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Moses: Putting Himself On the Line

Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10 )

by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Now you shall command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you pure olive oil, pressed, for illumination, to kindle a lamp continually. (Exodus 27:20)

Parashas Tetzaveh opens with the words, "V'atah tetzaveh – Now you shall command...." The words "now you" are puzzling. Who is meant by "you"? Why is "you" not identified?

"You," is, of course, a reference to Moshe Rabbeinu, and, for the very first time since his birth, his name does not appear in the parashah. Rather, Hashem refers to him using the anonymous pronoun, "you." But in this anonymity, Moses speaks with even-greater force and gives us a glimpse of his majesty.

Following the sin of the Golden Calf, fearing that God would destroy the Jewish people, Moses pleaded, "And now if You would but forgive their sin! – but if not, erase me now from Your Book that You have written."[1] With those words, Moses put himself on the line and was prepared to sacrifice his own life for his beloved people.

But what sort of defense is this plea? How did Moses hope that by asking that his name be erased from God's Book his nation would be saved?

One's calling, one's mission, is to be found in one's name. Therefore Moses reasoned, "If they committed such evil, it must be my fault – I must have failed as their rabbi and teacher. Hence, erase my name." Just as a parent pleads on behalf of his wayward child, "He's really a very good boy. It's all my fault. I wasn't the parent I should have been," so, too, Moses, with his unflagging love, accepted responsibility for the sin of the nation. God forgave Moses' people, but Moses' name was omitted from the parashah.

This omission is difficult to understand. After all, why should Moses have been penalized for his self-sacrifice? In reality, he was not. The omission of his name reveals the greatness of his person more powerfully than ever before, for we are reminded that he was prepared to lay down his life for his people. And more, this parashah is usually read during the week that we commemorate Moshe Rabbeinu's yahrzeit, which falls on zayin Adar, the seventh day of Adar. It is on this day that he was born and it is on this day that he died. Thus, forever and ever, when we come to this parashah and realize that Moses' name is missing, we are also reminded that it is the yahrzeit of our beloved Rebbi, Moshe Rabbeinu, the holy teacher of all Israel.


Everything in the Tabernacle has a deeper meaning. For example, the Menorah represents the sacred light of the Torah and therefore, everything about it is significant: the material to be used to create the flame, the method of its kindling, and the placement of the Menorah in the Tabernacle.

The material: The oil used for the lighting of the Menorah must be pure olive oil, free of sediment, teaching us that our Torah study must be pure and not compromised by alien concepts and influences.

The method: When lighting the Menorah, we must be certain that the flame burns brightly, teaching us that when we teach Torah, we must impart the lesson in such a way that the student fully understands. The Torah teacher is charged with the responsibility of tenaciously staying with his students until the lesson is fully absorbed.

The placement: The Torah instructs us to place the Menorah "outside the Partition that is near the Testimonial-tablets,"[2] teaching us that the light of the Menorah, which reminds us of the eternal light of the Torah, must guide us not only when we are in the confines of the Sanctuary immersed in study and prayer, but even when we are "outside the Partition." That light of the Torah must direct our lives, in our homes, in our workplace, and wherever life may take us.

We live in such menacing times; we have so much stress to contend with. Every day the world becomes more frightening. If we ever needed the pure light of Torah to energize us, to give us hope and guide us, it is today. And that light is forever within our grasp. We need only seize it and it will illuminate our path on the bumpy road of life. Let us make a commitment to illuminate our minds, hearts, and souls with the eternal light of Sinai.

  1. Ex. 32:32.
  2. Ibid. 27:21.

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