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Par sh at T eT zaveh

W her e I s Moshe ?
Ra bbi Ari Kahn

This week's parsha opens with a different type of dialogue than we have grown
accustomed to in the Torah:

"And you command the Children of Israel, they shall bring to you pure olive
oil beaten for light (fuel) to burn continuously" (27:20)

Instead of the familiar "And G-d spoke to Moshe saying", the Torah simply states
"And you". The classical commentaries have all but ignored this idiosyncrasy (with
the exception of the Ba’al HaTurim who quotes the Zohar without citing it), but the
Zohar, in the Midrash Ne'elam, notes the different language employed and
provides the theological rationale:

After the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d offered to create a new nation from Moshe’s
offspring:

And now permit me to allow my anger to burn against them, and I will
consume them, and I will make you into a great nation. (32:10)

Not only does Moshe reject the offer, but he is willing to sacrifice all in his valiant
attempt to save his people:

"And now, if You will, forgive their sin; if not, erase me out from the book
which You have written." (32:32)

The Zohar, looking at these verses, writes:

"And now, if You will, forgive their sin, if not erase me from the book which
You have written." (32:32) This is a conditional curse, and G-d overlooked
Moshe's obligation. Nonetheless Moshe was removed from one section of
the Torah, [namely,]the commandments regarding the Mishkan. Which
Parsha is this? "V'atah T’zaveh", which should have contained Moshe's
name in each and every word, and in each and every commandment. But
his name was taken out of the entire Parsha, which has no mention of him.
This is an example of the curse of a sage (being fulfilled) even when it is
conditional. (Midrash Ne'elam Shir HaShirim ma’amar 4)

The Zohar teaches that G-d took Moshe up, albeit only partially, on his "offer" to
be taken out of the Book. According to this approach, it would seem that our
Parsha follows the Golden Calf episode chronologically, although in the Torah the
sequence is reversed. On the other hand, one could posit that this portion was
written with Moshe’s name, and the name was later removed as per Moshe's
request. In either case, we must ask why it is specifically from this parsha that
Moshe's name is expunged. Of all the sections in the Torah why was Moshe’s
name removed specifically from this parsha? This question is especially poignant
in light of Moshe's unique connection with this parsha, stressed by the Zohar cited
above:

Which parsha is this? "V'atah Tzaveh", which should have contained


Moshe's name in each and every word, and in each and every
commandment.

The main topic of the Parsha is the selection of Aharon and his family as the
Kohanim. This choice is neither justified nor explained; the Torah merely states as
fact that Aharon has been chosen to be Kohen. Once again we are returned to the
question of chronology: Does this section follow the episode of the Golden Calf or
does it precede it? If the latter is the case, why would Aharon, who sinned in the
Golden Calf, be rewarded with this most exalted appointment, and have virtually
the entire Parsha directed toward him and his sons, while Moshe, who desperately
tried to save his people, has his name removed from the Parsha? Indeed, why was
Aharon chosen to be Kohen, and not Moshe? Aharon’s record should have
disqualified him from this sacred role.

Again, why was Moshe "erased" from this section? Is it due to a deficiency in
Moshe? Perhaps analyzing another more celebrated “deficiency” will shed light
on the exclusion of Moshe.

The Torah tells us that Moshe suffered from some type of speech impediment. The
Maharal questions whether Moshe's problem with speech actually implies some
type of handicap or limitation, and goes on to analyze the power of speech itself.
In Gevurot Hashem (page 112), the Maharal explains that speech is a physical act
which indicates being part of the human race. At creation, the Torah describes
man becoming "Nefesh Haya," a living soul. The Targum translates Nefesh Haya
as "Ruach Milalila" (spirit which speaks). The power of speech is one of, if not the
defining attribute of humanity. Moshe's inability to speak was not due to a
limitation, but rather to an "excess" or abundance: Moshe was somehow more
than a regular person. He was above the level of Ruach Milalila, and therefore his
speech was not on the same level as that of ordinary mortals. Along these lines,
the Talmud and Midrash explain Moshe's preparation to ascend Mount Sinai as six
days in which the food was purged from his body until Moshe became"…like one
of the angels of heaven"(Avot D'rabi Natan chapter one). Here, too, we learn that
Moshe existed on a different plane, removed from the spiritual and physical
limitations which are the boundaries of our normal existence.

The Maharal (Drush for Shabbat Teshuva 82b) explains the passage in the Talmud
which describes how an angel teaches the entire Torah in utero, and then touches
the child's mouth at the moment of birth, causing him to forget all the Torah he
was taught (Nidda 30b). The child thereby undergoes the metamorphosis from
spiritual existence to physical, for although the child born after this process is a
complete, physical being, as evidenced by the power of speech, the purely
spiritual experience which was his lot prior to birth cannot co-exist within this
physical being. The pure, spiritual roots of man are grounded in the complete
knowledge of Torah before birth. At birth, when physical existence replaces this
pure spiritual existence, speech becomes man’s domain. As speech begins, Torah
knowledge dissipates, and disappears.

Moshe, however, existed on a different plane, not limited to the physical in the
same way as other mortals. He transcended that level, and therefore did not
have that indicator of physical existence. He could not speak; he was above
speech. But he possessed the whole Torah as no other mortal ever could. Moshe
had achieved the exalted status of a soul prior to birth, in its purest state.

Parshat T’zaveh begins with the oil needed to light the Menorah, and proceeds to
the election of Aharon, and to the clothing and accouterments of Priest and High
Priest. The end of the Parsha describes the K'toret, a type of incense used in the
Temple. The Talmud teaches that the purpose of the K'toret was to atone for the
sin of slander and gossip (Lashon Hara):

It was taught in the school of Rabbi Yishmael: For what (sin) does the
K'toret bring atonement? Lashon Hara. Let something performed in secret
atone for something done in secret. (Yoma 44a)

We now can understand why Moshe was not the Kohen Gadol bringing the K'toret,
which related to slanderous talk: Moshe transcended speech. Furthermore, the
Maharal explains that on Yom Kippur a special K'toret of the finest materials was
offered. This fine K'toret was parallel to the sin of "Avak Lashon Hara" (literally,
dust of Lashon Hara), a prohibition which virtually all humans transgress. On Yom
Kippur, when we endeavor to achieve the spiritual level of the angels, we are
even concerned with "Avak Lashon Hara." This was clearly not the realm of
Moshe. On Yom Kippur we do not eat or drink; we attempt to become angelic.
Moshe was already on this level. He had endured an extended period without food
or drink. Moshe did not misuse his speech. Moshe had achieved the spiritual level
which others aspire to achieve on Yom Kippur. He did not require the process of
spiritual elevation that all others undergo on Yom Kippur; but Aharon did.

Now we may return to our earlier query. Why didn’t G-d simply wipe Aharon from
this Book, or at the very least from this role? Aharon's selection must surely be
somehow interwoven with his behavior during the Golden Calf episode. The
Talmud describes the scene:

It is written: “And when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it”. What did
he actually see? — R. Benjamin b. Japhet says, reporting R. Eleazar: He saw
Hur lying slain before him and said [to himself]: If I do not obey them, they
will now do unto me as they did unto Hur, and so will be fulfilled [the fear of]
the prophet, Shall the Priest and the Prophet be slain in the Sanctuary of G-
d? and they will never find forgiveness. Better let them worship the Golden
Calf, for which offense they may yet find forgiveness through repentance.
(Talmud Sanhedrin 7a),
Aharon viewed the frightening murder of his brother-in-law Hur, and immediately
thought of the implications of a similar act being perpetrated upon him. His
concern was not personal, for his own well being, but for the spiritual future of his
wayward flock. Aharon then decides to lead them in this worship.

The great Hassidic master Rav Tzaddok Hakohen from Lublin expanded on this
idea, with one crucial addition: Rav Tzaddok saw Aharon’s proactive stance in the
ritualistic rebellion as more enthusiastic than it needed to be. After Aharon
witnessed the murder of Hur, he quickly decided that it was preferable for him to
sin, rather than have the entire people guilty of both killing him and subsequently
worshipping the Calf. Aharon decided that it would be far better for the Jewish
people if he--individually--were guilty, as opposed to their collective guilt. Aharon
was willing to sacrifice everything for his people, both in this world and the next.

The only problem with this tremendous act of heroism and self-sacrifice was the
idolatry involved, good intentions notwithstanding. Aharon’s intentions needed to
be re-channeled. Aharon needed to express his great love of the People of Israel
and G-d through Divine service within the Temple. Rav Tzaddok Hakohen from
Lublin explained that Aharon became Kohen Gadol, not despite the Golden Calf,
but because of it! (Takanat Hashavim page 20). This is an application of the
Talmudic principle that Teshuva motivated by love of G-d will turn a sin into merit.
For this reason the entire Parsha is concerned with Aharon and not with Moshe:
Moshe was beyond the role of Kohen. Moshe had become one with Torah. In the
words of the Zohar, surely every word and every command should have been in
Moshe's name. Surely, Moshe was worthy to lead the people, and serve as Kohen
Gadol, but Moshe personally had no need for his soul to be perfected via this
Divine service.

Moshe, like Aharon, also was willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of his beloved
People. When Moshe challenged G-d to erase him from the Torah, the Zohar
comments:

Moshe was willing to sacrifice himself for his flock. What is the meaning of
the verse, ‘And now, if You will, forgive their sin; if not, erase me from the
book which You have written." (32:32) What does "erase me" mean? From
this world and the next (Midrash Ne'elam Berishit)

According to the Zohar, Moshe was prepared to sacrifice everything in order to


save the People, just as Aharon was. The only difference was that Aharon had
sinned and therefore needed personal forgiveness. Moshe did not sin; therefore
his soul had no need to be a part of this Parsha. Surely, every word and
commandment should have borne Moshe's name, but Moshe simply transcended
this Parsha. By virtue of his self-sacrifice, Moshe needed no Kappara. Moshe was
already angelic; he had become one with Torah, and one with G-d. The role of
Kohen becomes the domain of Aharon, and his great love of his People finds
proper expression.
Only one who is willing to sacrifice for the people is worthy of leading
the Jewish Nation. Both Moshe and Aharon possessed this admirable
trait. Both were prepared to be “moser nefesh” in the most literal sense:
to give up their soul for the sake of the people. That, as we have seen, is
the litmus test of leadership. However, the method of Aharon’s heroism
left him in need of forgiveness and elevation. Aharon still needed to
become angelic, like Moshe. Therefore, Moshe’s name is absent from the
Parsha, while all the laws are directed toward Aharon and his children.
They will be responsible for all aspects of Temple service for millennia.
They will light the lights that will shine brightly over the generations,
testimony to the Torah of Aharon who placed the People before himself,
motivated by love of G-d and Nation.