Polygraphs, Prophecy and Genealogy

We communicate in a variety of ways, including verbal, nonverbal, written, and visual.

The FBI, for example, trains their agents to observe facial micro-expressions to determine emotions like fear and happiness. A polygraph can enhance human perception by measuring physiological indicators while a person answers a series of questions. DNA can reveal genetic relationships.

In this week’s Torah portion Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10), we read about a garment worn by the Kohen Gadol or High Priest, which also enhanced perception.

The High Priest’s “breastplate of judgment” (choshen mishpat) was made of precious stones and “gold, blue, purple, and crimson wool, and twisted fine linen” (Exodus 28: 15). The “Urim and Tumim,” a parchment with the Explicit Name of God, was placed within the fold of the breastplate. Together, this garment provided the High Priest with the ability to prophetically answer questions and “adjudicate for the children of Israel” (Exodus 28:30).

Our sages explain that during the second Temple, when the divine presence was concealed, “the spirit of prophecy departed” (Yoma 9b), and the breastplate of judgment did not respond to questions.

The sages did not say prophecy “ceased” because, as the prophet Joel says, prophecy will return in the messianic age when God “will pour out My spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 3:1). The book of Ezra states that the prophetic power of the breastplate of judgment will also return in the future.

In Ezra’s time, thousands of Jews returned from exile to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple. Their family lineages were recorded in detail. However, when one family could not present their genealogical records, they were disqualified from the priesthood and told that this would be resolved in the future when “a priest will arise with the Urim V'Tumim" (Ezra 2:62-63). This family stands out as an exception because everyone else possessed genealogical records.

This incident refutes one of the major arguments used by missionaries who say the messiah must have arrived before the destruction of the second Temple. They inaccurately claim that “all genealogical records where stored in the Temple and destroyed,” making it impossible for anyone today to prove the messianic requirements of being a descendant of Judah and King David.

There is no evidence that genealogical records were stored in the first or second Temple. The events in Ezra’s time demonstrates that people possessed records that survived the destruction of the First Temple. Also, having witnessed the vulnerability of the First Temple, it is unlikely that they would now risk keeping records exclusively in the Second Temple. Finally, even if the future messiah does not have family records, his lineage will be validated when the “Urim V'Tumim" returns.

Today, some individuals can trace their lineage to King David. However, even if we do not possess such documents, by following the Torah, we celebrate that we are part of an amazing spiritual heritage that traces back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz