There is an old joke in which the President of the United States receives an exorbitant phone bill after calling God, while the Prime Minister of Israel gets to call God as a free local call. The joke touches upon a sentiment that many feel, but about which they do not speak: the desire to receive a direct answer from God to their prayers. It is human nature to want to know what the right choice is, without question or reservation.
There was a time when the Jewish people actually possessed what one might think of as a direct line to the Divine. Within the breastplate of the High Priest was a small piece of parchment on which the holy names of God were written. This parchment was known as the Urim V’Tumim. (“They [were] called ‘Urim and Tumim’? ‘Urim’ because they made their words enlightening. ‘Tumim’ because they fulfill their words” – Talmud Yoma 73b.) When the High Priest wore the breastplate, which contained 12 precious stones representing each of the tribes and on which the Hebrew alphabet was inscribed, God would communicate by illuminating the letters on the different stones. The rabbis further explained: “The inquirer had his face directed to him who was consulted, and the latter directed himself to the Divine Presence… One does not inquire in a loud voice…One should not put two questions at the same time” (Talmud Yoma 73a).
While it sounds like the perfect opportunity to allay one’s fears of the future, the Urim V’Tumim could not be used for everyday questions. In fact, those who were permitted to consult God in this way were “the king and all the children of Israel with him, the [priest] Anointed for Battle, [and] even all the congregation, which is the Sanhedrin” (Talmud Yoma 73b).
It should be noted that the Urim V’Tumim were lost after the destruction of the First Temple, as noted in Talmud Yoma 21b.