיחין, meant it in the sense of what we are taught (Tosefta,Sotah14:9), ‘Once the זְחוּחֵיof heart became numerous, there were numerous quarrels among the people of Israel.” Thus, although Rashidefines each of the three versions of the term — מזיחין,מזניחין,מזחיחין— differently,there is arguably an underlying link between all three. They all connote some aspect of separation:מזיחין, via its literal definition; מזניחין, since make him abominableessentially means separating from him due to his repugnance; andמזחיחין, since make him elevated essentially entails separating from him due to his haughtiness. Indeed, Ribag(root”זחח”) makes just such a link: “What we derive from all this is thatמזיחין,מזניחיןandמזחיחיןall connote the same notion, namely, repulsionandwithdrawal from.”
In any case, according to Radak’scomments, the term יִזַח, like its parallel word זְחוּחֵיin the Talmud, is primarily an expression of elevation,with the connotation of removal/separationmerely being a secondary aspect of this act of elevation. [Interestingly, in discussing the “removal” of the Choshenfrom the Ephod,the Talmud (Yoma72a) does not use a word like הסרה(removal) or ניתוק(severance): “One who is מזיחtheChoshenfrom above the Ephod … is flogged, for it is stated, And he shall not יִזַחthe Choshen from above the Ephod.” Perhaps the reason is similar to that which we have discussed here — that the aspect of removalis merely a secondary result of the elevation.]
In fact, this parallel link between the concepts of elevationand removalcan also be found in three other words that connote ascentand elevation[namely, the roots עלה,נשאandרמם]: 1) In the verse (Genesis2:6), A mist ascended(יַעֲלֶה)from the earth,Onkelostranslates the word יַעֲלֶהasסַלִיק(departed). 2) The word “נשא”, which denotes elevationand ascent,also has a meaning of eliminationand removal, as the author of HaKetav VeHakaballah demonstrates from various locations in Scripture in his comments to Numbers14:18, which describes G-d as נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן,Forgiver of iniquity.Explaining why נֹשֵׂא, which translates literally as One Who lifts up,means Forgiverhere, he notes: “Onkelostranslates it as שָׁבִיק,leaves go of, while Yonasan ben Uzieltranslates it as שָׁרִי,pardon. We already find the expression נשׂאreferring to the notion of cancellationorremoval[in the verse] for then my Maker יִשָּׂאֵנִי(Job32:22),[which]Rashi interprets as ‘will remove Mefrom the world’; and from this (II Samuel 5:21):And [the Philistines] left their idols there, וַיִּשָּׂאֵםDavid and his men,[which means] that ‘he removed and eliminatedthe idols from the world; likewise, וַתִּשָּׂאthe earth from before Him(Nahum1:5): [Rashiinterprets וַתִּשָּׂאas]it vanished and disappeared, andOnkelos’stranslation is it was destroyed; and from this (II Samuel14:14): but G-d does not יִשָּׂאa soul, i.e., He does not wish to eliminate and removethe soul, but rather wishes that “the evil one will repent from his ways, and live.” [Similarly, the phrase נְשּׂוּי פֶּשַׁע(Psalms32:1), which means one whose transgression is forgiven,is translated by Alshichas “one whose transgression is forgotten.”]. One final example of the connection between elevationand removalis illustrated in the word הרומו, which normally would mean to raise, but in the following verse bears the meaning of removal:Remove yourselves (הֵרֹמּוּ) from this congregation, and I shall consume them in an instant (Numbers 17:10).
In any case, givenRadak’semphasizing the aspect of elevationin the definitions of both וַיִרְכְּסוּandיִזַח, he apparently explains the verse as follows: Lift up the Choshenso that you shall be able to attach it to the belt of the Ephod; however, do not raise it excessively to the point where it is impossible to connect it to the Ephodfrom below.
Returning to the word יִזַח, a similar term, מֵזַח, is found several times in Scripture. Most commentators define the word מֵזַחeither as a beltor strength.In his comments on the words מֵזַחinIsaiah23:10 and Psalms109:19, and the word וּמְזִיחַinJob12:21, Rashiinterprets them as to mean a belt,but also notes that a belt itself usually symbolizes strength(similar to the dual meaning of “gird” in English). By contrast,Radakexplains that their basic definition is strengthand power,but since a belt fastens and strengthens one’s loins, it too is called a מֵזַח. Now, Menachem, links the word מֵזַחand the word יִזַח, placing both of them in the same category, under the root “זח”(as per his custom of limiting roots to two letters only). However, since Rashiand Radakdefine מֵזַחasstrengtheningand fastening, whereas יִזַחrelates to separation, one would not seem to think of them as being of related roots. Indeed, Dunash ben Labrat(on p. 60 of his Sefer HaTeshuvos) refutes both Menachem’sassignment of “מזח”to a 2-letter root “זח”, and his linkage of “מזח”and יִזַח, arguing that the “מ”in “מזח”is a part of its root, and that יִזַחis a separate Arabic term meaning separate, or slip away.Rashito our verse, in a rare instance, supports Dunashover his disputantMenachemand defines יִזַחas an Arabic term meaning severance.[Radakand Ribagalso list יִזַחunder the separate 3-letter root “זחח”.]
However, the aforementioned Rambansolves the mysterious word יִזַחby equating it to the word “יסח”by way of exchanging the letters “ז”and “ס”(based on the similar letters ז-ס-ש-ר-ץ, which are formed between the tongue and the teeth) and defining it as meaning separationandbreaking apart.Like Menachem,he finds a Hebrew equivalent for it in the verse, and may it be for a מֵזַחwith which he constantly girds himself(Psalms109:19). While retaining its literal definition as a belt, he suggests that it may also imply severanceandbreaking apart, likeיִזַח: “Perhaps, [since the preceding verse states that the scheming maligner shalldon curse like his garment,] this verse is saying that he shall gird himself constantly with the curse, as others gird themselves with their belts, until he is destroyed and broken apart by it.” [Thus, Rambanlinks the opposing notions of attachmentand breaking apartin the same word. We find a similar example in Ribag’sdefinition of the root “נקף”, which alludes to both surroundingand cutting off.]
Malbim(Isaiah23:10) also tries to interpret the word יִזַחbased on a comparison to “מזח”, by explaining that they have a common aspect of elevation: “The word ‘מזח’, as in the verse, and may it be for a מֵזַחwith which he constantly girds himself(Psalms109:19), connotes a belt that girdsthe body. But what differentiates a מֵזַחfrom [the standard terms for a belt,] an אֵזוֹרand an אַבְנֵט, is that a מֵזַחis a belt that one ties around long clothes in order to elevate them, so that they will be appropriate for his size. Just as in the expression, and the Choshen shall not יִזַחfrom above the Ephod,which refers to elevation,so does a מֵזַחlift up his clothes. Similarly, we find in Aramaic, the term זְחוּחֵי הַלֵב, raised hearts (i.e., conceited). Likewise, it says (ibid.) And he shall don curse כְּמַדוֹ,meaning that the curse should be like his size (מִדָה). [As the verse then continues,] May it be to him like a garment in which he wraps himself, and a מֵזַחwith which he constantly girds himself — i.e., although it is customary for a garment to sometimes be longer than his body, the curse itself shall be like a מֵזַחwhich raises up the garment, so that it should fit his body size perfectly.This term is also used in a borrowed sense in reference to the banks of an island, which rise upfrom amidst the sea and girdthe sea so that it should not ascend onto the island. [The banks are] the מֵזַחthat keeps the island elevatedabove the water, and girdsthe sea. It is not a big stretch to explain the verse (Job12:21), He pours scorn upon nobles, and loosens the מְזִיחַof the אֲפִיקִים,as follows: אֲפִיקִיםmeanssprings(as in כַּאֲפִיקִים בַּנֶגֶב), and G-d will loosen and remove the “belt” that begirds the springs of water, and [the waters] will flood the land portions of the rich, and in this manner will pour scorn upon them,as they will end up without any of their wealth.
Perhaps we can propose a third link between these two aspects. Our verse states:They attached (וַיִרְכְּסוּ)the Choshen from its rings to the rings of the Ephod with a techlet(blue-torquoise)woolen cord, so that it would remain above the belt of the Ephod, and the Choshen would not be disengaged (יִזַח)from above the Ephod, as G-d had commanded Moses. Thus, since the Torah specifies that the attachment of the Choshento the Ephodfrom below be solely through a techlet string, its aim is seemingly not to create a complete attachment. Had that been the case, the Torah would have commanded that they be directly tied or fastened together, or at least to link them with chains, like the top of theChoshen.Rather, this connection was to be similar to רכסים, the mountains that are adjacent to each other but not actually attached. Consequently, the expression וְלֹא יִזַחis meant to connote both aspects of its meaning: 1) On the one hand, it should not be elevatedabove the Ephod,as the threads of the techlet cord keep it attached from below. 2) On the other hand, the Choshenis not to be attached to the Ephodin the manner of a מֵזַח, which is tightly fastened. That is, the threads keep the Choshenfrom being elevated above the belt of the Ephod,but the warning not to be יִזַחalludes that we must also avoid making the attachment excessive.
Yet another perspective on the unbreakable link between the Choshenand the Ephodis presented in the “Daf al Hadaf”commentary to Erachin16a. Our Sages teach us that the Choshenatoned for the sins of the Jewish people in monetary matters, while theEphodatoned for their sins of idolatry. Thus, the Ephodatoned for the most fundamental sin between man and G-d (bein adam la’Makom), whereas the Choshenatoned for a most fundamental sin between man and his fellow (bein adam la’chaveiro). [Chasam Soferstates in his commentary to Exodus28:16 that Aaron merited to atone for Israel’s monetary injustices because he himself did beyond what the law required in all matters of dispute with his fellow Jew.] Therefore, the Torah commanded that theChoshennot be separated from the Ephod,in order to emphasize that one may not differentiate between the commandments between man and G-d, and the commandments between man and his fellow. One may not be “good to Heaven” but bad to his fellow men, nor vice versa; both types of commandments are inextricably related.
In this light, we can perhaps explain why this connection had to be through a techlet string. Discussing the uniqueness of this color, the Talmud states (Sotah17a) that it was due to our forefather Avraham’s refusal to take so much as a “thread” to a shoestrap (Genesis14:23) from the King of Sodom as compensation for saving his country, that his descendants merited “the ‘thread’ of techlet wool,” i.e., the commandment of tzitzis. The Gemara goes on to explain why the thread of tzitzismust be precisely from techlet wool: “R. Meir used to say: Why is techlet specified from all the varieties of colors? Because techlet resembles [the color of] the sea, and the sea resembles [the color of] heaven, and heaven resembles [the color of] the Throne of Glory, as it is stated, They saw the G-d of Israel, and under His feet was the likeness of sapphire brickwork, and it was like the essence of heaven in purity(Exodus24:10),and it is written, the appearance of a sapphire stonein the likeness of a throne (Ezekiel1:26).” In other words, by fulfilling this commandment, a person becomes connected to some degree with the Divine Presence (see Rashi, ad loc.).
In this light, we can perhaps explain the unique form of the lower connection of theChoshento the Ephod.Avraham Avinu,in all of his actions — whether those related to man’s relationship with G-d, or those affecting interpersonal relations — desired to fulfill the will of G-d and thus become more closely attached to the Holy Throne in heaven. Therefore, the link between the Choshenand the Ephod— which symbolizes the linkage between these two categories of commandments — is not a tight and strictly fastened connection(מזיח)through gold chains; rather, it is merely achieved through material threads, in order to teach us that in order to sanctify G-d’s Name one need not invest a huge fortune, but can accomplish it even through the simplest of objects — threads and shoestraps. Such a connection to the Throne of Glory also protects one from haughtiness(זחיחות), because the entire world is but an expression of G-d’s Glory, while we are “but dust and ash.”
May it be the will of G-d that soon, in our own time, we merit seeing the Kohen Gadol(High Priest) wearing the ChoshenandEphod, serving G-d in the rebuilt Temple and atoning for the sins of his nation, Amen.
Yehoshua is a retired U.S. Army Chaplain and currently lives in Israel with his wife and children.
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