The Torah tells us that upon the Shoham stones, the names of the tribes were engraved: וְלָקַחְתָּ, אֶת-שְׁתֵּי אַבְנֵי-שֹׁהַם; וּפִתַּחְתָּ עֲלֵיהֶם, שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.
שִׁשָּׁה, מִשְּׁמֹתָם, עַל, הָאֶבֶן הָאֶחָת; וְאֶת-שְׁמוֹת הַשִּׁשָּׁה הַנּוֹתָרִים, עַל-הָאֶבֶן הַשֵּׁנִית—כְּתוֹלְדֹתָם – Six of their names on one stone and the names of the remaining six on the second stone, according to their births (Shemos 28:9-10). Therefore, upon one stone was engraved: Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Dan, Naphtali; and upon the other stone was engraved: Gad, Asher, Yissachar, Zevulun, Yosef and Binyamin.
Why did the Kohen Gadol carry the names of the Tribes of Israel upon his shoulder straps? אַבְנֵי זִכָּרֹן, לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – Stones of remembrance for the Bnei Yisrael. Rashi notes: שֶׁיְּהֵא רוֹאֶה הַקָּבָּ”ה אֶת הַשְּׁבָטִים כְּתוּבִים לְפָנָיו וְיִזְכּוֹר צִדְקָתָם – That Hashem will see the (names of the) Tribes written before Him and He will remember their righteousness (28:12 w/ Rashi).
And what of the אבני מילואים, the twelve Filling Stones, which adorned the חשן (the breastplate)? Upon those twelve were engraved the names of the tribes, in order of their birth, one tribe per stone (28:21 w/ Rashi).
If the names of the Tribes were engraved upon the stones of the shoulder straps, what do we learn from the fact that they needed to be further engraved upon the twelve breast-plate stones? Furthermore, what lesson can we derive from the command to engrave the Shoham stones with six names per stone, while the Filling Stones were engraved with one name per stone?
Perhaps the Torah is teaching us a profound lesson of what it means to be a member of this glorious nation, Am Yisrael, the nation of Israel.
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