This parashah describes the way the priestly robes are to be manufactured, and the process for the anointment and consecration of the priests (Aaron and his sons), as well as the rules for their share of the sacrifice, and about the incense.
In the description of the breastplate, the Urim and Thummim are mentioned. According to the Chumash (Soncino Edition) the words are translated as “The Lights and the Perfections”, possibly to imply “perfect lights.” There is still to this day the question of just what the Urim and Thummim were: were they a kind of dice, or is it a term for the breastplate, being one and the same with the precious gems?
They are mentioned also in Leviticus, Numbers and 1 Samuel. But after the reign of David they are no longer being used for determining God’s will; in fact, they aren’t mentioned at all.
So what were they? I would like to submit that what they are is less important than what they represent, which is the need to ask for God’s opinion and judgement on important matters. We know that whatever the Urim and Thummim were, when important matters of state or judgement was needed this “thing” was used to determine God’s will. In Joshua, after the failure to attack Ai, God commanded Joshua to call forth all the families and draw lots to determine the person at fault for the sin Israel committed. We read in other places about the use of lots to determine the outcome, always with the underlying understanding that it is God who is making the lot come out as it should. This could have been the Urim and Thummim.
In the “real” world, we “know” that the use of dice or some other form of determining a result from a random process is all luck and statistics-with each throw of the dice you have a 1 in 12 chance of a certain number coming up. It’s just dumb luck.
That doesn’t explain why the lots used in the Bible were always accurate. The party that was chosen never said, “It’s not me- I didn’t do it! Throw those dice again.” No, indeed- those chosen by lot confessed. If you knew that you were going to be killed because of the results of the Urim and Thummim, wouldn’t you lie through your teeth to prevent it?
I don’t think it is important to know what the Urim and Thummim were because the point is that they were used to ask for God’s guidance before taking action. That is what we need to remember. And that is, I believe, why we don’t hear about them after the days of David. What happened after David’s rule? The kingdom split in two, the Northern Kingdom of Israel (Shomron) began a long and ugly degradation of it’s worship, immediately prostituting itself to the Semitic gods of the area and eventually being destroyed by God. The Southern Kingdom of Judah did the same, although it was a longer decline due to a number of righteous kings, but in the end they also were destroyed by God. Not totally, like the Northern tribes, but it was devastating and lasted from about 750 BCE up to the 1950’s. Not once during this time do we hear of anyone consulting the Urim and Thummim: it is like America today. First we took God out of the schools (1962 Supreme Court decision from a New York suit) and then in 2003 they removed the monument to the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Courthouse, taking God out of our system of judgements.
The use of the Urim and the Thummim remind us more than just that we need to ask God for His guidance in (not just) important matters, but it also reminds us that God is in charge, that what might seem to be a random chance event may be God determining the actions of men, all designed to accomplish His will. No one will be able to accept this unless they faithfully believe God is in charge. However, when we leave God out of our decisions, when we ignore His will, and when we tell Him, basically, to “mind His own business”, He will do just that. He will not keep us in His will, He will not influence our outcomes, and He will leave us to our own devices.
Not a good idea. We are totally incompetent, self-centered and foolish. I like to say the ultimate proof that God exists is to look at the history of Mankind: if there wasn’t a compassionate, all-powerful and protective God watching over us, how could we have possibly survived this long?
We must look to God for guidance in everything we do. We must trust that He is not just willing to help us, but is (in every way) able to guide us away from sin and self-destruction towards righteousness and everlasting life. He tells us throughout the Tanakh that He gets no pleasure from people dying in their sin, but wants us all to do T’Shuvah, and live. The Urim and Thummim were more than just a method for determining His will, they represent the understanding and acceptance that God is in charge, that God is willing to help, and that God wants us to ask Him for guidance. So much so, that He even provided the means to ask Him.
I am not suggesting that you carry a pair of dice or a “lucky” coin and toss them every time you need to make a decision. What I am saying is that we need to seek God’s guidance in everything we do. Heck, maybe tossing a silver dollar and leaving it up to God to determine the course of action we should take isn’t such a bad idea, after all. It worked for the Patriarchs, it worked for Joshua, who knows? Maybe it will work for you?
Whichever way you want to seek God’s will in your life is not as important as the fact that you do seek His will before you make important decisions. As a Believer, as a country, and as a people we need to seek the Lord’s will and guidance in what we do. And this needs to be done at all levels, from the lowest to the highest, because the highest human level is still way, way, way below God. Way below!
By the way, asking God for guidance is no excuse to do nothing and blame God for not answering you. We are to seek His guidance, and we are to walk in faith. The need for action was already determined when the Urim and Thummim were consulted, so do not use asking God’s guidance and waiting for an answer as an excuse to sit on your tuchas and do nothing.
Ask and He will answer, walk in faith and He will guide you.