I am currently researching the topic of Urim and Thumim and have two questions, maybe someone can help me or suggest sources:

  1. There are 72 letters on the Ephod (50 for the 12 tribes plus Avraham Itzhak Yaakov Shivtei Israel according to Yoma 73b). Now, 72 is a number of significance in Kabbalah. There are 72 names of Hashem and the Name of Hashem is Gematria 72 (במילוי יודין). What are the connections and which sources make the connection?

  2. I saw in non-Jewish sources that Urim and Thumim are two stones placed inside the Ephod. As far as I understand there is nothing like this in Jewish sources. The shem meforash is inserted inside the Ephod and then the Ephod functions as the Urim and Thumim. Am I right or am I missing something?

  • Thats Rashi and Chazal. No mention of Gods name in Rambam. Ibn Ezra says they were astrological devices.
    – Nahum
    Feb 11 at 1:00
  • בעל הטורים: את האורים ואת התומים - בגימטריא שם של שבעים ושתים
    – chortkov2
    2 days ago

3 Answers 3


According to the Gemara (Yoma 73), there were 72 letters on the stones of the choshen. Rabbeinu Bachya (Tetzaveh 28:15) points out the parallel between 72 letters and the 72 letter Name of G-d.

הרי לך בכל אבן ואבן ששה אותיות להורות כי ששת ימי המעשה תלוים בי"ב שבטים, והיו באבני חושן ע"ב אותיות, כי י"ב פעמים ששה הם ע"ב, והם כנגד ע"ב אותיות של השם הגדול להורות בזה קיום העולם שנברא בע"ב שעות, שהרי העולם נברא ביום שנאמר 'ביום עשות ה' אלהים ארץ ושמים' וששת ימי המעשה ע"ב שעות יש בהם י"ב שעות בכל יום וזהו שאמר הכתוב (תהלים פט) אמרתי עולם חסד יבנה כמנין חס"ד ולמדנו מזה שהעולם שנברא בע"ב שעות מתקיים בזכות השבטים שבהם ע"ב אותיות

The six letters on each of the twelve stones correspond to 6 Days of the Week being reliant on the Twelve Tribes of Israel; the 72 letters correspond to the 72 letters of the Name of G-d, which symbolizes the continuity of the world which was created in 72 hours (Creation was only during the day; 6 Days x 12 Hours = 72 Hours of creation) as hinted in עולם חס"ד יבנה (חס"ד has numerical value of 72).

Bottom line: 72 letters symbolize the Creation, and hints to the fact the continuity of the world's existence is in the merit of the Shevatim, who contain 72 letters.

This is in accordance with the Gemara (Yoma 73) which quotes שבטי ישרון, or Yerushalmi שבטי ישראל. According to Rambam, the words שבטי י''ה appeared, which has 69 letters - 3 less than the 72.

  • Rashi (Sukkah 45a) and Ramban (Derush Toras Hashem Temimah) describe the "72 Name" as you mention, 72 triplets derived from 3 Pesukim (Shemos 14:19-21) - in the sequence beginning with (1) the first letter of the first passuk, (2) the last letter of the second, and (3) the first letter of the third.
    – chortkov2
    10 hours ago
  • I translated Rabbeinu Bachya as it is written there - he writes 72 letters. I don't think he disagrees with the above (see Rabbeinu Bachya to Shemos 14:21) however there is also a seperate name of 72 letters. This is not the place for a lengthy discussion, but some Rishonim understand that there is a name of 72 letters which is a shem hakollel for the 72 names you mention.
    – chortkov2
    10 hours ago
  • The reference to the 72 letter name of G-d by Rabbeinu Bachya is not a separate name. It is because the triplets are sometimes referred to as אותוון. This is in contrast to אותיות which is used only in the context of single letters. 4 hours ago

Your understanding of the letters engraved on the stones of the Breastplate (חשן משפט) worn by the Kohen Gadol, like is described by Rabbeinu Bechya to Tetzaveh 28:15, is correct. See also Shemot 28:15-21 for the full description.

Like the Ari z"l, Ramchal and the Ba'al Shem Tov teach, there are 4 expanded forms (called Miloy מלוי) of G-d's 4 letter name (יהוה), which correspond to the descent from higher (greater revelation of spiritual existence and less material existence) to lower (greater material existence and less spiritual). These four general levels correspond to the four general worlds or universes (States of Existence) described as Atzilut (Emanation), Beriah (Creation), Yetzirah (Formation and Asiah (Action).

That name that you mention in your question with a plain Gematria of 72 (יו׳ד, ה׳י, וי׳ו, ה׳י) corresponds to the world of Atzilut.

The "72 letter" name of G-d is a misnomer. The reference to the 72 letter name of G-d by Rabbeinu Bachya is not a separate name. It is because the triplets, like the letters in מלוי, are sometimes referred to as אותוון. This is in contrast to the term אותיות which is used only in the context of single letters.

This is discussed in detail in Pardes Rimonim by Rabbi Moshe Cordevero and Sefer Kehillat Yaacov by Rabbi Yaacov Tzvi Yolles of Dinov.

It is actually a 216 letter name, comprised of 72 triplets (3 letter roots) which corresponds to the phrase, "ריח ניחח אשה ליהוה". See BeMidbar 28:1-8 and specifically 28:7)

That just like smoke rises from the offering burned on the altar, by us (ריח) elevating the גבורה (216) (Severity), we precipitate ניחח, (as in the expression ניחות דרגה or נחת רוח) from G-d, a corresponding downward and opposite flow of blessing into Creation, an effulgence of (72) חסד (Kindness). That transforming the transitory state of Gevurah (216) results in a threefold increase of Kindness (72). That the concept of three also relates to permanence (חזקה).

In kabbalistic nomenclature this principle is called: אתערותא דלתתא אתערותא דלעילא.

This relationship is an explicit teaching from Moshe Rabbeinu coming from the proper alignment of the 3 posukim from parshat BeShallach and the splitting of the Reed Sea in Shemot 14:19-21. The first and third posukim are in correct reading order, from left to right, while the middle posuk is reversed to read from right to left. This principle of conversion from one state of being to another is also related to the first sign that Moshe and Aharon made before Pharaoh in Egypt. This was the conversion of the staff to a serpent and back again onto a staff. This flipping principle also corresponds to the triple blessing recited by the Kohanim in Birkat Kohanim.

This name is what was written on klaf and inserted into the Choshen HaMishpat. The non-Jewish source you mention likely misunderstood the meaning of the Hebrew. That the letters of the name of 72 triplets (actually 216 individual letters) are also referred to as stones (אבנים), because like it says in Sefer Yetzirah, Chapter 1, the letters of the Aleph-Beit are also called stones. And the Hebrew word אבנים means, minimally, two stones. They associated the expression את-האורים ואת התמים to mean literally two stones possibly coated with gold. See Rashi and Ramban there (Shemot 28:30) for clarification.

The Kohen Gadol, when seeking Divine guidance from G-d over a national issue for the Jewish people, meditated on this name while consulting the Urim v'Tumim which caused the engraved letters on the stones to illuminate an answer. The Kohen Gadol would then, via Divine Inspiration (רוח הקודש), understand what message was intended from the illuminated letters, meaning their proper arrangement, word breaks and interpretation.

  • Not exactly a misnomer. While you are correct that there are 72 sets of 3 (see Rashi Sukkah 45a, Rabbeinu Bachya Shemos 14:21, Ramban Derush Toras Hashem Temimah), there is also a name of 72 letters.
    – chortkov2
    10 hours ago

To address your second question and as Nahum pointed out in the comments, Ibn Ezra on Shmos 28:6 explains that the Urim and Thumim were astrological devices. The Ramban quotes Ibn Ezra in Shmos 28:30 as saying that they were made of gold and silver and fashioned by an artisan, but the Ramban argues and goes with the general interpretation of them being parchment with divine names on them.

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