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When the kohen gadol enters the Mishkan in order to worship, he carries upon himself the names of the Tribes of Israel. As we learn in this week’s portion, “The names of the Children of Israel” are to appear on the shoham stones on his shoulders (28:9-12) as well as on the choshen, on the breastplate of gems that the kohen gadol wears (11:29). In each case, our names must appear “as a remembrance,” a zikaron.

The nature of this zikaron is subject to dispute. Does the kohen gadol wear our names so that G-d will look upon the names of the tribes and then recall our righteousness (Rashi, Sforno, Netziv)? Or does he wear our names as a reminder for himself, so that he may properly meditate upon the fate of those for whom he prays when he approaches G-d (Ralbag, Abravanel)?


However we answer this question, we must recognize that both approaches assume the consideration of our needs – the needs of the people of Israel – are to be a focal point when the kohen gadol approaches G-d. He is our representative, worshiping and praying on our behalf. As he does so, he thinks of us and asks G-d to consider us favorably. All of that is to say that, though we do not often think of it, our wellbeing as individuals and as a people plays a central role in the ritual worship of first the Tabernacle and then the Temple. When we pray each morning, afternoon, and evening for redemption and for the Temple to be rebuilt, one of the things we pray for is that G-d will consider us once again in the close proximity of His home, where we might find ourselves near the unique manifestation of His presence that exists there.

Though we have not yet rebuilt the Temple (positive mitzvah number 20, according to the Rambam), when we study the special vestments of the kohen gadol, we come away with a pressing reminder. Even now, in our mikdashei me’at – our miniature, quasi Temples – our well-being is at the forefront of worship. This is not only when we approach G-d in our private Amidah. It is also so when the shaliach tzibbur prays on our behalf, and especially at moments of need or on spiritually heightened occasions such as the holidays.

When we go to shul, we bring before G-d our needs and wants, our problems and deepest desires, things we can verbalize, things we have told to no one, things that we cannot even put into words at all. We appear before G-d, and, as the halacha goes, no one may sit within our dalet amot (around six feet) so that we can speak with G-d with all of the privacy that we require (Shulchan Aruch, O”H 102:1, Meiri to Berachot 31b).

As we consider our unique relationship with G-d, we may reconsider what it means to be a proud Jew. There are so many reasons one might be proud of being Jewish: our storied history, our sense of chosenness, the gifts we have brought to humanity (human rights and dignity, equality before the law, the seven-day week and the need to let people rest). For many of us, especially as we approach the 75th Yom Haatzmaut, we may simply be proud of our accomplishments as a people in our own land, the seemingly endless list of things we could only pray and wish for for some 2,000 years. These are all good and reasonable things to be proud of. Without a doubt, we should be proud to be a Jew; it is a unique and fortunate privilege. Yet we must not forget that we are not merely one member of a people, that we are not just the latest generation of a national story and mission. We are those things and more: we are, as individuals, on G-d’s mind. That is, if we can approach him.

For many of us, we go to shul because that is what is expected of us, that is what our parents did, that is where our friends are on Shabbat, that is what we want for our children, and more. Everyone’s story is different, interesting, and complicated, but a common thread for many of us is a sense of pride in being a part of the Jewish people. If we muster the emotional discipline and strength to approach G-d purely on the basis that He is interested in us, then we will have a very different and compelling additional reason to go. We will begin to go not only because we are part of a larger people or because that is simply what is expected of a Jew but because He sees us and thinks of us at that very moment. Our names as a people are before Him. We should take pride in that, and quickly turn to the work of making sure that our names will be among the others.


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Yitzchak Sprung is the Rabbi of United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston (UOSH). Visit our facebook page or to learn about our amazing community. Find Rabbi Sprung’s podcast, the Parsha Pick-Me-Up, wherever podcasts are found.