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Present, Yet Anonymous

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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.

YU-020714-Yad    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.)

Rav Copperman noted that this low-key approach was meant to highlight that the focus for Moshe Rabbeinu was purely on the mission he was called to perform and the degree to which he succeeded or failed in that mission. The Torah doesn’t necessarily care about his lineage, but rather, ultimately, whether Moshe’s talents and potential would be actualized in service to the Jewish people.  Perhaps it was important to Moshe to feel as though he was playing a role in facilitating the Geula, or in Kabbalas HaTorah or in the Mesorah, but it was never about Moshe being front and center and dominating the narrative. Moshe’s somewhat anonymous beginning highlights the demand on us to never overly focus on any one individual’s accomplishments, but on the larger themes of contributions to a cause that transcends the individual.

If this is the case then we can resolve some of the issues we have raised previously. We understand that if Moshe were to enter the Mishkan at the very moment that it was completed, when the Shechinah had descended, then the Mishkan and the Shechinas haMishkan would become associated with Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe inherently knew that he could help build and facilitate the Mishkan, but that at the most significant moment, when the Shechinah had descended, he needed to take a step back.YU-020714-Shin

This perhaps is what took place in Menachos as well. Initially, when Moshe was unfamiliar with the Talmudic discourse he became somewhat despondent by his lack of knowledge of some of the specific mechanisms of Torah Sh’Baal Peh. Once he heard the reference to halacha l’Moshe M’Sinai he was assuaged by the knowledge that he was able to help facilitate the Mesorah even if the halachic and Talmudic process had extended well beyond his vast contributions.

This brings us back to our original question:  Why is Moshe Rabbeinu’s name omitted specifically from Parshas Tetzaveh? Rav Zalman Sorotzkin in his Oznaim LaTorah suggests that when Chazal established the cycle of Krias haTorah they specifically arranged that Tetzaveh would fall out either the week before or after the seventh of Adar, the day of Moshe’s birth and death. Rav Sorotzkin notes that leaders of other religions invariably become the focal point of the religion’s beliefs and practices, and the leader’s day of birth or death becomes a critical day on the calendar. Not so with Moshe Rabbeinu, who understood that while he played a critical role in helping to facilitate the birth of the nation he was never the focal point – it was always about playing a role in a larger scheme.  Specifically during the period of time when Moshe Rabbeinu might become lionized and even deified, the Torah excludes his name from the parsha.

Moshe Rabbeinu‘s life continues to inspire us thousands of years after his death. The integrated characteristics of modesty and strength that allowed Moshe to become the paradigm of a strong leader, but one whose ego did not rule the day, is an eternal model that still resonates for anyone in a leadership role. Moshe’s life demonstrates that an individual of strength, confidence and conviction is able to step back, content to just try to fulfill ratzon Hashem. May we continue to strive, in every area of our life, to integrate the messages of Toras Moshe.

About the Author: Rabbi Josh Blass serves as Mashgiach Ruchani at YU-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary.


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One Response to “Present, Yet Anonymous”

  1. I never saw it like this before. Judaism could have easily have become a cult, like most other religions, if it weren't for his humility. After all he did, he wouldn't enter the city for a minor infraction, while most leaders (secular or religious) tend to think so highly of themselves that they spend their entire lives trying to leave a legacy so that their names are not forgotten, even when they commit worse infractions than he ever did. Good read, Rabbi. Most of it went over my head, but what little I get, I'm glad.

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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.

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