Wednesday, 20 Feb 2013

Written by Rabbi Grisha Abramovich

Our Parashah starts with the commandment to make the pure olive oil  for the ner tamid or perpetual lamp. It also explains, in detail, the garments to be worn by Aaron’s family who are introduced as priests. Besides the High Priest’s appearance, other commandments relate to what is called in the Plaut Modern Torah Commentary (p.561) Investiture and Incense altar. After many commandments listed in the previous Exodus chapters, these seem to concentrate on Aaron’s sons’ garments and duties. And nevertheless, in the Talmud (the tractate Zevachim 88b), we learn that the High Priest’s ephod atones for idolatry, his breeches atone for sexual transgressions, the breastplate atones for errors in judgment, the robe atones for evil speech and the crown atones for arrogance. There are more examples in the Talmud, but generally, we observe connection between Aaron’s sons’ ritual garments and some possible sins of Israelites.

Contrary to the previous chapters, the children of Israel are not the major object for God’s instructions, since most of the chapter’s commandments are for the Kohanim. However it is not just ordinary Israelites, who are missing in the Tetzavveh chapter. Moshe is not mentioned in the week’s Parashah either: it is noticeable that the chapter occurs during the week which starts with Adar 7. The day is known as the day of Moshe’s birth and death. Regardless of the latter, it would be a good reason for him to appear in the Birthday Parashah rather than vanish.

In a couple of days we will read the Megilat Esther without any mention of the God’s name and in a month’s time the Haggadah without Moshe’s name. We could say that the absence of a major hero is unsurprising in Jewish tradition, so why bother? Isn’t it enough that the chapter starts and ends with the name of Moses’ brother- Aaron? Nevertheless, Tetzavveh is the only chapter (after Moshe’s birth) that does not mention his name. Can we suggest any reason for this?

After the episode of the Golden calf in the next chapter (Exodus 32:32), Moshe, pleading on behalf of Israelites, suggests to God to erase him from the book that God has written. Baal ha Turim (medieval commentator Rabbeinu Asher) supports the idea that Moshe’s name is absent in the chapter as a fulfillment of Moshe’s self -curse. What can we learn from this, beyond the previous explanation?

Some of us may have experienced disappointment when in the report of a special event everybody but us was mentioned; then again sometimes it is the duty of leaders to withdraw themselves from the credits because they are doing things for the sake of the Jewish community and not self-PR.  This chapter, the Megillah and the Passover Haggadah show that an absence of the hero is not an extraordinary occurrence. Then one’s regular questions – who we should count on and who is responsible for what happens – are in the way understandable. The absence of Moshe’s name in Tetzavveh, where all details, from olive oil for lighting to acacia wood for the altar, are presented accurately, does not belittle his service. On the contrary, it may encourage us to search for hidden causes and motives in Torah and in our life.

Rabbi Grisha Abramovich
February 2013

Ordained 2003

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.