July 22, 2024
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July 22, 2024
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This week’s portion, Tetzaveh, opens with a particular mitzvah that seems, at first glance, to be rather out of place:

Hashem tells Moshe: “VeAtah tetzaveh et Bnei Yisrael…”—“And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil that was crushed for the light, to raise up a continuous [daily] flame.” (Shemot 27:20)

It is interesting to note that although the mitzvah discussed herein is the lighting of the Menorah, the Torah here is really demanding the preparation of the wicks by bringing oil.

Why doesn’t the Torah here explicitly state the purpose of this task, the daily lighting of the Menorah? Indeed, the Menorah is not even mentioned here. Also, why is the oil brought to Moshe? Why not to God? Or to Aaron who actually does the lighting?

Interestingly, something very unique and unusual in this week’s portion is that in all of the Torah, this is the only portion, since his birth in the portion of Exodus, where Moshe’s name does not appear.

The Midrash suggests that in the sin of the Golden Calf (32:33), Moshe says to God: “Me’cheini na misifrecha,” “Erase me from Your book.” In other words, if I cannot achieve forgiveness for the Jewish people, then I don’t want to be in the Torah. And despite the fact that Hashem does indeed forgive us, nonetheless in this week’s portion, Moshe’s name is indeed not mentioned.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that Moshe is very clearly mentioned in this week’s portion, though not by name, in the first verse with the word “VeAtah,” “And you.” This word refers to Moshe on a much higher level than his name. Although a name expresses much of the essence of a person, it merely designates that person for everyone else. The person, him or herself, however, does not actually need their own name, because they are in touch with themselves on a much deeper level.

“VeAtah” refers to the essence of who Moshe really is, which is beyond his name.

Moshe’s greatest attribute was his ability to recognize that he was really only a vessel for something much greater than himself. The Torah describes Moshe as the greatest anav, the most humble person that ever lived. He was able to demonstrate that without the Jewish people his existence was pointless.

In a time when rulers and monarchs were acting as gods who expected others to serve them, Moshe taught the world that the people don’t serve the leader; the leader is a vessel to serve the people and indeed the world.

We so often get so wrapped up in ourselves, obsessing with our own wants and needs that we forget it isn’t, and never was supposed to be, about us; we are merely the vessel for something much greater, for the entire world.

And that is what this week’s portion, and particularly this mitzvah, is all about. It is about connecting to real purpose, and valuing the vehicle for achieving that purpose.

Just like Moshe, the Menorah was only the vehicle for bringing light into the world. This is why the Menorah itself is not mentioned, so that we can focus on the light.

The challenge for each of us is to find the “atah” within, the essence of who we are, and the ultimate reason we are here, and bring it into the world.

The Midrash HaGadol suggests that this mitzvah is a tzivuy ledorot: a mitzvah for eternity. Long after the destruction of the Temple and the loss of the Menorah, Jews are still fulfilling the mitzvah of an eternal flame in synagogues and study halls. Because this mitzvah is the essence of the mission of the Jewish people forever: to be a light and illuminate the world.


Rabbi Binny Freedman is rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Orayta. He is a member of the Mizrachi Speakers Bureau ( www.mizrachi.org/speakers ).

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