By: Avraham Walkenfeld  | 

A War Without the Urim Vetumim

The Yale coat of arms bears the Hebrew words Urim Vetumim, set inside books (ironically missing the point of the Urim Vetumim), and their official motto is Lux et Veritas, or “Light and Truth” in Latin. The subtle insinuation that Yale is actually the Seat of Knowledge within this world and the conduit of all things known is perhaps a tad bit arrogant and conceited.

Interestingly, we say in Kinna 36:

Can Shinar (Babylon) and Pasros (Egypt) compare with you, despite their greatness, and can their worthless deities be compared to your Urim Vetumim?

Thus, on Tisha B’av, we actually mourn the very comparison between the worthless deities of the world and the power of the Urim Vetumim. Interestingly our focus is upon this comparison rather than the actual loss of the Urim Vetumim. The composer of this Kinna, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, dreamt his entire life about emigrating to Eretz Yisroel, and his life was tragically cut short through achieving this illustrious goal.

The passuk in Exodus 28:30 explains the Urim Vetumim:

Inside the breast-piece of decision you shall place the Urim and Tumim, so that they are over Aaron’s heart when he comes before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall carry the instrument of decision for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord at all times.

Rashi explains that it was an inscription of God’s special name which illuminated letters to provide answers that were always true.

The passuk in Numbers 27:21 states: 

But he shall present himself to Eleazar the priest, who shall on his behalf seek the decision of the Urim before the Lord. By such instruction, they shall go out and by such instruction they shall come in, he and all the Israelite [militia], and the whole community.”

Rashi comments that this was specifically used for war.

The Urim Vetumim is discussed at length in Masechet Yoma 73a. It was consulted through the high riest and specifically for matters of warfare, especially regarding specific military maneuvers and their successes. Even though the decree of a prophet can be retracted, a decree from the Urim Vetumim cannot be. It is called the Urim Vetumim as Urim is based on the word light, and it illuminates words, and Tumim means complete and it completes its words. A Gemara in Sotah 48b tells us that from the time the First Temple was destroyed the Urim Vetumim were lost and will be found upon the arrival of the Messiah.

We are now living through a time in which our brothers and sisters are at war and in mortal peril. We do not have the Urim Vetumim to guide us. We cannot receive direct military strategy through Divine means. For this we weep, “Cry in a bitter voice to your Rock about your breach and your distress” (Kinna 41). 

The Midrash Vayikra Rabba tells us that the commandment of Arbah Minim is a form of prayer that Hakodosh Baruch Hu will not be able to refuse and will guarantee the Israelites’ ultimate victory over nations of the world. Rabbi Yitzchak applied the passukim to the years in which there is no king, no prophet, no priest and no Urim Vetumim. And all they have is prayer alone. The Midrash concludes with the prayer of King David in front of Hakodush Boruch Hu, "Master of the World, do not spurn their prayers.

When we have no Urim Vetumim, we have something far greater: We have prayer! The Arba Minim that we shook only a few weeks ago is a form of prayer. These prayers will ultimately ensure our victory.

Whilst the Urim Vetumim is an aspect or an element of the connection that we had to the Divine, the connection stems from our eternal covenant with God, as God promised in the Tochecha (Leviticus 26:44) that we will always stay connected.

Yet, even then, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or spurn them so as to destroy them, annulling My covenant with them: for I am ‘ה their God.

Hashem will be our God, and we will be His nation. We uphold our aspect of the connection through Torah and tefilla. The Torah, which we so recently celebrated, during the bloodiest day for Klal Yisroel since the Holocaust, is immutable and infinite! Unlike the Urim Vetumim, “Lo Bashamayim Hi” — it is not in Heaven.

During leining on Simchas Torah, we read about the mourning period for Moshe Rabbeinu. The Gemara in Temurah 16a writes that thousands of halachos were forgotten during this period. They asked Yehoshua Bin Nun to determine the Halachot for them, but he responded “Torah Lo Bashamyim Hi.” They asked Shmuel and he responded that a prophet cannot add to the Torah. They asked Pinchas and he responded like Yehoshua and they asked Eliezer and he responded like Shmuel. The Meforshim explain that Yehoshua and Pinchas, as a king and priest, had a right to ask the Urim Vetumim, so they responded “Torah Lo Bashamyim Hi.” Shmuel and Eliezer were asked as prophets, so they responded they were unable to add to the Torah.

However, Rabbi Abbahu responded to a similar Baraita that Othniel ben Kenaz, was able to establish the lost Torah through pilpul. The fact that the Torah is not in heaven makes it even more powerful than the Urim Vetumim which is! Eitz Chaim Hi LaMachizim Bach.

Alas, we are a nation at war stricken with grief. We cannot consult the Urim Vetumim right now. Yet, our integral and immutable connection to the Ribono Shel Olam is here just the same — through our Torah and our tefilla! This will surely save us!

The Kinna mourns the comparison that the Egyptians and Babylonians made to their deities, because the Urim Vetumim showcases an aspect of our connection with the divine, and without the Urim Vetumim, the nations of the world and the scholars at Yale, ignore and spurn us as they take it for themselves. They can attack our children without condemnation and incite blood libels against us. But they can never shake our faith, or destroy our connection with Hakodush Baruch Hu — that is immutable and infinite.

Kinna 36 concludes:

“All idolatrous kingdoms shall pass on and disappear,

While your firm power is forever; your leaders for all generations.

Your God desired you for his residence,

And fortunate is the man who chooses and draws near and dwells in your courtyards.

Fortunate is he who waits and arrives and witnesses

The rising of your light when your dawn bursts forth over him.

To behold the goodness of your chosen ones,

And exalt in your joy when you [referring to Tzion] return

To the youthfulness of early times.”

Ribbono Shel Olam — answer our tefilos, let your light shine forth, grant us a swift and decisive victory, do not let more innocent blood be spilled, let the souls who have perished find shelter under the cover of your divine wings, avenge their blood and let us exalt in your joy when we return to Tzion to the youthfulness of early times, b’m’heira b’yamainu.


Photo Caption: A soldier praying during the Yom Kippur War

Photo Credit: Israeli Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit / Wikimedia Commons