One of the most striking features of this week’s parsha is the absence of Moshe Rabbeinu’s name, an omission which occurs only once from the beginning of Sefer Shemos until Moshe’s death at the end of Sefer Devraim. The Ba’al HaTurim notes this omission and quotes the Zohar which attributes the absence to Moshe Rabbeinu‘s quasi challenge to Hakadosh Baruch Hu in Parshas Ki Sisa to either forgive the nation or else “macheini na misifrecha asher kasavta – erase my name from the book which You have written.” The Ba’al HaTurim comments that even though the nation was forgiven and saved, the kelalah of a chacham must in some way be fulfilled – hence Moshe’s name has been partially “erased.” While the Zohar’s rationale for excluding Moshe’s name makes sense, what it doesn’t address is why it was done specifically in Parshas Tetzaveh as opposed to any other parsha. (See the Ba’al HaTurim, Tosefes Bracha and others for various explanations.)
To fully make sense of this issue one needs to understand two other incidents in Moshe Rabbeinu‘s life that the meforshim struggled to fully comprehend. The first is the drama that played out at the end of Sefer Shemos immediately after the Mishkan had been erected. The Torah tells us that “lo yachol Moshe lavo el Ohel Moed – Moshe was unable to enter the Ohel Moed,” the sacred space of the mishkan. Rashi, quoting the Sifra, believes that Moshe’s inability to enter the Ohel Moed, at this specific time, is because “shachan alav he’anan – the cloud of glory had descended upon the mishkan.” The Medrash asserts that once the cloud of glory ascended, once the specific manifestation of G-d’s Shechinah was no longer present, then Moshe was free to enter.
The Netziv challenges this explanation with a different Medrash that relates that Moshe Rabbeinu had entered the Kodesh HaKadoshim, a place where the Shechinah was always present. Additionally, the Gemara (Yoma 4a) records the position of Rav Yosi HaGelili who maintains that when Moshe stood on Har Sinai he was ensconced by the “kevod Hashem.” Why would Moshe be allowed to come in close contact in these two instances, but not right after the Mishkan was erected? (See Rav Avigdor Neventzal for a beautiful explanation.)
Secondly, there is another Gemara (Menachos 29b) equally famous and perplexing. In short, the Gemara relates that when Moshe Rabbeinu was “alah la’marom,” when he ascended on high, he was able to gaze into the future and see Rabi Akiva, who derived the laws found in the Oral Torah from the most minute detail found in the Written Torah. To some degree this Talmudic exegesis was foreign to Moshe, and the Gemara records that “tashash kocho,” that he became saddened by his exclusion from this system. Subsequently, the Gemara records that as Moshe looked on, one of Rabi Akiva’s students asked him where he knew a certain halacha from. Rabi Akiva answered that it was “halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai,” it was a tradition passed down directly from Moshe Rabbeinu. Upon hearing his name, the Gemara tells us, “nisyashva da’aso – Moshe became assuaged.” How do we explain that Moshe Rabbeinu felt both saddened by his exclusion and then ultimately buoyed by the mention of his name in the Talmudic proceedings?
I recently saw a letter written by Rav Yehuda Copperman, dean emeritus of Michlalah, that offers an insight into Moshe Rabbeinu‘s life that sheds light on the questions we have heretofore raised. Moshe’s birth is described somewhat anonymously as “Vayeleich ish m’beis Levi vayikach es bas Levi.” One would think that the circumstances leading up to Moshe’s birth would be handled with greater fanfare and focus on who these great individuals were, where they came from and what was outstanding about their personalities. (See the Shaarei Orah for a beautiful explanation.)
About the Author: Rabbi Josh Blass serves as Mashgiach Ruchani at YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.
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