Parsha Time: Part 3 — Will Gotkin on the qualities of a leader

Will Gotkin is a recent graduate of The George Washington University and a regular contributor to GTJ.

The Jew and G-d – An Unbreakable Connection

Every Jewish person has a neshama – Jewish soul – which Chassidut explains is part of G-d Himself. True, every human – Jews and non-Jews alike – is made in the image of G-d, but the Jewish people were given a special type of soul that would allow them to pursue the all-encompassing path of Torah and mitzvos. This bond is deep and even goes beyond the Torah.

This week’s parsha is titled ‘Tetzaveh,’ a word that literally means ‘command.’ However, ‘tetzaveh’ is also a derivative of the word ‘tzavsa’ which means ‘connection.’[1] In the first line of the Parsha, Moshe is told by G-d: “And you should command the children of Israel that they should bring to you pure olive oil…it ignite the lamp (until it burns) continually” (Exodus 27:20). The sentence could also be read as “And you should connect the Jewish people,” hinting that Moshe connects the Jewish people with G-d.[2]

This is the only parsha in the Torah (since his first appearance) in which Moshe’s name is not mentioned (The book of Devarim are his words to the people). Although G-d frequently addresses him in Parshas Tetzaveh, Moshe’s name is conspicuously missing.

One famous explanation for this is that G-d fulfilled Moshe’s request that if G-d punishes the Jewish people for the sin of the golden calf, Moshe be removed from the Torah (see next week’s parsha, which takes place before ParshasTetzaveh). G-d forgave the Jewish people, but still removed Moshe from this Torah portion. This is testament of how powerful our words can be and even more so the words of a righteous leader are in affecting the world.

However, Moshe is mentioned throughout the parsha even if not by name, being referred to as ‘You’ right in the beginning. Why did G-d refer to Moshe as ‘You’? The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the objectives expressed in this parsha can only be achieved by Moshe’s essence, the aspect of him that cannot even be conveyed by his name.[3]

By asking to be erased from the book, Moshe wished to invoke an essential bond between himself and the Jewish people and thereby the essential bond between G-d and the Jewish people.[4] This bond is one that goes beyond Torah and mitzvos. It is a supernal connection between Hashem and the Jewish people that is so strong that it is not dependent on Torah and mitzvos. Obviously, Jews must study Torah and pursue mitzvos in order to connect in the way G-d desires, but by Moshe invoking this transcendent, unbreakable bond established by G-d’s covenant with Avraham (see the Book of Bereshis) it allowed for the atonement of the people’s sin and brought them back to the Torah.[5]

Moshe’s self-sacrifice epitomizes that of a true Jewish leader. In the beginning of the parsha he was told that the Jewish people should bring olive oil to him in order that it be used to ignite the menorah so that it burns continually. This is because a true leader can enable the people to reach a level of spiritual self-sufficiency, to the degree that they no longer have to depend on their leader in order to keep the fire of Torah and love and fear of G-d burning continually.[6] It’s up to us to keep that fire ablaze.

[1]The Gutnick Edition Chumash, The Book of Exodus, 203

[2] Ibid.

[3]The Torah – Chumash Shemot. Commentary based on works of the LubavitcherRebbe, 214

[4] Ibid., 215

[5] Ibid., 215

[6]The Gutnick Edition Chumash, The Book of Exodus, 203

Parsha Time: Part 2 — Anna Batler on who gets to be holy

Anna Batler blogs about faith and feminism at  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anna Batler.

Tetzaveh is a chronicle of priestly clothing and a recitation of the exact order of ritual worship during the seven days of tabernacle sanctification. Buried beneath the fashion show and the party plans there is a coalescing of power. God says that amongst these holy objects is the Devine home.  The text refers to the tabernacle as the “ohel moed” – the tent of meeting (with God). (Exodus 29: 43-46.)

Before the building of this holy tent, the circumstances of one’s birth did not determine if she or he would witness the Divine – even a woman could hear the Devine voice directly. Earlier, Miriam is described in the text as “Miriam the prophetess.” Exodus 15:20.   While this new model is rattled repeatedly, the world of the holy tent is a world where only men born to the right tribe, wearing the right garments, and standing in the right place at the right time have excess to Divinity. (Moshe does not actually follow these rules – however that’s a different dvar).

The project of building this holy tent, and eventually the temple, is circumspect.  Even the text knows it.  If read chronologically, the next big event after the temple is the golden calf. We read it – and see the molten gold of the calf and molten gold of the ark, we see the bringing of sacrifices and we are ashamed. If read out of textual order, as done by Rashi, where Jews are instructed to build the ohel moed only after they already sinned with the calf, the ohel moed becomes a way of mitigating the Jew’s unfavorable desires into something a little less unfavorable.   Rashi on Exodus 31:18.

The limiting of holiness to so few ordained at birth – it cannot stand and it did not stand.  Prophesy cannot be contained by garments, no matter how ornately described. The Torah knows that, at its soul, the ohel moed is a golden calf.