The Talmud tells us that the Tzitz atoned for azus panim, literally “boldness of face” — presumptuousness, brazenness, chutzpah. Think about a “bald-faced lie” — sinning in an obvious, blunt, brazen way. The Zohar says that when the Kohen Gadol wore the Tzitz on his forehead, it subdued those who were brazen, comparing what was “written” on their foreheads.
In the Chapters of the Fathers, 5:23, there is a perplexing Mishnah. “He [Yehudah ben Teima] used to say: ‘The brazen go to Gehennom [purgatory], but the shamefaced go to the Garden of Eden.’ May it be Your will, HaShem our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days, and grant us our portion in your Torah.”
The author tells us what Yehudah ben Teima used to say, and then he starts davening (praying)! Looking forward to the rebuilding of the Temple, and praying for our share in Torah, is a recurring theme throughout the traditional Jewish prayer book — but what is it doing in the middle of a Mishnah?
I found the following answer (original source unknown): the author of the Mishnah wrote the saying of Yehudah ben Teima, and immediately thought of the brazen people in his own generation, who undoubtedly caused grief for the community — especially for “straight,” upright individuals. Those people, he wrote, were going to face cleansing in Gehennom for their behavior. And he remembered that when the Temple existed, the Tzitz on the forehead of the Kohen Gadol atoned for their sins, and indeed subdued them and prevented them from being so brazen in the first place. And so this short prayer burst from his heart, asking for this to happen soon.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, teacher of our class Be’eros, an advanced class on the Torah Portion, commented recently that he prefers to only write about current events if he has “something semi-insightful to add to what is already out there.” And, in turn, he quoted former New York Times Op-Ed columnist Frank Rich, who said that “the relentless production of a newspaper column… can push you to have stronger opinions than you actually have, or contrived opinions about subjects you may not care deeply about, or to run roughshod over nuance to reach an unambiguous conclusion.”
Today we live in a society where chutzpah is so “normal” that there isn’t even a word to describe it in common usage. Who talks about “brazenness?” Everyone’s got an opinion about everything and everyone, regardless of whether they’ve even looked into the issue. After all, we need to know what to tell the poll-taker when he or she calls to find out our opinion. As a result, we all think we know better than the experts. The pitfall is that when we respect on expert or authority but ourselves, anarchy is the result. What a difference a Kohen Gadol would make!