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Tetzaveh: Moses and the Priestly Garments
Where was Moses?
The commentaries noted an unusual fact about the Torah portion of Tetzaveh it
is the only parashah, from when we first read of Moses birth in the book of Exodus,
in which Moses is not mentioned.
The Baal HaTurim (Rabbi Jacob ben Asher, 1269-1343), explained that this was a
consequence of Moses defense of the Jewish people after the Sin of the Golden
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Calf. At that precarious juncture, Moses pleaded with God to forgive the Israelites;
and if not, then please remove me from Your book that You have written (Ex.
32:32).
The Sages taught that The curse of a sage comes true, even if it was contingent
on a condition [and that condition was not met] (Makkot 11a). Thus, even though
God did forgive the Jewish people, Moses vow was partially fulfilled, and his name
was removed from the portion of Tetzaveh.
The question arises: why was this parashah, which describes the special garments
of the kohanim, chosen as the one in which Moses is not mentioned? Also, why was
Moses punished for valiantly defending the Jewish people?

Concession for Weakness


According to the Midrash, God originally intended to appoint Moses and his
descendants to be kohanim. God, however, became disappointed with Moses due to
his repeated refusal to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, and He transferred the
priesthood to his brother Aaron (Zevachim 102a on Ex. 4:14). But while Moses lost
the priesthood, he still retained the potential to be a kohen.
In fact, when the Tabernacle was dedicated, Moses did serve as the kohen,
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bringing the dedication offerings (Ex. 29). It is surprising that Moses did not wear
the special garments of a kohen during his one-time service. If a kohen does not
wear these special clothes while serving in the Temple, his service is rendered
invalid (Zevachim 17b); and yet Moses performed the dedication service just
wearing a white robe (Avodah Zarah 34a). Why didnt Moses need to wear the
priestly garments?
In general, clothing is a concession for human weakness. The Hebrew word
'begged' (clothing) comes from the root 'baggad', meaning to betray. In the
Garden of Eden, there was nothing wrong with being naked. It was only after Adam
and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that they needed to hide
behind clothes a necessary but tragic betrayal of their natural purity.
The same is true for the priestly garments. Each of the eight garments, the Sages
taught, comes to atone for a particular transgression: arrogance, slander, improper
thoughts, and so on (Zevachim 88b). Were it not for these sins, the kohanim would
have no need for these special clothes.

Beyond Clothing
The Talmud relates that the white robe that Moses wore when he served in the
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Tabernacle had no seams. In other words, his robe had no clear and distinct
boundaries, nothing to emphasize its separation from his body. It was almost as if
Moses needed no clothing at all.
Moses was not tainted by the Sin of the Golden Calf, a sin that the Midrash
(Shemot Rabbah 32:1) links to the sin of Adam. Therefore Moses did not need the
extra clothes of the kohanim. He understood that, due to the Sin of the Golden Calf,
the kohanim would need to wear special garments. Therefore he asked God: Please
remove me from Your book please remove me from the portion of Your book that
commands the kohanim to wear special clothes. I was not involved in the Sin of the
Golden Calf, and I have no connection with the need for these clothes.
What is so terrible about the priestly garments? These clothes indicate that the
kohanim suffer from a fundamental dissonance. While they wear their special
clothes, the kohanim are shluchei dedan and shluchei deRachmana, our emissaries
to God and Gods emissaries to us. But when they remove the priestly garments,
they become private individuals once again.
Moses, on the other hand, was a servant of God (Deut. 34:5). This was not an
honorific title, but a description of his very essence, regardless of what clothes he
wore. Divine service was not a duty that Moses took upon himself during certain
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hours of the day. It was his defining quality.


God heeded Moses request and removed his name from the portion of Tetzaveh.
And indeed Moses had no need for these clothes, but performed the Divine service
wearing only a seamless white robe.
(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Shemuot HaReiyah Tetzaveh
(1929), quoted in Peninei HaReiyah, pp. 175-176).

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Copyright 2013 by Chanan Morrison


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