Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10) Erasing Moses’ Name from the Torah

(In honor of Purim, a supplementary dvar Torah has been added.)

Purim 5777-2017

(This dvar Torah, except for the title and conclusion, was written by Mois Navon, a Computer Engineer, who was a studying in Israel in 2008 at Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav when a Palestinian terrorist attacked and murdered 8 students and injured 11 others. The attack took place two weeks before Purim and the subject of good people destroying evil are what motivated him to commit his thoughts to writing.)

They Seek to Dominate; We Seek to Educate

Rosh Chodesh is a time of joy in that the new moon symbolizes renewal and rejuvenation. Yet it is also a time when the moon is not visible, and consequently, is a time of darkness symbolizing evil.
Adar is a month of great joy for we celebrate the victory of good over evil. Yet it is also a month of fasting over the evil designs of Amalek. Indeed it is in this month that we remember Amalek by reading the “zachor” Torah portion. We remember that “G-d’s war against Amalek is from generation to generation.”

Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that the battle against Amalek is really a battle over whether Man will obey G-d or the dictates of his own rationale. Man expresses his freewill by deciding to act either according to his own definitions of right and wrong, which evolve to his own “might and power,” or according to G-d’s definition of morality.

The ability to exercise a choice between good and evil demands the existence of evil and by extension, people who purvey that evil. Those people are known as Amalek. And though Amalek was a specific people, the verse commanding their destruction states: “blot out the memory of Amalek”.
Consequently, Hirsch explains that the memory of Amalek, of people who glorify the sword, must be blotted out. For as long as their memory is glorified others will follow the path of evil and reject the path of morality.

Although the ability to do evil is necessary if we are to have freewill, nonetheless, it is seemingly a stain on a loving G-d who wants only good for his creations. So much so that G-d, as it were, offers a “sin offering” as atonement on none other than Rosh Chodesh, when light is diminished and evil reigns supreme. G-d can do little more than offer a sacrifice in atonement, lest he remove from Man the very task He entrusted to him: to be a partner in creation, to complete creation, through his own efforts.

Nowhere is this paradigm of existence more pronounced than in the story of Esther read on Purim. The Megilla tells of Haman’s plan to annihilate Israel when he obtains the King’s seal on a decree to that end. The Jews fast and pray that Esther’s efforts to annul the decree succeed. However, they are told, “The decree of the King cannot be annulled.” Since when can’t a king issue an annulment? The answer is that this refers, homiletically, not to just any king, but the King of Kings. The decree that cannot be annulled is G-d’s decree of Creation, the decree of freewill, the decree that evil must have free reign.
The Jews obtained only the permission to fight back — this was G-d’s answer to their fasting and prayers. And as they fought evil, so too must we. Real evil will not go away with appeasement and peace negotiations.

The Megilla ends with the celebration of the victory of the Jews. We rejoice however, not at our own strength, realizing that victory would be for naught without G-d’s hidden help. Indeed it is this knowledge that G-d works behind the scenes to guarantee our success, which is the source of our joy.

It is only the guaranteed assistance of the Creator that can explain Israel’s continued existence in the face of evil perpetrated by the Amaleks of the world. But that guarantee extends only to the nation as a whole and not to individuals. No individual can confidently assume a protected existence – not even a Torah scholar, learning Torah, in a Torah academy.

As such, the Zohar provides a succinct theological response in the form of prudent advice: “A man should not confidently affirm – G-d will deliver me or will do for me this or that – but rather he should endeavor to fulfill the precepts, walk the path of truth, and put trust in Him that He will help.”

And thus we fight Amalek. A fight for the perfection of the world. It is a fight humanity wages internally, striving to fulfill G-d’s will. It is also a fight people wage against those who wield “might and power” to avoid carrying out G-d’s will.

This Shabbos when we read about Amalek, and this Purim, when we read about the victory of the Jews, we rejoice in the Divine promise that no matter what designs the evil Amaleks of the world will conspire, they will never destroy the nation of Israel. In the words of Haftarat Zachor: “Netzah Yisrael Lo Yishaker” — The eternity of the people of Israel is guaranteed by G-d. Fortunate are we to be part of this eternal nation. Instead of making Judaism secondary in the life of a Jew, let us be prouder than ever and learn what it means to be a Jew so that we can transmit that message to the world. Amalek, both ancient and modern, seeks to take over and dominate the world, but we Jews seek to educate it.

Purim Samayach-Have a Happy Purim

Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10)
Erasing Moses’ Name from the Torah

Bring near to yourself Aaron your brother…to minister to Me. (Exodus 28:1)

Question: What is the one Parsha in the book of Exodus that does not mention the name “Moses?” You guessed it; Moses’ name is not in this week’s Parsha.

When G-d threatened to destroy the Jewish people following the Sin of the Golden Calf, Moses staunchly defended them, stating: “And now if You would but forgive their sin! – but if not, erase me now from Your book…” (32:32)

G-d responded by declaring, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I shall erase from My book.” On the surface, this appears to be a rejection of Moses’ request, as Moses had no part in the Sin of the Golden Calf. In addition, according to Moses’ words, his request to be removed from the Torah was conditional: If G-d refused to forgive the Jewish people, Moses did not wish to be included in the Torah. Since G-d ultimately forgave the Jewish people, there was no longer any need to remove Moses’ name from the Torah. Yet, a close reading of this week’s Torah portion shows not one mention of Moses’ name.

The question is, why doesn’t Moses’ name appear in the Parsha? If it was a punishment, what was the cause? If not, what purpose did it serve? The answer is that removing Moses’ name was not a punishment. According to one commentator, it was actually a sign of praise. The same Moses who received the Torah on Mount Sinai selflessly offered to forfeit his spiritual legacy to help the Jewish people survive. By removing Moses’ name from a portion of the Torah, G-d showed the Jewish people that true dedication means being willing to live by the idea that “it’s not about me.”

Nonetheless, the question still remains: Why was Moses’ name omitted specifically from this Torah portion? Rabbi Yissocher Frand explains that Tetzaveh is the portion that discusses the clothing of the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol. In effect, the portion belongs to Aaron, the Kohen Gadol. We are taught, however, that G-d originally intended for Moses to serve as both the leader of the nation and the Kohen Gadol. Only after Moses demurred to the point of incurring G-d’s anger, was Aaron granted this status instead of Moses. (4:14-17)

Given this background, the fact that Tetzaveh does not mention Moses at all is extremely significant. Moses could have been Kohen Gadol, yet he was compelled to step aside and allow his brother take over the position. By removing his name from this of all portions, Moses taught that the concept of, “it’s not about me,” applies not only to issues of life and death, but even to those situations in which we have much to lose by stepping aside.

The following story illustrates this concept: A man studying in the Old City of Jerusalem had great difficulty finding a wife. After many years of struggling to find his match, he eventually married and was even blessed with a son. On the day his son was born, the man went to the Western Wall to express his gratitude for the long road he had traveled. As he came up the steps to the Old City, he entered the dining hall of his Yeshiva, hoping to share the good news with his friends.

When he entered the dining hall, he noticed that there was already a party going on – for a much younger man who had just gotten engaged. Instead of injecting himself into the other celebration, he waited until the end of the event without letting anyone know about his good news. Several days later, someone put two and two together and asked him how he was able to control himself after all he had been through. “It was his simcha,” the man said. “How could I take it away from him?”

Each of us has unique talents and abilities that shape our purpose in life. Certainly, we are obligated to use those talents and abilities to help the world around us. At the same time, we are obligated to remember that other people have contributions to make as well – often in the very area in which we have the most to offer. In such cases, it may appear that the other person is stealing our thunder, or worse, undercutting our mission in life. Knowing when to take ourselves out of the picture with quiet dignity, however, is one of the most powerful acts of kindness we can do for another human being.

Good Shabbos

(Source: Rabbi David Ordan in Partners in Torah quoting Rabbis Moshe Sternbuch and Rabbi Yissachar Frand)