The Logos and Speech (Parsha T’tzaveh Ex. 27:20-30:10)

This coming week’s Parsha (2/27/21) deals largely with the vestments of the High Priest. Among these vestments is the “breastplate of judgement.”:

[15] And thou shalt make the breastplate of judgment with cunning work; after the work of the ephod thou shalt make it; of gold, of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, and of fine twined linen, shalt thou make it.
[16] Foursquare it shall be being doubled; a span shall be the length thereof, and a span shall be the breadth thereof.
[17] And thou shalt set in it settings of stones, even four rows of stones: the first row shall be a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle: this shall be the first row.
[18] And the second row shall be an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond.
[19] And the third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst.
[20] And the fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper: they shall be set in gold in their inclosings.
[21] And the stones shall be with the names of the children of Israel, twelve, according to their names, like the engravings of a signet; every one with his name shall they be according to the twelve tribes.
[22] And thou shalt make upon the breastplate chains at the ends of wreathen work of pure gold.
[23] And thou shalt make upon the breastplate two rings of gold, and shalt put the two rings on the two ends of the breastplate.
[24] And thou shalt put the two wreathen chains of gold in the two rings which are on the ends of the breastplate.
[25] And the other two ends of the two wreathen chains thou shalt fasten in the two ouches, and put them on the shoulderpieces of the ephod before it.
[26] And thou shalt make two rings of gold, and thou shalt put them upon the two ends of the breastplate in the border thereof, which is in the side of the ephod inward.
[27] And two other rings of gold thou shalt make, and shalt put them on the two sides of the ephod underneath, toward the forepart thereof, over against the other coupling thereof, above the curious girdle of the ephod.
[28] And they shall bind the breastplate by the rings thereof unto the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it may be above the curious girdle of the ephod, and that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod.
[29] And Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel in the breastplate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth in unto the holy place, for a memorial before the LORD continually.
[30] And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the LORD: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually.
(Exodus 28:15-30 KJV)

Philo writes concerning verse 30:

XL. (118) At all events the holy scripture being well aware how great is the power of the impetuosity of each passion, anger and appetite, puts a bridle in the mouth of each, having appointed reason as their charioteer and pilot. And first of all it speaks thus of anger, in the hope of pacifying and curing it: (119) “And you shall put manifestation and truth (the Urim and the Thummim), in the oracle of judgment, and it shall be on the breast of Aaron when he comes into the holy place before the Lord.”(Exodus 28:30.) Now by the oracle is here meant the organs of speech which exist in us, which is in fact the power of language. Now language is either inconsiderate, and such as will not stand examination, or else it is judicious and well approved, and it brings us to form a notion of discreet speech. For Moses here speaks not of a random spurious oracle, but of the oracle of the judgment, which is equivalent to saying, a well-judged and carefully examined oracle; (120) and of this well approved kind of language he says that there are two supreme virtues, namely, distinctness and truth, and he says well. For it is language which has in the first place enabled one man to make affairs plain and evident to his neighbour, when without it we should not be able to give any intimation of the impression produced on our soul by outward circumstances, nor to show of what kind they are.

XVI. On which account we have been compelled to have recourse to such signs as are given by the voices, that is nouns and verbs, which ought by all means to be universally known, in order that our neighbours might clearly and evidently comprehend our meaning; and, in the next place, to utter them at all times with truth. (121) For of what advantage would it be to make our assertions clear and distinct, but nevertheless false? For it follows inevitably that if this were allowed the hearer would be deceived, and would reap the greatest possible injury with ignorance and delusion. For what would be the advantage of my speaking to a boy distinctly and clearly, and telling him, when I show him the letter A, that it is G, or that the letter E is O? Or what would be the good of a musician pointing out to a pupil whom comes to him to learn the rudiments of his art that the harmonic scale was the chromatic; or the chromatic, the diatonic; or that the highest string was the middle one; or that conjoined sounds were separated; or that the highest tone in the tetrachord scale was a supernumerary note? (122) No doubt, a man who said this might speak clearly and distinctly, but he would not be speaking truly, but by such assertions he would be implanting wickedness in language. But when he joins both distinctness and truth, then he makes his language profitable to him who is seeking information, employing both its virtues, which in fact are nearly the only ones of which language is capable.

XLII. (123) Moses, therefore, says that discreet discourse, having its own peculiar virtues, is placed on the breast of Aaron, that is to say, of anger, in order that it may in the first instance be guided by reason, and may not be injured by its own deficiency in reason, and, in the second place, by distinctness, for there is no natural influence which makes anger a friend to distinctness. At all events, not only are the ideas of angry men, but all their expressions also, full of disorder and confusion, and therefore it is very natural for the want of clearness on the part of anger to be rectified by clearness, (124) and, in addition, by truth; for, among other things, anger has also this particular property of being inclined to misrepresent the truth. At all events, of all those who give way to this disposition scarcely any one speaks the strict truth, as if it were his soul and not his body that is under the influence of its intoxication. These, then, are the chief remedies suitable for that part of the soul which is influenced by anger, namely, reason, disinterestedness of language, and truth of language, for the three things are in power only one, namely, reason, curing anger, which is a pernicious disease of the soul, by means of the virtues truth and perspicuity.

XLIII. (125) To whom, or to what, then, does it belong to bear these things? Not to my mind, or to that of any chance person, but to the consecrated and purely sacrificial intellect, that, namely, of Aaron. And not even to this at all times, for it is frequently subject to change, but only when it is going on unchangeably, when it is entering into the holy place, when reason is entering in together with holy opinions, and is not abandoning them. (126) But it often happens that the mind is at the same time entering into sacred and holy and purified opinions, but still such as are only human; such, for instance, as opinions on what is expedient; opinions on successful actions; opinions on what is in accordance with established law; opinions concerning virtue as it exists among men. Nor is the mind, when disposed in this way, competent to bear the oracle on its breast together with he virtues, but only that one which is going in before the Lord, that is to say, that one which doeth everything for the sake of God, and which estimates nothing as superior to the things of God; but attributes to them also their due rank, not indeed dwelling on them, but ascending upwards to the knowledge and understanding of an appreciation of the honour due to the one God. (127) For, in a mind which is thus disposed, anger will be directed by purified reason, which takes away its irrational part, and remedies what there is confused and disorderly in it by the application of distinctness, and eradicates its falsehood by truth.

XLIV. (128) Aaron, therefore, for he is a second Moses, restraining the breast, that is to say, the angry passions, does not allow them to be carried away by undistinguishing impulse, fearing lest, if they obtain complete liberty, they may become restiff, like a horse, and so trample down the whole soul. But he attends to and cures it, and bridles it in the first instance by reason, that so, being under the guidance of the best of charioteers, it may not become exceedingly unmanageable, and in the second place, by the virtues of language, distinctness, and truth. For, if the angry passions were educated in such a way as to yield to reason and distinctness, and to cultivate the virtue of truthfulness, they would deliver themselves from great irritation and make the whole soul propitious.
(Allegorical Interpretation III, 118-128)

The Hellenist Jews called the “breastplate of judgement” (חֹ֤שֶׁן מִשְׁפָּט֙) the “oracle of judgment” (λογεῖον τῶν κρίσεων) (as in the LXX) where the word “oracle” comes from the Greek Logos.

Philo sees the Oracle/Breastplate of Judgment as representing the power of language. There may be a wordplay in Hebrew here between חשן (breastplate) and לשן (tongue, language). Philo sees that out speech should be controlled by the Logos (reason), and that two key virtues of speech controlled by the rational mind, are distinctness and truth, symbolized by the Urim and Thummim placed in the breastplate. (The Hebrew word Urim means “lights” while the Hebrew word Thummim means “perfections”. ) The breastplate covers the breast as a defense against anger, and the emotions in general.

As Hebraic Stoics, we our rational minds should guide our speech, restraining our emotions so that all of our words are well thought out, distinct and true.

If you would like to see more of these weekly Stoic Torah studies, please support this work of restoration of Hebraic Stoicism by donating by Paypal to

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *