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Taste of Torah: Tetzaveh

Parashat Tetzvaeh, filled with the many details of creating the priests’ clothing, contains one rather peculiar detail: Moshe’s name is missing from the entire parashah. While his name is mentioned in nearly every other parashah from the beginning of Shemot through the end of Devarim, it’s omitted here. How might we understand this glaring absence? 

Our sages offer a variety of rationales. One rabbinic answer is that this absence is an allusion to Moshe’s death, said to take place on the 7th of Adar, which typically coincides with the week of Tetzaveh, as it does this year. The Zohar Hadash speculates that it is because in next week’s parashah, in the aftermath of the golden calf incident, we read: 

וַיָּשָׁב מֹשֶׁה אֶל־יְהוָה וַיֹּאמַר אָנָּא חָטָא הָעָם הַזֶּה חֲטָאָה גְדֹלָה וַיַּעֲשׂוּ לָהֶם אֱלֹהֵי זָהָב׃ וְעַתָּה אִם־תִּשָּׂא חַטָּאתָם וְאִם־אַיִן מְחֵנִי נָא מִסִּפְרְךָ אֲשֶׁר כָּתָבְתָּ׃ 

Moshe went back to Adonai and said, “Alas, this people is guilty of a great sin in making for themselves a god of gold. Now, if You will forgive their sin [well and good]; but if not, erase me from the record which You have written!” 

—Exodus 32:31-32

According to the midrash, Moshe essentially created a self-fulfilling prophecy, and is therefore written out of the parashah. The midrash states: “A righteous person’s curse, even if unintended, will be fulfilled.” Moses’ intention was for the Israelites to be forgiven, not to be written out himself, and yet that is precisely what takes place.

Going deeper, however, the Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that while Moshe’s name does not appear, he is still very much present. He points out that the parashah’s first word, ve’atah (“and you”) is referring to Moshe himself. 

וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִיד׃

You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly.

—Exodus 27:20

According to the Lubavitcher, our “you-ness” connotes our very essence, while a name is far more superficial. With this understanding, Moshe is present in the text in a more essential way than any mention of his name could possibly express. More broadly, this teaching offers a powerful paradigm for how to connect with God’s presence, even if it might feel absent from the world. We are reminded that if we find ourselves in a period of spiritual loneliness (or even if God seems fully absent from the text of our lives), the essence of God’s presence endures in the more essential—but perhaps less explicit—parts of our experience. In paying closer attention, we are invited to do the work of noticing the Divine presence in acts of kindness, the natural beauty of our world, or the miracles that happen daily—each containing profound holiness. Through this focus and attention, God’s essential “you-ness” can manifest more deeply in our world and by means of this spiritual work, we become more present ourselves.