Monday, February 11, 2008

Tetzaveh 1

This is the only Torah reading from the beginning of Exodus until the end of Deuteronomy that does not contain the name of Moshe. Even though G-d is speaking to him throughout the Parsha, nowhere does it explicitly state his name. Many explanations have been given for this; here is one possibility.

When Moshe first encounters G-d at the Burning Bush, he argues that he is not worthy to lead the Jewish people out of slavery, and insists that his elder brother Aharon would be better suited to the task. Our tradition tells us that this dialogue between Moshe and G-d lasted for an entire week, until finally “G-d’s anger burned against Moshe [and He said] ‘Behold Aharon the Levi is your brother’ ... ‘When he sees you his heart will be glad’...” (Shemos 4;14). The Sages comment on this verse,
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha says: Every time the “burning of G-d’s anger” is mentioned in the Torah, a lasting mark is mentioned with regard to it. Yet this burning anger has no lasting mark mentioned with regard to it, and we do not find any punishment coming about. Rabbi Yose said to him: A mark is mentioned with regard to this one too; that which is implied by the conclusion of the verse “Aharon the Levi is your brother”. Aharon was destined to be a Levite, not a Cohen, and G-d had intended that the kehuna (priesthood) would come forth from Moshe. Now that you, Moshe, have angered me, it will not be so. Rather he will be a Cohen and you will be the Levite, as it says “But as for Moshe, the man of G-d, his sons will be reckoned among the tribe of Levi” (I Divrei HaYamim 23; 14). (Shemos Rabba 3;17, quoted by Rashi on Exodus ibid.)

This week’s Parsha deals primarily with the garments that the Cohanim wore, particularly those of the Cohen Gadol (High Priest). Since originally Moshe should have been the Cohen Gadol, in deference to his feelings, and as a reminder that he missed out on this opportunity, his name is not mentioned in this section.

However we find a paradox. Although Moshe’s name is not mentioned, G-d speaks to him in the second person; G-d is speaking to Moshe even more directly than usual. Not only that, but it is Moshe himself who is instructed to dress Aharon and his sons in their priestly garments, and Moshe acts as the “Cohen” who performs the service to initiate them into the Kehuna. In other words, at the same time that G-d rebukes Moshe, he draws him still closer to Himself.

This is a fulfilment of the Talmudic dictum “One should always push someone away with the left hand, but draw them closer with the right” (Sanhedrin 107b). The right hand is the stronger, and thus the Rabbis are telling us that any rebuke or punishment should be simultaneously accompanied by a greater kindness. We do not subscribe to the Dr. Spock child-rearing mentality, without any rules or punishments, drawing close with both hands. Nor do we permit harsh punishment to the extent of driving a person away completely, pushing with both hands. Both these options lead to tragic outcomes. Our challenge is to raise our students to adhere to their obligations, punishing when necessary, but always in a manner which leads to closeness, not distance.

Here the Torah is telling us that G-d follows the same guidelines. Throughout history we have seen that whenever G-d needs to punish us, causing us to stumble through he darkness of oppression and persecution, He always brings us even closer to Him at the end, through an outpouring of mercy. At those times that we cannot feel His presence, that we cannot see Him calling us by name, He is actually speaking to us even more directly, and giving us a greater opportunity to draw near to Him.

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