Parshat Tetzaveh: The rule of the 99

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Rabbi Fabian Werbin
Rabbi Fabian Werbin (Courtesy of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County)

Rabbi Fabian Werbin

Among the kohen’s garments, there is one that always caught my attention: the choshen, or priestly breastplate. On it were attached 12 stones, and on the stones were engraved the names of the tribes.


When God needed to communicate with the high priest, the answers came through the letters. But there was a problem. The names used only 18 of the 22 letters of the alef-bet.

The missing letters are chet, tet, tzadi and kuf.


With them, you can spell chok tzadi tet. Chok means “rule” in Hebrew. And the numerical value of the letters tzadi and tet is 99.

Call the missing letters “the rule of the 99.” They teach a great lesson.

 

Consider this:

Once upon a time, there was a king, immensely rich but also very unhappy. This king had a happy servant. “Why are you always so happy?” the king asked one day. “Well, you treat me right. I can feed my family. My wife is beautiful and my children are healthy. Why should I be unhappy?”

The king was not satisfied with this answer, and called his wise man for a solution. The wise man said, “Your servant is happy because he doesn’t know the rule of 99.”

The wise man asked the king to fill a sack with 99 gold coins. When it was night, the two men went secretly to the servant’s house. Knocking on the door, they left the sack with the coins and a note that read: “This money is yours. It’s your prize for being such a good man. Enjoy!”

When the servant found the sack, he couldn’t believe his eyes. He began counting the money by making stacks of 10 coins — until he realized that the 10th stack only had nine coins. “There is one missing. There should be 100,” he thought.

He searched his house for hours, to no avail. He crawled through the dust in the street in front of his house, looking for his missing coin. He became convinced that it had been stolen and bemoaned his bad luck.

“With 100 coins I could say that I’m rich. I wouldn’t have to work. I would be an important and respected man.”

Ninety-nine coins are 100 percent of our treasure. Nothing is missing, no one stole anything. In other words, nothing is missing if you look at what you have as a whole.

Rabbi Fabian Werbin is associate rabbi of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County, in Bethesda. This column originally appeared in the March 5, 2020, issue of Washington Jewish Week.

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