The Missing Name
Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10 )
Shemos, 27:20: “And you will command the Children of Israel that they will take for you pure olive oil, pressed for illumination, to kindle a lamp continually.”
Baal HaTurim, 27:20: “[It does not mention] Moshe in this Portion, which is not the case in the whole Chumash from the time that Moshe was born, there is no Portion in which he is not mentioned. And the reason is because he said, “please erase me from Your book which You wrote1”, and the curse of a Scholar is fulfilled even [when it is done] with a condition. And it was fulfilled here [in that his name is not mentioned in this Portion]. Furthermore, this Section talks about the function of the Priesthood and the High Priesthood was [supposed to come] from Moshe, but because he refused to do the agency of haMakom [God], it was taken from him, and given to Aaron. Therefore, Moshe’s name is not mentioned in this Section, because [it would cause him] pain.”
The Torah Portion of Tetzaveh is the only Portion in the entire Torah from the birth of Moshe to not mention Moshe by name. The Baal HaTurim reveals the source for this anomaly: In the following Parsha of Ki Tisa, Moshe pleads with God to forgive the Jewish people for the heinous sin of the Golden Calf. Moshe then adds that if God refuses to forgive them, then his name should be erased from the entire Torah.2 God did ultimately forgive the people, but there is a principle that when a great person makes a conditional curse, the curse will be fulfilled in some form, even if the condition does not take place. In this instance, Moshe’s name was not erased from the entire Torah, but from one Parsha, that of Tetzaveh.
The Baal HaTurim continues to offer an explanation of why Tetzaveh in particular was the Parsha in which Moshe’s name was hidden. He explains that when God first instructed Moshe at the Burning Bush to redeem the Jewish people, Moshe steadfastly refused to go to such an extent that the Torah states that God got angry with Moshe. When the Torah says that God gets angry, there is normally a punishment that follows, yet the next verse does not openly indicate any punishment. God merely tells Moshe that his brother, Aaron the Levi, is coming to greet him.3 One opinion in the Gemara explains that a punishment is alluded to in these words – God was communicating that Moshe was supposed to be the High Priest and Aaron was supposed to be a Levi, but now Moshe would have that honor removed from him, and Aaron would be the High Priest.4
The implication of the Baal HaTurim is that the omission of Moshe’s name is a kind of punishment, yet this is very difficult to understand. Moshe displayed unfathomable self-sacrifice to have his name removed from the whole Torah5 in order to save the Jewish people. Accordingly, why was he punished by having his name removed from an entire Torah Portion?
One answer6 is that this was not a punishment per se, but rather a result of Moshe’s self-sacrifice. He was willing to give up everything to save the Jewish people, and consequently he did ‘suffer’ the omission of his name in Parshas Tetzaveh.
However, Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr7 offers an alternative explanation.8 He suggests that the omission of Moshe’s name is not a negative consequence at all, rather the lack of a name implies a higher level of love between God and Moshe. He cites Chazal as saying that the Parsha begins with a ‘vav’ – ‘v’atah tetzaveh’ – the vav is a letter of connection, which in this context implies that God was saying to Moshe, “you and I are together”. He further states that a name gives someone an identity, separate from God, but that Moshe reached such a high level of self-nullification that there was no separation between him and God. In a similar vein, the Birchat Avraham notes that a name indicates something in the physical world, but an Angel does not have a true name of identification9, as in the case of the Angel that told Yaakov ‘why do you ask of my name’? So too, Moshe attained the elevated level of spirituality that he did not have a name, at least for one Portion.
Moshe was willing to give up everything for the Jewish people. Needless to say, the level he reached is unattainable for us, but each person on their level can try to find some way in which they can give up a little bit of time, effort or money to help others. We learn from Moshe that ultimately, a person will only gain by doing this, with the ultimate reward – enhanced closeness to God.
- Shemot, 32:32.
- This is based on Rashi’s interpretation of Moshe’s words. For other interpretations see Gemara, Rosh HaShana, 16b, Seforno, ibid.
- Shemot, 4:14.
- Zevachim, 102a.
- And according to the simple understanding of the Gemara, Rosh HaShana, 16b, he was actually willing to give up his portion in the Next World. The Seforno explains that he was willing to give up all his merits.
- Based on Rabbi Yissachar Frand in the name of the Sukkat David.
- He was a leading Rabbi in post-war America and was the Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaat.
- Ohr Gedaliyahu, Tetzaveh. A similar explanation is given by the Birchat Avraham written by Rabbi Avraham Field, Tetzaveh.
- Some Angels have names, but they just identify their job such as Raphael whose job is to heal people, hence he is identified with a word relating to healing.