‘Hey, You’ Parashat Tetzaveh 5779

Parashat Tetzaveh is the only parasha in the Book of Shemot that does not mention Moses’ name. The reason for this has been widely debated by the commentators. Perhaps the most widely accepted explanation is that in the following parasha, Parashat Ki Tisa, the Jewish People sin by making and worshipping[1] a golden calf. When G-d threatens to destroy the Jewish People, Moses tells Him that if He carries out His threat [Shemot 32:32], “Erase me from the book You have [just] written”. While G-d eventually reconsiders His plan to destroy the Jewish People, He still erases Moses from the “book He had just written”, Parashat Tetzaveh[2].

There are two instances in Parashat Tetzaveh where Moses’s name could have been written but was not. In both instances, the word “Moses” is replaced with the word “you”. The first example is in the first verse in the parasha [Shemot 27:20]: “You shall command the children of Israel and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually”. The second example comes two verses later [Shemot 28:1]: “You shall bring near to yourself your brother Aaron and his sons with him from among the children of Israel to serve Me [as kohanim]”. How might the verses have been written had the injunction against using Moses’ name not been in effect? The first verse could have begun “G-d spoke to Moses saying: Command the Children of Israel…”, or simply “Command the Children of Israel…”[3] The second verse could have been written with similar syntax.

Something else bothers me about the use of the word “You”: When I was in the Army, I absolutely hated when my commander addressed me as “You!” That word was typically followed by an order that more often than not involved Lysol. I suggest that both times that G-d used the word “You” in Parashat Tetzaveh, Moshe cringed in a similar way. In order to understand the reason why, we need a little background.

When G-d first revealed Himself to Moses at the burning bush, He expended a great deal of time and effort trying to convince Moses to take the position of “Redeemer of Israel”. Moses wanted none of it. He did not want to stand before Pharaoh. He did not want to take the Jewish People out of Egypt. He didn’t even like the Jewish People. He would have been very content to live out his life in exile in the Land of Midian, where he had spent the past forty years. Our Sages in the Midrash assert that the negotiations at the burning bush took one entire week. Moses gave G-d multiple reasons why he was not the right man for the job: he stuttered, his brother Aaron was a better spokesperson, and the people would never listen to him. After a week of negotiating, G-d has had enough [Shemot 4:14]: “G-d’s wrath was kindled against Moses”. Apparently convinced by G-d’s outburst, Moses returns home, packs his bags, and returns to Egypt. The Talmud in Tractate Zevachim [102a] teaches that G-d punished Moses for his haggling by stripping him of the priesthood (kehuna) and giving it to Aaron. G-d had originally intended on Moses being both the political and religious leader of the Jewish People. Moses’ intransigence resulted in his loss of religious leadership.

Rabbi Chaim ben Attar, known as the Or HaChaim HaKadosh, who lived in Morocco in the early 18th century, suggests that when G-d tells Moses “You bring near to yourself your brother Aaron”, He is actually telling Moses “It should have been you beings appointed but you blew your chance”. Moses appoints his own brother to a position that he himself so rightly deserved and so badly wanted. This sacrifice was atonement for his sin at the burning bush.

This begs a question. Was Moses wrong for not wanting to lead the Jewish People out of Egypt? All of his reasons made good logical sense: He stuttered so badly that Aaron, a great orator, had to accompany him to Pharaoh to do the talking. And the Jewish People didn’t believe Moses. He had to perform three miracles[4] to convince them that he wasn’t a charlatan. All of this could have been avoided had G-d chosen Aaron to serve as His emissary.   There is an even better question: Why did G-d need a human emissary at all? Why didn’t G-d speak directly to Pharaoh?[5]

An answer to these questions lies in the first instance that G-d uses the word “You”. The topic at hand is the olive oil used to light the Menorah (candelabrum) in the Mishkan. G-d told Moses that the oil for the Menorah had to come from the first drop of oil exuded by an olive. Why was there a Menorah in the Mishkan? A utilitarian answer is that it was required to give light. The Mishkan had no windows. The entrance to the Mishkan was covered by heavy curtains, making the Mishkan a very dark place[6]. The only light in the Mishkan came from the Menorah. It is notable that we light Shabbat candles for a similar reason. The Talmud in Tractate Shabbat [23b] teaches that we light candles for “Shalom Bayit”, literally a “Peaceful Home”. People sitting in the dark are not happy people. In the days before electricity, a candelabrum was their only source of light.

The Talmud in Tractate Shabbat [22b] does not like this answer. The Talmud asks: Why did G-d need a Menorah to illuminate the Mishkan? Did He really need its light? Our Sages in the Midrash note that the Pillar of Fire that escorted the Jewish People through the desert made the use of candles redundant. Its light was miraculous – it illuminated every nook and cranny. People could use its light to see inside closed bottles. Couldn’t that miraculous light also have illuminated the Mishkan? The Talmud answers that G-d specifically wanted the Menorah to provide light because the Menorah was “testimony to mankind that the Divine Presence rests among Israel”. What was the testimony? The Talmud answers, “[The testimony] is the westernmost lamp in the Menorah in which the measure of oil placed was the same measure of oil as was placed in the other lamps. Nevertheless, [Aaron] would light the others from it each day and with it he would conclude. The westernmost lamp would continue burning throughout the day after all the others were extinguished. The rest of the lamps burned only at night and each night he would relight the rest of the lamps from the westernmost lamp.” The westernmost lamp was called the “Ner Tamid” – the “Eternal Light”. While it was no different from the other six lamps of the Menorah, this one never burnt out. It served as living testimony of G-d’s love for the Jewish People.

Pardon me, but this just seems counterintuitive. One would have thought that the Divine Light from the Pillar of Fire would have been far better testimony of G-d’s majesty than one solitary lamp at the end of the Menorah. I suggest that this is precisely the point G-d is making to Moses: Do not make any assumptions about the way in which G-d works. Do not constrain Him with human logic. While a human might think that it makes more sense to display Divine power by using light from the Pillar of Fire to illuminate the Mishkan, G-d might think differently. The mere asking of the question, “Wouldn’t it be a better idea if…” is impinging on G-d’s absolute mastery. Moses’s logic made perfect sense: Aaron probably would have made a better spokesperson. Yet for whatever the reason, G-d wanted Moses as His emissary. As soon as He assigned the task to Moses, Moses should have said, “Yes, Sir”. Moses’ willingness to haggle with G-d was in and of itself proof that he could never serve as the High Priest: If you want to worship G-d, then you must do it on His terms, whether or not you’re ready, whether or not you’re willing, and whether or not you’re able.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5779

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yechiel ben Shprintza, Tuvia Moshe HaLevi ben Chaya Rasa and Tzvi ben Shoshana.

[1] This is also subject to debate.

[2] This explanation is problematic in that the chronology at the end of the Book of Shemot is, yes, also a topic of debate. Some commentators assert that the commandment to build the Mishkan came after the sin of the golden calf, meaning that the “book You have [just] written” should be Parashat Mishpatim.

[3] Both of these syntaxes appear in many places throughout the Torah.

[4] See our lesson for Parashat Shemot 5779.

[5] In the Book of Bereishit, G-d speaks with King Avimelech and the wicked Lavan without any intermediary.

[6] R’ Michael Paneth notes that the Mishkan was also lacking ventilation. It was dank as well as dark.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over twenty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including two briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. He speaks regularly for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Ari is a highly requested speaker at AIPAC events, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science", and his speaking events are regularly sold-out. Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA and Canada. 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 2001 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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