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Clothed in Majesty

Parashat Tetzaveh (Ex.27:20-30:10)details the regal garments worn by Aaron, the first Kohen Gadol (High Priest). The vestments evoke nobility, beauty and the promise of transforming or ‘clothing’ the people of Israel in glory and honor. On his chest, Aaron wore the Hoshen Mishpat or Breastplate of Judgement which featured twelve uncut gemstones, each bearing the name of one of the Twelve Tribes. When a vital ruling was needed, the Breastplate responded with the Urim and Thumin—the Lights and Reflections that danced across specific letters within the names on the stones to spell out judgment that carried the authority of a decree, one that could not be nullified.

The Breastplate was placed to over the heart of the High Priest to follow in the footsteps of Aaron who was found fit to minister to the needs of the nation, pursuing peace with humility, honesty and justice—knowing that the will of God was all that mattered. These same vestments were handed down to each High Priest until the fall of Solomon’s Temple at the hands of the Babylonians, in the year 3338 on the Jewish Calendar.

Decades before the destruction, Jeremiah the prophet warned King Josiah to hide the most precious of the Temple’s riches, including the Ark of the Covenant. According to the book Emek HaMelekh, written by Rabbi Naftali Hertz Ben Ya-acov Elchanan, and published in Holland, in 1648, there was a little-known section of Kellim in the Talmud that was redacted. It told of sacred treasures from the Bet HaMikdash secreted away under the supervision of, “…five righteous men. They are Shimur Ha Levi, Hezkiyahu, Zidkiyahu, Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, son of Ido the prophet…”

In Mishna 2, among the many items hidden are the, “golden forehead nameplate, the Breastplate of Judgement, as well as the sacred garments of Aaron, the Kohen Gadol…”

The most intriguing statement found in Emek HaMelech reveals that the aforementioned pious men who oversaw the storing away of the kellim (vessels), inscribed the holy inventory on a luach nehoshet, or Copper Scroll. It was this reference to a copper scroll that later inspired the late Professor Vendyl Jones to search for the Temple treasures in the dusty caves along the Dead Sea in Israel.

The Copper Scroll was discovered in 1952 in Cave Three among the cliffs of Qumran. The unique scroll was taken to Manchester College in England but not fully translated until the mid 1960s. Scholars claim that the text is written in Mishnaic Hebrew and lacks nikudot, the diacritical signs that aid in pronunciation of the words and, most importantly, their meaning. Thus, not all translations agree. That said, author Giza Vermes, in his The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, offers a complete translation of the Copper Scroll. On the first column of the Copper Scroll, line four, there is a reference to the ephod, part of High Priest’s vestments.

Today, the quest for these holy objects continues through the auspices of Project Qumran, an Israel-based group conducting archaeological work in the Qumran area. They are carrying on the legacy of Professor Jones who spent nearly forty years, digging at the Cave of Column, or Pillar Cave, hoping to uncover the holiest of items from the Temple of Solomon. May it come speedily in our day.

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