Ari Sacher

‘As For You’ Parashat Tetzaveh 5784

The Portion of Tetzaveh begins in a very nonstandard way [Shemot 27:20]: “And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take for yourself pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps [of the candelabrum (menorah)] continually.” A critical verse is seemingly missing: “And G-d spoke to Moshe, saying”. This verse appears one hundred and seventy-five times in the Torah, and our portion contains a litany of commandments to Moshe, yet this verse appears in our portion not even once. Further, Moshe’s name is missing from the portion. Gone AWOL. Highly nonstandard, indeed.

The answer to this question is well-known. Rabbi Jacob ben Asher[1], writing in the “Ba’al ha’Turim”, points to the sin of the Gold Calf (Egel) where Moshe, pleading for the future of the Jewish People, tells G-d that if He wipes them out as He has threatened [Shemot 32:32], “Erase me now from Your book, which You have just written”. While G-d does eventually pardon the Jewish People, Moshe’s threat is still carried out and G-d erases Moshe’s name from the “book He had just written”, i.e. the previous portion – the Portion of Tetzaveh There are a number of lesser-known explanations for the absence of Moshe’s name. One of them is that Moshe died on the seventh day of Adar and as the Portion of Tetzaveh is usually read on or around that date, in deference to Moshe, his name was removed from the entire portion. The Vilna Gaon[2] suggests that the absence of Moshe’s name is a result of one of the commandments that is given to Moshe in the portion: to appoint his brother, Aaron, as the High Priest (Kohen Gadol). The original plan was for Moshe to serve as the High Priest but because of his obstinance when G-d appeared to him at the burning bush, the role of High Priest was appropriated from him and transferred to Aaron[3]. Again, in deference to Moshe’s acute loss, his name is stricken from the portion.

It is interesting – statistically significant, if you will – that over the first five verses of the portion, Moshe receives no less than three instructions from G-d that begin with the word “V’ata (And you shall)”:

  1. Lighting the lamps [Shemot 27:20]:And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take for yourself pure olive oil… to kindle the lamps”
  2. Appointing Aaron and his sons as priests [Shemot 28:1]:And you shall bring near to yourself your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel to serve Me [as priests]: Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons”.
  3. Manufacture the priestly garments [Shemot 28:3]:And you shall speak to all the wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, and they shall make Aaron’s garments to sanctify him, [so] that he serve Me [as a priest].”

What is even more interesting is that all three of these instructions given to Moshe pertain to someone other than him.

  1. While Moshe is told to take the olive oil “for himself”, the actual lighting of the lamps was done by Aaron [Shemot 27:21]: “In the Tent of Meeting, outside the dividing curtain that is in front of the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall set it up”.
  2. It is Aaron and his sons who will serve as priests, and not Moshe and his children.
  3. Aaron’s garments were made not by Moshe, but by Betzalel: “They shall make”.

It just doesn’t seem fair. G-d calls out to Moshe using the pronoun “You”, a term with connotations of endearment. Moshe, thinking that G-d has something special in mind for him, asks, “How can I be of assistance?” and yet each time G-d tells him to go tell someone else that He has something for him. Moshe’s cumulative disappointment must have been enormous.

Before we proceed, we should take note of a phrase in the Torah that is eerily similar. G-d informs Noach that mankind has reached the end of the line and must be destroyed. He tells Noach to build an ark, giving him detailed instructions on how to build it: its dimensions, its structure, and the materials that it should be made from. Then G-d tells Noach [Bereishit 6:17] “And as for Me[4] (Va’ani), I am bringing the floodwaters on the land to destroy all flesh under the heavens”. G-d is presenting Noach with a sort of quid pro quo in which he does what he must do, and in return, G-d will do what He must do. Returning to the Portion of Tetzaveh, how would we interpret phrase “And you shall” in a similar way? If G-d is telling Moshe “As for you…”, what is the quid pro quo? What is G-d’s part of the deal?

I suggest that G-d’s part of the deal appears immediately before He goes into the nitty-gritties of the detailed design of the Mishkan. He tells Moshe [Shemot 25:8]: “Make for me a sanctuary so that I might dwell in their midst”. There is more to making a sanctuary than nailing some boards together, smelting some gold, and knitting together a few animal pelts. G-d wanted a sanctuary to dwell not “in it” but “in them”. Man required preparation to be worthy to serve as a vehicle for G-d’s Presence. The Talmud in Tractate Sotah [5b] teaches that G-d cannot dwell together in the world with an arrogant person. And so, G-d told Moshe, “As for you”. For the Jewish People to serve as a sanctuary for My Presence, they must fully grasp the concept of humility. As for you, Moshe, you will serve as an example. You, Moshe, will not light the candles –your brother will. You, Moshe, will not be a Priest –your brother will. You, Moshe, will not build the Mishkan –Betzalel will. You, Moshe, must willingly retreat and hand the microphone over to others. Then, and only then, will I come and fill the void.

When I discussed this topic with my wife, Dr Tova Sacher, she had a different way of looking at things. She asserts that Moshe’s mission was to serve as a go-between – a conduit – between the Jewish People and G-d Moshe, in and of himself, was less important than his ability to connect his people with their G-d. He would teach them G-d’s Torah and when they had a halachic question that he could not answer, he would go and ask G-d for clarification[5]. When G-d was angry with the Jewish People, He would tell Moshe to scold them. When they required something from G-d – water, food, broadband – Moshe was their man. When G-d tells Moshe three times in five verses “As for you” and then gives him a commandment pertaining to someone else entirely, He is cementing Moshe’s role as a conduit for the Divine.

A comment by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, can put a bow on things. The Rebbe explains that the sanctuary is the “neck” of the world, connecting its body to its head. A person’s head contains his highest and most vital faculties – mind, sensing organs, and inlets for food, water, and air – but it is the neck that joins the head to the body and channels the flow of consciousness and vitality. Similarly, the sanctuary connects the corporeal world to its infinite source. “It is the channel through which G-d relates to His creation and imbues it with spiritual perception and material sustenance.”

Come to think of it, my interpretation and my wife’s interpretation are not all that different. In both explanations, Moshe performs the same mission as the Mishkan. Moshe was a metaphor for the Mishkan. He was a living example of how an ordinary person can rise above himself and touch the Infinite.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5784

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Sheindel Devorah bat Rina, Rina bat Hassida, and Esther Sharon bat Chana Raizel

[1] Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, known as “Yaakov ben ha’Rosh”, lived in Spain at the turn of the 14th century.

[2] Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, known as the Vilna Gaon, lived in Lithuania in the 18th century,

[3] See Shemot [4:14] and Rashi ad loc.

[4] This is the translation that appears in the ArtScroll Chumash.

[5] See Shemot [18:16]

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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