Torah reading: T’tzavveh

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Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple.

Moses is not mentioned in T’tzavveh, nor is God is mentioned in the M’gillah. The reasons for both omissions are debated in a sheaf of studies.

Actually they are less of a problem than it seems. Even when Moses is not named, his presence is felt. Even when God is not mentioned, He is there at every moment. He even seems to like it that way, since He says, “Even if they forget Me, let them keep My Torah”.

People who had good parents and good teachers do not necessarily evoke their names all the time but know that their example and guidance are an unseen influence on all they do.

In my own career, I am on record as saying that I did not object if God were not mentioned in the preamble of the Australian constitution so long as the moral quality of Australian society showed the influence of God-given principles.

A “CHOCHEM” FOR A SON-IN-LAW

Rabbi Eizik Charif once went to Volozhin Yeshivah to find a husband for his daughter. It was taken for granted in those circles that people were blessed to have a scholar for a son-in-law. The Hebrew phrase is “talmid chacham”, a “wise pupil”. The obvious criterion has to do with what the person has learned and how diligent he is as a student.

The sidra we read this Shabbat adds, however, another word: “lev”, a heart. It speaks of the “chacham lev”, the person with a wise heart (Ex. 28:3). Naturally we wonder: doesn’t wisdom come from the mind, not the heart? Rabbi Chayyim Schmulewitz insists, though, that wisdom is not measured by academic achievement but by character. Learning comes from the brain, but wisdom is a matter of attitude. It requires desire and enthusiasm, or in other words the heart.

Next Shabbat we will be reading about Joshua going with Moses to Sinai and waiting forty days because he is keen to acquire the leader’s outlook and enthusiasm, not merely (to use modern terminology) to pass examinations and gain degrees.

It is said that before Rabbi Eizik Charif entered Volozhin on the fateful day he decided he would only note down the name of a student who could answer a particular question he had formulated. Seeing no-one seemed capable of satisfying his criterion, Rabbi Eizik was about to leave for home, but then a student chased after him. “Do you know the answer to my question?” asked Rabbi Eizik Charif. “No,” said the young man, “but I’d like to know it!”

Presumably the young man won the contest; and presumably Rabbi Eizik Charif learnt something too. No wonder the Midrash (commenting on Ex. 28:3) asks, “Why does God give wisdom to the wise?” The Midrash answers its own question, “It’s because the foolish will waste it!” That’s being a “chacham lev”.

GIVING ORDERS

There are two strange features of the first verse of the sidra. Moses’ name is omitted and the verse merely says, “V’attah t’tzavveh” – “And you, command the Children of Israel”; and instead of being told, “Speak to” or “say to” the Children of Israel, he is told, “Command the Children of Israel’”.

Is it fair that Moses should not be mentioned by name on the very Shabbat nearest to his Yahrzeit? Is that gratitude? After all he did and suffered for God, the Torah and Israel, why should his name be suppressed?

There are many explanations. Some, noting that usually Moses is told “speak” or “say”, suggest that in his characteristic humility Moses might have said to God, “Who am I to ‘command’ the Children of Israel? I do not feel comfortable with giving orders!”

God understands Moses’ view but knows there are times to speak softly and gently and times to be firm and to command and insist. Moses need not feel uncomfortable about being forceful; he is doing it on behalf of God, not on his own initiative.

Hence the omission of his name is an implied rebuke, from which we can learn that whilst one should always follow the diplomatic way there are times that call for something much stronger if moral principle is to be maintained.

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Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple. Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia's highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

Posted in Synagogue Synagogue
THE MISSING MOSES