Tetzaveh may be considered a bit of a dry parsha as it mostly details the clothing and duties of the Kohanim (Priests of the Temple). But there’s an interesting oddity in the text. Moses is nowhere to be found.
Now if you think about it, is that such a big thing? He doesn’t appear at all in the first book, Bereishis/Genesis. But he wasn’t born yet, so that makes sense. But then he’s not in several parshas in Devarim. However in those parshas he’s the one talking, so you certainly feel his presence. But in Tetzaveh, there’s nothing. Why?
Blot Out My Name
Jump ahead to next week’s parsha Ki Sisa, one of the low points of the Jewish people as they commit the heinous sin of worshiping the Golden Calf. I won’t go into the specifics of how, what, or why, but needless to say after talking to God personally, the Jewish people are on a tremendous level but almost lose everything. What do I mean by everything? Upon revealing to Moses what the Jewish people have done God says,
“Now leave Me alone and My wrath will blaze against them and destroy them. I will then make you [Moses] into a great nation.”(Shemos 32:9)
Moses implores God not to be so reactive. But when he goes down the mountain to see the offense for himself, Moses breaks the brand new 10 Commandment tablets, personally executes the primary offenders, then returns to God with the following demand;
I beseech You! The people have committed a great sin and have made a god of gold. Now if You would forgive their sin, and if not, blot me out from your book that You have written.
Obviously the Jewish people weren’t wiped out and clearly Moses wasn’t removed from the Torah (aka the Five Books of Moses). So why am I bringing next week’s parsha up this week?
The Power of a Wise Man’s Words
There is a gemara in Maccos that says, “The curse/threat of a chochom (wise man) is always fulfilled, even if it is conditional.” Moses is the chochomish of all chochom, so if he lays down a threat, according to the gemara, it’s going to get fulfilled in some way. Even if God relents in doing the thing Moses is trying to stop. The Rabbis say Moses’ threat gets fulfilled by him being taken out of this week’s parsha, Tetzaveh. Great. But of all the Torah portions to take Moses out of, why this one? You’d think maybe Vayakhel, the parsha right after Ki Sisa. Or maybe Balak where the Torah switches to the bad guys’ perspective. Why on earth would God choose the parsha before the threat?
Here are some possible reason.
As I mentioned above, this parsha gives copious amounts of details about the duties and dress of the Priests of the Temple. There’s the holy head plate, the jewel encrusted breastplate, even their pants! You’d think the most exalted prophet of the Jewish people would be first in line to take on this holy honor! And Moses was, until he lost it.
Back in parsha Shemos, there’s the famous scene between Moses and the burning bush. Moses declines the position to lead the Jewish people for a whole week. There’s certainly merit in humility, but the rabbis say Moses took it too far and God decides that the duties of the Kohanim will go to Moses’ brother, Aharon and all of his descendants. Out of sensitivity to Moses’ loss, God chooses this parsha to omit his most famous prophet.
The Birth and Death of Moses
The following comments are said about the death of the righteous; they often know the day that they are going to die, they often die on Shabbos, and their birthday and the day of their death often coincide. For Moses all three are true. What’s his birthday/yahrzeit? The 7th of Adar, the week when parsha Tetzaveh is always read. Perhaps it is because we will always have a heightened awareness of Moses during this week that God chooses this portion for the omission.
Another idea is that by choosing Tetzaveh, God is effectively putting off the omission of Moses as along as possible. Since Tetzaveh is right before Ki Sisa, that means we have to read the entire Torah after Moses’ threat before his words are actualized. This shows us that though there are consequences for our actions, God may wait as along as possible to carry out those consequences.
The Measure of a Blessing
Whatever the reason Moses is left out of parsha Tetzaveh, it is clear that words have power and we should always be careful with what we say. Especially when we make threats or curse others. But as powerful as a curse can be, the power of a blessing is far greater. How do we know? Smack in the center of the 10 Commandments, God proclaims,
“I remember the sins of fathers for [their] children, to the third and fourth [generations] of My enemies. But I do loving kindness for thousands [of generations] to those who love Me and preserve My commandments.”Shemos (20:5-6)
From this, Rashi comments that the measure of reward is five hundred times greater than God’s measure for punishment. So if Moses’ single curse can take him out of 101 verses of the Torah, imagine what all his blessings did. Never underestimate the power of a blessing. No matter who it is from.