Lesson 4: (Tetzave): 12 precious stones – Harmony and dissonance in diversity

Course: Exodus – Part 2
Lesson #4 of 4

Series: The Bible at Work: Career Coaching in the Torah

Teacher: Dr. Benny Benjamin

20 Views | Published: February 28, 2023

“Diversity—the art of thinking independently together.”–– Malcolm Forbes

Tetzave Image - Benny Benjamin

“And you shall take two shoham (onyx) stones and engrave upon them the names of the sons of Israel. Six of their names on one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the second stone, according to their births” Exodus 28:9–10.

“You shall make a hoshen [breastplate] of judgment, the work of a master weaver. You shall make it like the work of the ephod; of gold, blue, purple, and crimson wool, and twisted fine linen shall you make it” Exodus 28:15.

“And the stones shall be for the names of the sons of Israel twelve, corresponding to their names; [similar to] the engravings of a seal, every one according to his name shall they be, for the twelve tribes” Exodus 28:21.

The High Priest, representing all 12 tribes, needed to project an image with which all could identify. The intricate accessories on his ceremonial garments included two elements on which the names of all twelve tribes were engraved. The first element consisted of two shoulder straps, joined to each other and to the High Priest’s other garments; it comprised two simple lists of tribal names (six on each shoulder), which were engraved on two onyx stones sewn to each strap according to the tribe patriarchs’ birth order.[1] The second appearance of the twelve tribes’ names was on the High Priest’s breastplate, where each tribe was represented by a unique precious gemstone,[2] such as topaz, sapphire, emerald, and onyx—no two stones were alike. These 12 stones were set on a matrix of four rows of three stones each. This breastplate had several functions, including a role as an oracle-like medium to divine God’s will, such as determining whether to go to war.

We are left to speculate on the need for two listings of all the tribes’ names and the symbolism underpinning each. Wouldn’t the 12 stones on the breastplate be an adequate and honorable representation of the 12 tribes? At first glance, the seemingly less special listings on the shoulder straps appear superfluous. National leaders always need to be attuned to the macro aspects of their constituency without losing sight of its microelements. In Aaron’s case, his apparel caused him to be constantly aware of literally shouldering the weight of his responsibility as he performed the rituals in the Tabernacle in the name of the Israelite nation.


Designing a diverse workplace

Is a diverse workplace always best? How diverse should a workplace be? Is a workplace either diverse or homogeneous? One can anticipate mixed responses to these questions, subject to factors such as profession, work sector, geography, and individual differences. Traditionally, hiring was accomplished based on the candidate’s skill set and cultural fit, with the latter reflecting, “How comfortable will I (the hirer) be with this stranger (candidate) at meetings and during coffee breaks?” Extreme cases can result in managers hiring their clones, making the organization vulnerable to groupthink, where idea conformity would be the norm.[3],[4]

Diverse hiring presents other challenges: Indeed, the pool of ideas and unconventional suggestions can be expected to broaden with increased diversity. However, lacking some commonality may result in perpetual brainstorming with no unifying dynamic. Some take the view that diversity means hiring employees that look different from each other (e.g., relating to gender, race, age, and persons with disabilities); however, diverse educational, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds can also produce a mix of values and communication styles that can be no less valuable and diversifying or, conversely, disruptive to organizations. 

Indeed, a midrashic[5] adage states: “Just as [people’s] faces are different from one another, so, too, their understandings are different, for each one has a different understanding.” [6] For example, in my work, I periodically felt uncomfortable with a colleague who consistently raised his voice in the heat of discussions. I shared with him my sensation of being attacked or pounced upon, causing me to retreat. He then assured me that, as he comes from a family of Middle Eastern heritage, voice volume and tone tended to be higher and reflected high engagement rather than aggression.

Diversity hiring should not result in retaining poor performers or hiring untested candidates just to keep the diversity statistics in line with company policy. One way to deal with the challenges presented by a diversity-oriented hiring policy[7] is by offering diversity training for all employees to help mitigate possible stereotyping and encourage professional cross-pollination. These sessions would hopefully mitigate any stereotyped thinking that the employee may have brought from home. An ideal organizational culture would value employees who deploy their strengths to the organization’s benefit and acknowledge and appreciate others’ complementary strengths, with all contributing to their shared goals. Thus, whereas all employees should be empowered to cultivate their niche and express their strengths, they should also be able to adapt to situations calling for subsuming their uniqueness to the organization’s common aims.

Career Tips:

  • Today’s multiple workplace settings (e.g., face-to-face, remote, and hybrid) have affected the dynamics of the diverse workforce, some promising, some less so. For instance, individuals with mobility issues may prefer engaging in remote interactions on a home computer screen. However, while logistically convenient, remote work limits valuable informal, spontaneous interactions with colleagues (e.g., at the “water cooler”) that can facilitate more natural connections, thus contributing to a coherent workplace. So find the time to meet your colleagues face-to-face. You and the organization will benefit.
  • The orchestra metaphor: Adopting diversity at the workplace comes in many shapes, colors, and even sounds. The orchestra metaphor alludes to an assemblage of musicians representing different instruments. An orchestra with all violins may produce a pleasant sound, but adding violas, cellos, woodwinds, and percussion would produce a richer, deeper listening experience. All orchestra performers are bound to a particular rhythm based on individual sheet music parts and are directed by a conductor to ensure that all are on the “same page.” Don’t expect surprises. Different conductors’ orchestras can sound different, but mostly in nuance rather than melody. 
  • An alternative metaphor is the jazz band, comprised of fewer but diverse musicians. These band members begin with an agreed-upon theme, take turns improvising on an agreed-upon scale, then return to the initial theme in the piece’s finale. In jazz bands, each virtuoso performance is applauded (unlike the orchestra format, where the ‘team’ is applauded as a unit, perhaps along with a guest soloist). Jazz performances are much less predictable than the orchestra format. One could argue that a jazz assemblage would more closely reflect the diversity characterizing a start-up company that conducts frequent brainstorming sessions.[8] At the same time, an orchestra format would better illustrate a veteran organization that has adopted tried-and-true business procedures. Does your organization offer you the opportunity to make music in both formats, or does it promote only one? Which format brings out the best in you? How can this insight help you in your next job search?

Try this: If you think a more diversified composition of colleagues could enrich your team, adding one or more outside participants (such as from another team or unit) to a brainstorming session could produce some unique sounds and beneficial outcomes. Take advantage of your resources. Adding outside participants has become more feasible as we become more comfortable with remote meeting frameworks.

[1] Exodus 28:9–12.
[2] Exodus 28:15–21.
[3] Rivera, L. A. (2012). Hiring as cultural matching: The case of elite professional service firms. American Sociological Review, 77(6), 999–1022.
[4] Park, S. H., Westphal, J. D., Stern, I. (2011). Set up for a fall: The insidious effects of flattery and opinion conformity toward corporate leaders. Administrative Science Quarterly, 56(2), 257–302. https://doi.org/10.1177/0001839211429102
[5] Midrash is a form of literature that interprets and elaborates upon biblical texts, mostly compiled from the 5th century CE through the medieval period.
[6] Midrash BaMidbar Raba 21:2.
[7] Clark, S. (2020). 4 ways to embrace the challenges of diversity in the workplace. CMS Wire. https://www.cmswire.com/leadership/4-ways-to-embrace-the-challenges-of-diversity-in-the-workplace/
[8] The Dixieland model––a Dixieland jazz band, a precursor to modern jazz––comprises mostly wind instruments and its “collective improvisation” produces a multi-layered sound where all musicians boost the soloist, contributing their harmonic variations and flourishes. It is much less structured than a common jazz combo, but its full rhythmic sound is by no means cacophonic. Its relevance to a business model alludes to talented individuals assembling and sharing ideas with a common goal before settling on a start-up venture.


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