Terumah - The Stones of Shoham

And YHVH spoke to Moses, saying: "Speak to the children of Israel that they bring me an offering…
avnei shoham (stones of onyx), and stones to be set, for the ephod..." Exodus, Shemot, 25:17

Ancient words, ancient garments, a call from the past. The avnei shoham, stones of onyx, were chosen to be the home for the tribes of Israel. The names of six tribes were inscribed on one stone, and the other six on the second stone. These stones of onyx were were worn by Aaron and his sons, the first priests or Kohanim of Israel.

Why the shoham? Why onyx? Why this stone as the ground on which our tribal names would be engraved and carried by the High Priest on his shoulders? (Ex 28:4)?

Reasons for the choice of shoham are hidden in the spelling of the word. The letters of shoham are shin-hey-mem. In Hebrew, letters are the building blocks of meaning, and all words with the same letters are connected by thought patterns.

So shoham, onyx, is related to mem-shin-hey, Moshe or Moses, the great leader who led us out of Egypt and brought down the Ten Commandments, the words of the Holy One. Shoham is in this way connected to the idea of redemption and revelation.

Shoham is also related to hey-shin-mem, Hashem, a version of the sacred four letter name of G!d. The shoham stone carries the very name of G*d as part of its essence.

And shoham is connected to shin-hey-mem, the initials of Shir Ha Ma’alot, the Psalms of Ascent. These were the prayers of faith and joy sung by pilgrims as they made their way up to Jerusalem. They are among the psalms most often chanted by Jews today.

Lastly, shoham is linked to shin-hey-mem, the initials of Shlomo Ha Melech, Solomon the King. King Solomon was famous for his wise and loving nature, and merited to be the builder of the first Holy Temple.

Wisdom and love, spiritual ascent, the letters of G!d’s name, and the name of the great leader Moses, are all connected to the stones of shoham.

These are the reasons that I was drawn to the word Shoham twenty-three years ago, when I was in quest of a new Hebrew name. My life had changed dramatically as the result of a spiritual awakening in synagogue, and I had dedicated myself to learning as much as possible about Judaism and its ancient biblical roots.

At birth I received the popular name Shulamis, after my grandfather Shlomo of blessed memory. This name no longer felt like it fit. I claimed as my models Abraham, Sarah and Joshua who were given new names at breakthrough points in their spiritual journeys, and I set in search of a new, but related, Hebrew name.

I wanted to keep my connection to Grandfather Shlomo, and so began to search in the Hebrew dictionary under the letter shin. Not too far down, I came to shin-hey-mem, the letters of shoham. Aha! The onyx stone had long been my favorite jewel, and the other meanings resonated strongly for me as well. Being a meditator, I tried meditating on shoham, and it became shohama, shoham with an extra letter hey at the end. An extra letter of the divine name; it felt right.

To this day, the stones of shoham call to me, bearers of ancient wisdom that reveal teachings for our time. As children of Israel, our names are engraved in the stones of shoham. We all are engraved in the home of wisdom, love and peace, faith and joy, revelation and redemption. May we draw deeply from this source of strength and guidance.

*See "Connecting God's Names and My Name: A Spiritual Journey" by Shohama Wiener, in "The Fifty-Eighth Century: A Jewish Renewal Sourcebook", Shohama Wiener, Editor, Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, NJ, 1996, pp.65-73.