Tetzaveh

This is the only Torah reading from the beginning of Exodus until the end of Deuteronomy that does not contain the name of Moshe. Even though G-d is speaking to him throughout the Parsha, nowhere does it explicitly state his name. Many explanations have been given for this; here is one possibility.

When Moshe first encounters G-d at the Burning Bush, he argues that he is not worthy to lead the Jewish people out of slavery, and insists that his elder brother Aharon would be better suited to the task. Our tradition tells us that this dialogue between Moshe and G-d lasted for an entire week, until finally “G-d’s anger burned against Moshe [and He said] ‘Behold Aharon the Levi is your brother’ ... ‘When he sees you his heart will be glad’...” (Shemos 4;14). The Sages comment on this verse,
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha says: Every time the “burning of G-d’s anger” is mentioned in the Torah, a lasting mark is mentioned with regard to it. Yet this burning anger has no lasting mark mentioned with regard to it, and we do not find any punishment coming about. Rabbi Yose said to him: A mark is mentioned with regard to this one too; that which is implied by the conclusion of the verse “Aharon the Levi is your brother”. Aharon was destined to be a Levite, not a Cohen, and G-d had intended that the kehuna (priesthood) would come forth from Moshe. Now that you, Moshe, have angered me, it will not be so. Rather he will be a Cohen and you will be the Levite, as it says “But as for Moshe, the man of G-d, his sons will be reckoned among the tribe of Levi” (I Divrei HaYamim 23; 14). (Shemos Rabba 3;17, quoted by Rashi on Exodus ibid.)

This week’s Parsha deals primarily with the garments that the Cohanim wore, particularly those of the Cohen Gadol (High Priest). Since originally Moshe should have been the Cohen Gadol, in deference to his feelings, and as a reminder that he missed out on this opportunity, his name is not mentioned in this section.

However we find a paradox. Although Moshe’s name is not mentioned, G-d speaks to him in the second person; G-d is speaking to Moshe even more directly than usual. Not only that, but it is Moshe himself who is instructed to dress Aharon and his sons in their priestly garments, and Moshe acts as the “Cohen” who performs the service to initiate them into the Kehuna. In other words, at the same time that G-d rebukes Moshe, he draws him still closer to Himself.

This is a fulfilment of the Talmudic dictum “One should always push someone away with the left hand, but draw them closer with the right” (Sanhedrin 107b). The right hand is the stronger, and thus the Rabbis are telling us that any rebuke or punishment should be simultaneously accompanied by a greater kindness. We do not subscribe to the Dr. Spock child-rearing mentality, without any rules or punishments, drawing close with both hands. Nor do we permit harsh punishment to the extent of driving a person away completely, pushing with both hands. Both these options lead to tragic outcomes. Our challenge is to raise our students to adhere to their obligations, punishing when necessary, but always in a manner which leads to closeness, not distance.

Here the Torah is telling us that G-d follows the same guidelines. Throughout history we have seen that whenever G-d needs to punish us, causing us to stumble through he darkness of oppression and persecution, He always brings us even closer to Him at the end, through an outpouring of mercy. At those times that we cannot feel His presence, that we cannot see Him calling us by name, He is actually speaking to us even more directly, and giving us a greater opportunity to draw near to Him.

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They say that clothes make a man, but it is no less true that the man makes the clothes. This week’s Torah reading deals primarily with the making of the garments for Aharon, and all subsequent Cohanim Gadolim. The garments are described as L’Chavod U’L’Tifaret, “for glory and splendour”. They were fashioned out of elaborate threads and gold, with precious jewels upon the shoulder pads and the breast plates. As the representative of G-d, and the agent for effecting the atonement for the nation, the Cohen Gadol has to be an imposing figure, both spiritually and physically. The Talmud (Yoma 18a) states that the Cohen Gadol has to be greater than the other Cohanim in strength, beauty, wisdom and wealth, and if he is does not have wealth the other Cohanim must make him wealthy from their own pockets.

There is a discussion in the Talmud as to whether the Cohanim are the emissaries of G-d or of the people. On the one hand they offer the sacrifices on behalf of the people, and perform all the Temple services on their behalf; on the other hand they eat some of the sacrifices, and they have special laws that set them apart from the rest of the population. The Cohen Gadol is certainly both of these, the ultimate representative of the people when he enters into the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur to seek atonement for the nation, and G-d’s messenger when he returns from within the Holy of Holies to show the crimson thread which has turned white as a sign of G-d’s forgiveness. We say in Mussaf on Yom Kippur: Thus would he [the Cohen Gadol] say, “I beseech of You G-d, I have erred, been iniquitous, and wilfully sinned before You, I and my household and the children of Aharon… Your people, the Family of Israel”. At this point the Cohen Gadol is the representative of the nation. Then we say “How majestic was the Cohen Gadol as he left the Holy of Holies… Like the Majesty in which the Creator clothed the creatures - was the appearance of the Cohen Gadol.” He has become G-d’s representative, symbolising the atonement which G-d has granted to His nation.

The beautiful and ornate garments which the Cohen Gadol wears as he performs the services are necessary to show the people both the splendour of their representative, and to show the heavenly beauty of G-d’s representative. However, when worn by someone who is not worthy of being the Cohen Gadol, the garments transform from being the height of spirituality to the most base, physical excesses of opulence. The Talmud (Megillah 12a) learns from the opening of Megillat Esther that King Achashverosh had taken the raiment of the Cohen Gadol and was wearing them at his feast which was designed to show his wealth and might, and to celebrate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. The text states that he displayed “Yakar Tiferet Gedulato”, “The splendour of his excellent majesty”. The word Tiferet is used to describe the clothes of the Cohen Gadol, which indicates to us that it was those that Achashverosh was wearing.

The result of Achashverosh’s wearing the garments was not his spiritual elevation, but the degradation of himself and his wife through clothing. In his drunken stupor Achashverosh ordered Vashti to appear before the assembled guests wearing only her royal crown. When she refused to be seen naked in public, Achashverosh had her put to death. By misusing the holy garments, Achashverosh was ultimately shamed and punished.

The Malbim explains the difference between the two adjectives Chavod (glory) and Yakar (excellent), which are the words describing the manner in which the Cohen Gadol wears the holy garments, contrasted with how Achashverosh wore them. Malbim (Ya’ir Or, Ot yud, 10) says that Yakar refers to rarity and preciousness of an object, whereas Chavod describes its value in terms of spiritual elevation. For example gold is Yakar, but it does not have Chavod, but a wise sage has Chavod even though not necessarily Yakar. King Achashverosh saw the garments as a precious commodity, and was showing off the wealth that he had looted. However this external pride caused him to become humbled. The Cohen Gadol wears the clothes to show his spiritual level, and self perfection as representative of both the congregation and G-d.

Of course, even the office of Cohen Gadol was open to abuse, and the lure of wealth became a factor in the appointment of the Cohen Gadol in the times of the Second Temple, as the Talmud (Yoma 18a) states: Rabbi Asi said “Two barrels of silver coins were given to King Yannai by Marta daughter of Baitus in order that Yehoshua ben Gamla should be appointed as Cohen Gadol.” The result was that the Cohanim Gadolim were not spiritually worthy of their position, and having entered the Holy of Holies in an unfit state would not survive a year in office.

Splendour is important when used as a tool for giving honour and glory to G-d. When it becomes the goal and the object of desire, rather than a means for spiritual elevation, it is degrading and brings tragedy in its wake.

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This week’s portion is the only one from the beginning of Exodus until the end of Deuteronomy which does not contain Moshe’s name. Instead of the usual “G-d spoke to Moshe...” Moshe is addressed in our portion only in the second person. The Ba’al HaTurim explains that after the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d wanted to destroy the entire nation, and begin again from Moshe and his descendants. Moshe pleaded on their behalf, “I implore! This people has committed a grievous sin and made themselves a god of gold. And now if You would but forgive their sin - but if not erase, me now from this book that You have written.” (Shemos 32; 32). Though G-d did accept the repentance of the nation, Moshe’s words partially came true in that his name was removed from one portion.

Oznaim LaTorah offers another explanation for the omission of Moshe’s name. He explains that this week’s portion always falls in the week of the 7th of Adar which is the date of Moshe’s birthday and also of his yarzheit. Some other religions commemorate the birth or death of the founder of their religion with festivals and celebrations. In this way the founder of the religion can appear to be almost more important than G-d. However, in Judaism, the Torah stresses that we are not to make Moshe into an icon. Not only does the Torah not explicitly state the date of his death or birth, but goes to the extreme of removing Moshe’s name from the portion of this week.

From these two explanations we can understand why Moshe is referred to as the humblest of all men (Bamidbar 12; 3). Not only was he prepared to forgo any personal honour in order to save the nation, but we see the great lengths that the Torah goes to in order to avoid any cult of personality. This week’s portion also falls just before Purim, and perhaps this is in order to highlight the contrast between Moshe’s humility, and Haman’s egomaniacal quest for power.

Haman was elevated by Achashverosh to the second in command of the kingdom. He had power of authority and riches beyond most people’s wildest dreams. “[Haman] sent for his friends and his wife Zeresh, and Haman recounted to them all the glory of his wealth and of his many sons, and every instance where the king had promoted him and advanced him above the officials and royal servants. Haman said, ‘Moreover, Queen Esther invited no one but myself to accompany the king to the banquet that she had prepared.’”. However, he goes on to say that ‘All this means nothing to me so long as I see that Jew Mordechai sitting at the king’s gate.” (Esther 5; 11-13). We can understand that he may be upset by this perceived slight to his dignity, but how can he say that everything that he has is worthless?

From here we can see the tremendous destructive influence of pride. With desires for physical pleasures once the goal has been attained a person can receive a certain degree of satisfaction. Though they will almost certainly continue to desire greater things, they will not feel that they have accomplished nothing. However the sin of pride is one which allows for no half measures. Only if everyone in the entire world was bowing down to Haman would he have felt satisfied, but if a single person refused, then all the glory was worth nothing.

The Book of Esther is unique amongst all the books of the Bible, in that it is the only one which does not contain the name of G-d. Perhaps we can draw an analogy between the omission of G-d’s name from the Megillah, and the omission of Moshe’s name from our Torah portion. Moshe was prepared to nullify himself before G-d, in order to save his nation. However, Haman thought himself great, thereby leaving no room for G-d in the story of Purim. This course of action backfired on Haman, so that all his plans were turned around and he was the one hanged in place of Mordechai. This is in keeping with the Mishnaic dictum: “. Nullify your will before G-d’s will, that He may nullify the will of others before your will.” Moshe nullified not only his will, but his whole being, so that he became the conduit of G-d’s will. Haman only thought of himself and his pride, and therefore G-d caused him to show the will of G-d through his downfall