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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?

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  • Thats Rashi and Chazal. No mention of Gods name in Rambam. Ibn Ezra says they were astrological devices.
    – Nahum
    Commented Feb 11 at 1:00
  • 2
    בעל הטורים: את האורים ואת התומים - בגימטריא שם של שבעים ושתים
    – chortkov2
    Commented Feb 26 at 21:23
  • Shivtei Yeshurun, not Israel...
    – Josh
    Commented Feb 29 at 22:58
  • @chortkov2 Please note from the Baal HaTurim you quote that there is no emphasis on the word אותיות, only שבעים ושתים. Commented Mar 1 at 12:51
  • I've also read that the urim v thumim is the special names on parchment that makes the stones or letters on the breastplate light up. Probably Little Midrash Commented Mar 1 at 18:31

3 Answers 3

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+350

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.

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  • 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
    Commented Feb 28 at 21:53
  • 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
    Commented Feb 28 at 22:01
  • 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. Commented Feb 29 at 4:14
  • Your “Bottom Line” is missing the traditional emphasis and teaching. In practice, what do we learn from the Great Name of 72? Commented Mar 1 at 12:57
  • Do you realize that your answer doesn’t address either of the two actual questions stated by the OP? Commented Mar 4 at 5:45
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Regarding your first question, your assumptions about the Ephod are incorrect. Most of what you describe as pertaining to the Ephod, is in fact, details relating to the Breastplate of Judgement and the Urim v’Tumim.

The two onyx stones of the Ephod are only engraved with the 50 letters of the names of the twelve tribes, 25 letters on the right shoulder and 25 letters on the left shoulder. (Shemot 28:12)

That said, the letters engraved on the two onyx stones of the Ephod do have a relationship to the letters engraved on the twelve stones of the Breastplate of Judgement and in turn the letters written on the klaf (the animal hide similar to those prepared for a mezuzah or Sefer Torah) of the Urim v’Tumim.

These letters engraved on the stones of the Ephod relate to the 72 letters engraved on the stones of the Breastplate (חשן משפט), worn by the Kohen Gadol, like is described by Rabbeinu Bachya to Tetzaveh 28:15. For the full description, see Shemot 28:15-21.

For a thorough discussion of the connection between the names on the two stones of the Ephod and the names on the twelve stones of the Choshen Mishpat (the Breastplate of Judgement), see the discourse of the second Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Mitteler Rebbe, Rabbi Dovber, זצ״ל, in Torat Chaim on Shemot, volume 2, parshat Tetzaveh, page 355a and b, beginning with the words, והנה ע״ד כ״ז יובן ג״כ בענין ב׳ אבני שה״ם בב׳ כתפות האפוד כו׳.

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. It is not the name referenced in connection with the Choshen HaMishpat although its gematria value does establish a relationship.

Regarding your second question relating to the Urim v’Tumim, again, most of your assumptions are incorrect. So the answer to your question is no, you are not correct and yes, you are missing something.

What follows will hopefully help you to understand what is actually the traditional Orthodox Jewish teaching about the 72 letters engraved on the stones of the Breastplate of Judgement and their relationship to the letters which make up the Great Name of 72 that is written on the Urim v’Tumim.

The "72 letter" name (of G-d) related to the Choshen HaMishpat and called by Rabbeinu Bachya The Great Name, השם הגדול, is actually the name written on the klaf of the Urim v’Tumim like is emphasized in the commentary Kitzur Ba’al HaTurim to Shemot 28:30 (credit to chortkov2 for this reference) who doesn’t refer to letters at all but simply the name of 72.

אורים ותומים בגי' אור ישראל. את האורים ואת התומים. כגי' שם בן שבעים ושתים:

The reference to the 72 letter name by Rabbeinu Bachya is not a separate name containing 72 individual letters. It is called the Great Name of 72 because the triplets (the 3 letter root-groupings which comprise the Great Name, like the individual letters of the Aleph-Beit, when in מלוי form, are sometimes referred to as אותוון (letters). This is in contrast to the term אותיות which is used only in the context of single letters.


To revisit the commentary of Rabbeinu Bachya:

וקבועים בו ארבעה טורים אבן וכל אבן ואבן היה מרובע, ומפתח שמות י"ב שבטים על י"ב אבנים, ראובן היה מפותח על אבן אודם, שמעון על פטדה, וכן כולם. ומלבד י"ב שבטים שהיו כתובים על י"ב אבנים הללו היו כתובים שמות האבות אברהם יצחק יעקב ושבטי ישרון. וכסדר הזה היו כתובים ראובן א' על אודם, שמעון ב' על פטדה, לוי רה"ם על ברקת, יהודה י' על נופך, יששכר צ' על ספיר, זבולן ח' על יהלום, דן ק' יע"ק על לשם, נפתלי ב' על שבו, גד שבט"י על אחלמה, אשר יש"ר על תרשיש, יוסף ו"ן על שהם, בנימין על ישפה, 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 (בראשית ב ד) ביום עשות ה' אלהים ארץ ושמים, וששת ימי המעשה ע"ב שעות יש בהם י"ב שעות בכל יום, וזהו שאמר הכתוב (תהילים פ״ט:ג׳) אמרתי עולם חסד יבנה כמנין חס"ד, ולמדנו מזה שהעולם שנברא בע"ב שעות מתקיים בזכות השבטים שבהם ע"ב אותיות.

(Free Translation)

And they affixed to it (meaning to the pure gold framework described in Shemot 28:13-14 for the Choshen Mishpat) stone rows and each stone was square. And the Name Key (meaning the order for the name layout from right to left, beginning at the top-right of the framework) for the twelve tribes on the twelve stones is: Reuven who began on the ruby, Shimon on topaz, and so forth on all of them.

Aside from the twelve tribes that were written on these twelve stones, they wrote the names of the Patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchok, Yaacov, and (the phrase) Tribes of Yeshurun שבטי ישרון.

And they were written like this order:

ראובן א on the ruby, (for 6 total letters)

שמעון ב on the topaz, (for 6 total letters)

לוי רהם on the emerald, (for 6 total letters) Note that in contrast to the names of each tribe, which appear only on a single stone each, the name Avraham spreads across 3 stones and the first 3 tribes.

יהודה י on the garnet, (for 6 total letters)

יששכר צ on the sapphire, (for 6 total letters)

זבולן ח on the diamond, (for 6 total letters)

דן ק״יעק on the opal, (for 6 total letters) Note that the name Yitzchok is spread across 4 stones and 4 different tribes.

נפתלי ב on the agate, (for 6 total letters) Note that the name Yaacov is spread over 2 stones and 2 additional tribes.

גד שבטי on the amethyst, (for 6 total letters)

אשר ישר on the beryl, (for 6 total letters)

יוסף ון on the onyx, (for 6 total letters) Note that the phrase, Tribes of Yeshurun, similar to the Patriarchs, are spread across multiple stones and multiple Tribes. The emphasis being that they are relevant to all the tribes of Israel, but not confined or restricted to any of them. This is similar to the principle of the 13th gate in the Temple and the Nusach of the Ari z”l in prayer which are open to those who don’t know their affiliation with any specific Tribe.

and

בנימין on the jasper. (for 6 total letters) Note that the final name of Benyamin on the 12th stone (which culminates on the left side) has a connotation of being a kind individual בן ימיני, similar to how Mordechai, who was also from the tribe of Benyamin, is described in Megillat Esther as איש ימיני (Esther 2:5). That the right side is associated with the quality of Kindness חסד and the left side is associated with its opposite, Severity גבורה.

Note that on each stone, there are six letters to indicate that the six work days hang upon the twelve tribes. (Meaning it is primarily the responsibility of the twelve tribes, those who are born Jewish. See also Da'at Zakeinim to Bereshit 1:1); and there are 72 letters on the stones of the Breastplate (50 letters for the names of the 12 Tribes, and an additional 22 letters (13 for the Patriarchs (which alludes to love (אהבה) and unity (אחד) and 9 for the Tribes of Yeshurun which alludes to the Hebrew letter ט, and to the concept of the empty vessel which is fit and prepared to receive and contain all, like it says in Sefer HaBahir, chapter 124. See also the words of Rabbi Acha Bar Yaacov to Yoma 73b who emphasizes the importance of the engraved letters on the Chosen Mishpat and how they include all the letters of the Aleph-Beit so that any question can be answered.).) That twelve times six is 72, and they (the 72 letters engraved on the 12 stones of the Choshen Mishpat) correspond to the 72 letters of the Great Name (The 72 letters of the Great Name refers to the 72 three letter groupings or roots called אותוון and השם הגדול which alludes to the Name of Chesed like it was referred to by the Kadmonim like Avraham Abulafia and Rabbi Yitzchok of Akko in the introduction to the ways of Kabbalah, note 41 in his commentary to the Torah, who called the Sephirah of Chesed by the expression, Gadolah גדולה), to indicate that through this (kindness, meaning the acts of Kindness done by the Jewish people and the continual acts of Kindness by the Creator of us all toward His Creation) the universe is maintained; which was created in 72 hours.

That the universe was created during the day, as it says, (Bereshit 2:4) "by daylight, the L-rd G-d made the Earth and the Heavens". And the six work days is 72 hours. That there are twelve hours of daylight in each (period of) day (See Bereshit 1:5). And this is like is said in the Writings (Tehillim 89:3), "I said the universe will be built with Kindness (חסד), like the Gematria חס״ד (which totals 72).

And we learn from this that the universe, that was created in 72 hours (of daylight) is maintained through the merit of the Tribes (whose names are found and) contained in the 72 letters (engraved on the 12 stones of the Choshen Mishpat and which correspond to the Great Name written on the klaf of the Urim v’Tumim.)


In this context, it is relevant to point out that for this connection with 72, [The Great Name השם הגדול (which includes the letter Heh twice ה׳-ה׳, alluding to Avraham and Sarah (that Sarai converted the letter Yud י׳ of her name to a pair of Heh's ה׳-ה׳ so that Avram אברם became Avraham אברהם and Sarai שרי became Sarah שרה; and also to Ben Bag Bag בן בג בג (that ב״ג is gematria ה׳) and Ben Heh Heh בן הא הא (that הא is the Miluy of ה׳) like is mentioned in Avot 5:22-23 and also to the City Workers העבד העיר mentioned in Yechezkel 48:18-19 who are comprised of male Jewish converts.),] to be present, the 12 tribes of the children of Israel (meaning those born Jewish) must be unified and working in cooperation and complement, both with those connected to the Patriachs, Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaacov (like the descendants of Hagar and Keturah, who are included in their houses and also the descendants of Esav, Yaacov's brother) and also to the 13th Tribe, the Tribe of male, Jewish converts, שבטי ישרון, who are called בני אברהם (the Children of Avraham), and who are not members of any of the twelve tribes of Israel שבטי ישראל and have no inheritance with them.

This is in keeping with one of the final instructions of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on how to hasten the final and complete redemption. That every individual must do their best to increase in acts of kindness. To literally fill the whole world with kindness. That this is the correct translation of גמילות חסד, like is understood from Bereshit 21:7-8 which says:

וַתֹּ֗אמֶר מִ֤י מִלֵּל֙ לְאַבְרָהָ֔ם הֵינִ֥יקָה בָנִ֖ים שָׂרָ֑ה כִּֽי־יָלַ֥דְתִּי בֵ֖ן לִזְקֻנָֽיו׃ וַיִּגְדַּ֥ל הַיֶּ֖לֶד וַיִּגָּמַ֑ל וַיַּ֤עַשׂ אַבְרָהָם֙ מִשְׁתֶּ֣ה גָד֔וֹל בְּי֖וֹם הִגָּמֵ֥ל אֶת־יִצְחָֽק׃

That just as Sarah filled her son, Yitzchok, who is associated with the Sephirah of Severity גבורה, with her milk, milk which is white, the color associated with kindness, so too, we are to fill the world with kindness חסד, softening the name of G-d associated with Severity and Judgement, meaning אלהים and converting it into the name associated with softened judgement and unity אכדטם. That אכדטם is gematria ויחן. (See Rashi to Shemot 19:2)

This Great Name 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 28:6)

That just like smoke rises from the offering burned on the altar; when we (ריח) elevate 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 process and 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 which form the Great Name of 72 three letter roots. The first and third posukim are in correct reading order, from right to left, while the middle posuk is reversed to read from left to right.

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 Great Name of 216 letters (216 which is the gematria of גבורה) which is comprised of 72 three-letter roots, one letter from each of the three consecutive posukim from Shemot 14:19-21 (72 which is the gematria of חסד) is what was written on the klaf called the Urim v'Tumim and inserted into the Choshen Mishpat.

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 of the Choshen Mishpat 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.

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  • 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
    Commented Feb 28 at 22:02
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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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