Parshat Tetzaveh: “For the commandment is a candle, and the Torah is light” (Mishlei 6:23)

Rabbanit Hila Naor is the director of Ohr Torah Stone’s “Maaminot BeMadim” Institute for Spiritual, Halakhic and Practical Support for Religious Women in the IDF

%D7%94%D7%99%D7%9C%D7%94 3 e1708245461498Anyone who has firsthand experience with sibling dynamics, or even one who has just been an observer of the intricacies of siblinghood, knows full well that siblings could easily be fighting it out one minute and be the best of friends the next.  Sibling relationships are known to be quite challenging, and yet considered to be something we can always fall back on in times of need. 

From that which is said explicitly, and from that which is omitted intentionally; from the text itself and from the insinuated subtext of the recent portions, one can sense that a unique relationship exists between the two brothers Moshe and Aharon.  Each is a leader of the people in his own right; each has his own specific role to perform, and yet both must engage in a delicate dance of leadership, as it were, and keep to the fine tempo of dual leadership. 

In most cases Moshe takes center stage vis-à-vis God as well as the People of Israel.  However, there are instances when Moshe steps aside and Aharon ascends the stage as the lead player.  One such instance is in our parsha, Tetzaveh. 

“And thou shall command”. Thus begins our portion, with a direct command to Moshe.  Surprisingly enough, Moshe’s name is not mentioned throughout the entire portion!  From the beginning of the Book of Shemot up until the end of the Book of Bamidbar, Moshe is mentioned by name in every single parsha – except this one.

Many of the exegetes have pointed this out.  Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, also known as the Ba’al HaTurim, says that the fact that Moshe’s name is missing from this portion can be attributed to Moshe’s request of God following the Sin of the Calf:  “…and if not [if You do not forgive their sin], blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written” (Shemot 32:32).

The Vilna Gaon highlights the fact that the portion of Tetzaveh is most often read during the Hebrew month of Adar, the month in which Moshe passed away – on the 7th of Adar, to be precise – and the fact that his name is not mentioned in this portion alludes to his death, and the great hollow it left.

Other exegetes explain that because Moshe had repeatedly refused to take on the mission with which God had charged him, Moshe was not awarded with Kehuna (priesthood); instead, Aharon was appointed as the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest.  Since the portion of Tetzaveh focuses on the role of the Kohanim, Moshe’s name is omitted. 

The focus of the parsha shifts from the connection between Moshe and the people of Israel to the kohanim and their sacred service.  The kohanim take center stage from this point onwards.  They serve as the basis for the worship of God.  Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z”l distinguishes between the role of the prophet and that of the kohen. Whereas the prophet is a lone figure, albeit charismatic, the kohanim work together, and their role is passed down from father to son.  The kohen has unique garments which distinguish him from the people; the prophet does not.  The prophet sits in the midst of the people; the kohanim remain distinct and separate and perform the sacred service in the sanctuary.

Moshe the prophet is the one who commands the kohanim to light the lamps [of the menorah] in the Mishkan; whereas the kohanim are the ones who actually kindle the Ner HaTamid, the light that burns perpetually in the Temple.  As is written: “…it shall be a statute forever throughout their generation”, which also hints to the fact that it is the kohanim that turn the worship of God into an eternal practice for the people of Israel, and it is they who preserve it generation after generation.  

As mentioned earlier, in this portion, Moshe moves out of the limelight, letting his brother Aharon take center stage.  As Rabbi Sacks so aptly puts it:  “For whereas Moshe lit the fire in the souls of the Jewish people, Aharon tended the flame and turned it into ‘an eternal light’.”

In addition to kindling the flames, the kohen is also responsible for creating a bond between the Tribes of Israel.  The precious stones on the efod (a type of apron worn by the Kohen Gadol) represent the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and rest upon his shoulders, representing the bonds that exist between all the various parts of the nation. 

“And thou shall command”, begins our parsha, and Rashi on the portion of Yitro explains the difference between the different Hebrew roots used to convey the act of speech.  Whereas the root א.מ.ר [alef, mem, reish] denotes a soft-spoken tone, the root ד.ב.ר [dalet, bet, reish] expresses harsher language. In addition to these commonly used Hebrew roots, in our portion the word “tetzaveh” [“command”] is used.  This is commonly used to convey a sense of urgency, i.e. urging one into action.  However, the Sefat Emet [Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Gur] says that the word tetzaveh is derived from the Hebrew word tzavta which means “togetherness”.  It is used here to convey the connection that exists between the present and future generations, as explained by the Midrash. 

The Sefat Emet goes on to say that the bond that existed between Moshe and the People of Israel is also expressed through the pure olive oil [used for lighting the Menorah].  Pure olive oil has nothing in it that is superfluous or inhibiting.  However, when waste or other impure substances are blended into the oil, there ensues a separation and a disruption of the pure composition.  Interestingly, the mention of the special connection Moshe had with the People of Israel is mentioned in the very portion in which his name is not mentioned at all (for the first time since his birth).  Although our parsha puts Aharon in the limelight and places Moshe backstage, it is still a portion that highlights numerous bonds and connections.  Here are a few examples:

The tribes, which are represented by the precious stones in the shoulder straps of the efod as well as those on the choshen [breastplate], were connected to Aharon’s garments and placed upon Aharon’s heart.  As is written:  “And Aharon shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before God continually” (Shemot 28:30).

Moreover, the Kohen Gadol was not only bound to the people by means of his special garments, but also atoned for their sins in this manner: “And it shall be upon Aharon’s forehead, and Aharon shall bear the iniquity committed in the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow” (ibid. 28:38).

The People of Israel are also able to connect to God through the sacred service of the kohanim and the sacrifices offered in the Mishkan.  As is written:  “And there I will meet with the children of Israel; and [the Tent] shall be sanctified by My glory” (ibid. 29:43). 

It follows then that although Moshe’s name is not mentioned in the entire portion of Tetzaveh, nonetheless the actions fulfilled by him and his brother Aharon in accordance with God’s commandments are responsible for creating a connection between these two leaders and the people of Israel, as well as the special bond between the people of Israel and God. 

Furthermore, the menorah’s flames, which burn eternal, symbolize the perpetual fire burning in the hearts of the people of Israel. 

The Sefat Emet goes on to connect between the mitzvot of lighting the menorah and the garments of the kohanim and the two brothers, Moshe and Aharon.  Moshe symbolizes the light of Torah; he is the soul.  Aharon, on the other hand, is the one who tends to the flames of the menorah – the keeper of the light, as it were.  Aharon kindles the soul with the fire that he lights.  What the Sefat Emet is saying is that there are two components that come together in order to kindle the soul of Am Yisrael; both play a part in illuminating the path for the Israelites, first in the desert, and later, in the Land of Israel.  These two complementary components are similarly interwoven in the commandment pertaining to the Sabbath: shamor and zachor – keep and remember.  By the light of both we tread. 

The two brothers, Moshe and Aharon, know when to step aside for one another rather than overstepping.  They learn how to create a shared leadership, one which brings to light the unique strengths of each.  The connections created between the people of Israel and its leaders, as well as the people of Israel and God, are expressed through the kohanim’s special garments, the sacred service they perform, and the eternal fire which burns in the sanctuary.  All of this teach us how important it is to forge partnerships, create bonds, be attentive to the other and conduct oneself with humility.  All for the purpose of reaching the state in which God Himself proclaims: “And I shall dwell in the midst of the People of Israel and I shall be unto them a God” (ibid. 29:45). 


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