Sunday, February 25, 2007

Parshat Tetzaveh

This week's portion is the only one from the beginning of Exodus until the end of Deuteronomy which does not contain Moshe's name. Instead of the usual "G-d spoke to Moshe..." Moshe is addressed in our portion only in the second person. The Ba'al HaTurim explains that after the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d wanted to destroy the entire nation, and begin again from Moshe and his descendants. Moshe pleaded on their behalf, "I implore! This people has committed a grievous sin and made themselves a god of gold. And now if You would but forgive their sin - but if not erase, me now from this book that You have written." (Exodus 32; 32). Though G-d did accept the repentance of the nation, Moshe's words partially came true in that his name was removed from one portion.
Oznaim LaTorah offers another explanation for the omission of Moshe's name. He explains that this week's portion always falls on the Shabbat before or after the week of the 7th of Adar which is the date of Moshe's birthday and also of his yarzheit. Some other religions commemorate the birth or death of the founder of their religion with festivals and celebrations. In this way the founder of the religion can appear to be almost more important than G-d. However, in Judaism, the Torah stresses that we are not to make Moshe into an icon. Not only does the Torah not explicitly state the date of his death or birth, but goes to the extreme of removing Moshe's name from the portion of this week.
From these two explanations we can understand why Moshe is referred to as the humblest of all men (Numbers 12; 3). Not only was he prepared to forgo any personal honour in order to save the nation, but we see the great lengths that the Torah goes to in order to avoid any cult of personality. This week's portion also falls just before Purim, and perhaps this is in order to highlight the contrast between Moshe's humility, and Haman's egomaniacal quest for power.
Haman was elevated by Achashverosh to the second in command of the kingdom. He had power of authority and riches beyond most people's wildest dreams. "[Haman] sent for his friends and his wife Zeresh, and Haman recounted to them all the glory of his wealth and of his many sons, and every instance where the king had promoted him and advanced him above the officials and royal servants. Haman said, 'Moreover, Queen Esther invited no one but myself to accompany the king to the banquet that she had prepared.'". However, he goes on to say that 'All this means nothing to me so long as I see that Jew Mordechai sitting at the king's gate." (Esther 5; 11-13). We can understand that he may be upset by this perceived slight to his dignity, but how can he say that everything that he has is worthless?
From here we can see the tremendous destructive influence of pride. With desires for physical pleasures once the goal has been attained a person can receive a certain degree of satisfaction. Though they will almost certainly continue to desire greater things, they will not feel that they have accomplished nothing. However the sin of pride is one which allows for no half measures. Only if everyone in the entire world was bowing down to Haman would he have felt satisfied, but if a single person refused, then all the glory was worth nothing.
The Book of Esther is unique amongst all the books of the Bible, in that it is the only one which does not contain the name of G-d. Perhaps we can explain the contrast between the omission of G-d's name from the Megillah, and the omission of Moshe's name from our Torah portion. Moshe was prepared to nullify himself before G-d, in order to save his nation. However, Haman thought himself great, thereby leaving no room for G-d in the story of Purim. This course of action backfired on Haman, so that all his plans were turned around and he was the one hanged in place of Mordechai. This is in keeping with the Mishnaic dictum: "Nullify your will before G-d's will, that He may nullify the will of others before your will." (Pirkei Avot 2; 4). Moshe nullified not only his will, but his whole being, so that he became the conduit of G-d's will. Haman only thought of himself and his pride, and therefore G-d caused him to show the will of G-d through his downfall.

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