Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Parshat TeTsaveh

Moshe's Absence

This parsha is famed for being the only parsha from Parshat Shemot onwards, that does not contain Moshe's name.

Nevertheless, Moshe remains the central character. At the beginning of the parsha God says to him: "And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil…" (Shemot 27:20). The parsha then continues in this light with God commanding Moshe the different things he needs to do in order to prepare Aharon for the priesthood.

If this is the case, that Moshe is an important character in the parsha, the absence of his name is even more conspicuous.

There are three ways that the commentaries deal with this question. The most "popular" explanation is the one espoused by Rashi. Moshe was punished. This opinion is based on the idea that the command to build the Mishkan was given after Israel had sinned with the Golden Calf. In the aftermath of the sin, God tells Moshe that He intends to destroy Israel and rebuild it through Moshe.

Moshe responds that this is unacceptable. He says: "If You forgive their sin. But if not, erase me now from Your book, which You have written" (ibid 32:32). God listens to Moshe and does not destroy Israel, and despite the fact that Moshe does the right thing, it was still inappropriate for Moshe to speak to God in this manner. Therefore, God does remove Moshe's name, not from the whole Torah, but from one parsha – our parsha.

While this explanation has a beautiful idea, i.e. Moshe's preparedness to sacrifice everything for Israel, it does not explain why this week's pasha was chosen. Therefore, we will attempt a second explanation.

This parsha is all about Aharon, Moshe's brother. Up until now, Aharon has always played second fiddle to Moshe. Indeed, earlier we saw "I have made you a lord over Pharaoh, and Aaron, your brother, will be your speaker" (ibid 7:1) – that Aharon was subservient to Moshe.

Suddenly, Aharon is being promoted ahead of Moshe. God does not want Moshe to feel jealous of Aharon, so He continuously stresses that "you must command him". God is pointing out that Aharon's priesthood is not coming from the people but from Moshe's authority. The people will accept Aharon's election, because Moshe is the one who is ordering it. This implies that Aharon remains subservient to Moshe.

This is an interesting explanation, however, we are later told "Now this man Moses was exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth" (Bemidbar 12:3). This explanation implies a lack of humility within Moshe.

Therefore, we can offer another similar explanation.

Rather than being jealous of Aharon, Moshe was proud of him. He did not want to take away from Aharon's special day. The Torah describes Moshe's humility and caution, by removing his name from this parsha, allowing Aharon to take center stage.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Tetsaveh, entitled: "The Ephod " appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Tetsaveh, entitled: "The Mizbeach HaKetoret – Part 2" appears at

A further Sedra Short on Parshat Tetsaveh entitled: "The Mizbeach HaKetoret " appears at

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