Many commentators have observed that the name of Moses is omitted from parsha (weekly reading) Tetzaveh. This anomaly is particularly surprising because his name appears in every parsha in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers. In the book of Deuteronomy his name is missing from several portions (i.e. Ekev, Reeh, Shoftim, Ki Tezeh, Nitzavim). However this omission is not significant because Moses is the main speaker in this book indicating that his name or presence is implied. In fact the Talmud Megillah 31b states that Moses himself authored the warnings of Deuteronomy 28:15-68 with divine inspiration (Tosafot). Maharal and the Vilna Gaon extend this principle to the entire book of Deuteronomy, meaning that Hashem spoke to Moses and then at a later time Moses spoke to the people.
(Note: this anomaly applies to our custom to read the Torah in a yearly cycle. In Israel at the time of the Talmud and earlier the practice was to read the Torah in a triennial cycle (Megillah 29b). At the time of Maimonides the main practice was the annual cycle bur a minority still held the triennial cycle (Laws of Prayer 13:1).Therefore according to their custom there would be many more portions omitting the name of Moses.)
There are many answers to this anomaly. This article will focus on those closest to the literal meaning of the text (פשט) and consensus of the commentaries (רוב) as follows:
- Erase me from the book (Exodus 32:32).
- Moses losing the priesthood.
- Division of Responsibility.
- Aaron’s Honour and Character.
- Divine Plan – תצוה ואתה.
Erase me from the Book Which You (divine) have Written – כתבת אשר מספרך נא מחני
The Baal Haturim on Exodus 27:20 explains that the name of Moses is omitted from this parsha in response to his dialogue with Hashem. Moses pleaded with Hashem to forgive the children of Israel after the sin of the golden calf. He boldly asserts, “If You (divine) do not forgive their sin then erase me from the book that You have written.” The Baal Haturim connects this assertion with a quote from the Talmud (Maakot 11a), “A curse from a Torah sage, even upon a condition, comes to realization.” Even though Hashem forgave the children of Israel the “curse” of the erasure still applied. Even with this explanation the following questions arise:
- Why does the “curse” take effect?
- Why the erasure in this parsha?
The Ritva (ibid.) explains that the curse takes effect only if there is some deficiency in the sage which will be explained in the section “Moses Losing the Priesthood”. There are many answers as to why this erasure occurs in this parsha, and not another one. Several answers are listed below:
- The Vilna Gaon notes that in most years, 7 Adar (the day of the birth and passing of Moses) occurs in the week of parsha Tetzaveh. The passing of Moses is alluded to by the omission of his name in this parsha. (Note: This year, 5781, 7 Adar occurred in parsha Terumah.) In a leap year 7 Adar I would occur near parsha Tetzaveh. The Rema (Orach Chaim 568:7) rules that in a leap year the yahrtzeit (commemoration for the day of passing) for someone who passed away in Adar of a regular year is observed in Adar I.. ( Some observe the yahrtzeit in both Adar I and Adar II, Rema ibid.). By contrast Rav Yosef Karo (ibid.) rules that the yarhtzeit is observed on Adar II. According to this view the passing of Moses would not coincide with parsha Tetzaveh. If the individual passed away in a leap year then the yahrtzeit is observed in the corresponding month in a leap year
- The Ben Ish Chai notes that the last letter of the word מספרך (from your book) has the numerical value of 20. The 20th parsha of the Torah, according to the annual cycle, is Tetzaveh hinting to the erasure of the name of Moses in this parsha.
- The expression “which you have written” contains the word אשר which has the same gematria 501 as the name of the parsha תצוה. In fact this parsha is the only one in the Torah which has a gematria of 501, providing another hint for the erasure of the name of Moses in this parsha.
Moses losing the priesthood
The previous section discussed the omission of the name of Moses from a verse in the next parsha and even then by allusion רמז. The reader may ask, “Is there a contextual reason for the omission of the name of Moses in this parsha?” The Talmud Zevachim 102a debates this very point interpreting the verse in Exodus 4:14, “The wrath of Hashem burned against Moses”. In the previous verses Hashem asks Moses to take the leadership of the Israelites and free them from Egypt. Moses in his humility refuses the offer and suggests sending Aaron instead because Aaron is known to the Israelites and is a better speaker. In addition Moses felt uncomfortable to take the leadership and in effect rule over his older brother Aaron.
At this point (ibid.), Hashem displays his “wrath” and says, “Is there not Aaron your brother the Levite?” Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai (Talmud ibid.) says that the “wrath” led to the selection of Aaron as high priest instead of Moses. He interprets the phrase “Aaron your brother the Levite” as a criticism of Moses, implying that Moses should have been the high priest and Aaron would remain a Levite. After the “wrath” the roles are reversed, with Aaron the high priest and Moses as a Levite. However Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha states that the term “wrath” in the Torah always leads to an action or pronouncement except this case in which no effect of the anger is stated. At this point the argument is not resolved.
The Talmud continues this debate by analyzing the role of Moses during the forty years in the desert. The sages state that Moses served as high priest during the seven days of inauguration of the Tabernacle (Exodus 29: 1- 37) after which Aaron was installed as high priest. Rashi explains that according to the sages Moses was never intended to be high priest, corresponding to the view of Rabbi Yehoshua. However others say that Moses served as high priest, when he desired, for forty years in the wilderness corresponding to the view of Rabbi Shimon. Both Rabbis agree that the descendants of Moses remained Levites and never served as priests in the temple. It is interesting to note that the Talmud completes this discussion by stating that when Hashem apportions greatness to a person (e.g. priesthood or kingship) it remains in his descendants for all generations unless they become arrogant. In this case the priesthood was withheld from the descendants of Moses. However Moses could not be accused of arrogance since he was the most humble of men (Numbers 12:3). By contrast Exodus Rabbah 3:17, without dispute, states that Moses lost the priesthood by refusing Hashem’s offer of leadership of the Israelites. In view of the different views of divine “wrath” it is clear that other factors are involved in Hashem’s selection of high priest.
Division of Responsibility
The reader may ask, “Up until this point we have been analyzing the role of Moses in the selection of high priest. What about the role of Aaron in this selection?” In fact Exodus Rabbah Chapter 37 addresses this very point with several insights as follows:
- Moses had sufficient responsibilities as treasurer for the Tabernacle (ibid 37:1). In addition he closely supervised the construction of the Tabernacle in its various phases of the project (Rashi on Numbers 7:1 based on Midrash Tanchuma 13 on Parshat Naso).
- During the forty years in the desert Moses was constantly occupied as teacher, judge, and leader of the Israelites (Exodus Rabbah 37:4). Hashem felt that he would not have sufficient time to fulfill the role of high priest on a full time basis. From this we can learn that Hashem assigns responsibilities to each individual according to their abilities and character.
This division of responsibility is alluded to by the Torah in the number of times the names of Moses and Aaron appear in the different Torah readings in the book of Exodus. In every parsha in Exodus the names of Moses and Aaron appear at least once, indicating their respective roles in leading the children of Israel, with the following striking exceptions:
(Note: The numbers in the table indicate the number of times the names are mentioned in the parsha.)
The name of Moses appears only once in the parsha of Terumah indicating that the focus of the Tabernacle should be Hashem with Moses acting as a servant in its construction. (It is interesting to note that in every other parsha in Exodus the name of Moses appears at least 9 times.) By contrast the name of Aaron is omitted in this parsha indicating that his function was to serve in the Tabernacle but not be involved in its construction, which was the role of Moses. In the parsha of Tetzaveh the roles are reversed with the name of Moses omitted and the name of Aaron mentioned 36 times (29 as אהרן and 7 as לאהרן) indicating the role of Aaron and his sons serving in the Tabernacle with Moses assuming a secondary role.
Aaron’s Honour and Character
Hashem wanted to publicly forgive Aaron for his role in making the Golden Calf. The Midrash (ibid. 37:2) explains that Hashem saw that Aaron’s intention was good following his nature as a peace maker. He agreed to the people’s demand to make some form of a statue. He planned to delay its making by working slowly until the arrival of Moses when the people would return to its senses. The same Midrash states that Moses was upset with Aaron and thought that he was unfit for the role of high priest. Hence the many mentions of Aaron’s name in this parsha attests to his good standing in the eyes of Hashem. In addition one could say that Hashem purposely omitted the name of Moses in this parsha to give full honour to Aaron in his installation as high priest. From this we can learn that each person is entitled to recognition by Hashem at the appropriate time, as the sages say (Avot 4:3) “Every person has his hour.”
The reader may ask, “What unique character trait of Aaron led to his selection as high priest?” The answer is provided by the Mishna in Avot (1:12), “Be like the disciples of Aaron, love peace, pursue peace, love people, and bring them to Torah.” In this vein this Mishna implies that peace is not merely an absence of dispute but rather a mindset seeking peace and guiding others to a meaningful Torah life. Avot de Rabbi Natan (12:3) relates how Aaron made peace between disputants by separately saying to each party that his disputant regretted his actions and wanted to reconcile but was too embarrassed to proceed. In addition Aaron would befriend a sinner and appear oblivious to the individual’s failings. The sinner, thinking that Aaron did not know his actions, would feel embarrassed and improve his ways. Aaron also resolved marital strife and as a result the reconciled couple would name their future children Aaron in recognition of his valued endeavours.
By contrast Moses as a judge had to maintain his impartiality by distancing himself somewhat from the people. The Shulchan Aruch (Chosen Mishpat 7:7) rules that a judge cannot handle a case where he either likes or dislikes one of the litigants. Similarly (ibid.9:2) it is proper for a judge to recluse himself where one of the litigants gave the judge a gift prior to accepting the case.
Divine Plan – ואתה תצוה
Exodus Rabbbah (2:6) states that Moses asked Hashem that his offspring should serve as priests. Hashem responded that your offspring will not serve as priests. Rather Aaron and his sons are destined for the priesthood. The commentator יוסף עץ adds that this selection originated from the six days of creation. It is interesting to note that the gematria of the openings words of this parsha, תצוה ואתה, equals 913 the same gematria as בראשית, confirming this selection as part of the divine plan. As noted above, Exodus Rabbah 3:17 states that Moses lost the priesthood because he initially refused the leadership of the children of Israel. The commentator יוסף עץ reconciles these sources by explaining that the former midrash implies that the offspring of Moses would not serve as priests because of the divine plan. The latter midrash implies that even Moses would not serve as high priest except for the seven days of inauguration due to divine wrath.
The expression תצוה ואתה occurs only twice in the bible, here and Joshua 3:8. In the latter verse Hashem told Joshua that he should command the priests who carry the Ark of the Covenant as follows: “When you reach the edge of the waters of the Jordan, make a halt in the Jordan.” Perhaps the common themes of these two unique passages are as follows:
- Fulfillment of divine plan – serving ashem inthr bencleHashem in the Tabernacle (Exodus 27:20) and entering Israel (Joshua 3:8).
- Leader of the people giving the command – Moses (former) and Joshua (latter).
- No succession – Neither Moses nor Joshua passed the leadership to their descendants. The expression תצוה ואתה thereby implies that you shall command but not your offspring.
Verses – Moses
The divine plan indicated by the omission of the name of Moses and the expression תצוה ואתה may be examined from different perspectives based upon verses in the Torah. For example in parsha Tetzaveh the name of Moses is omitted. However he plays an important role in this parsha because he leads the inauguration services. For example Moses dresses Aaron and his sons (Exodus 29:5-6, 8-9), anoints Aaron (ibid. 7), and performs the slaughter and blood service for the inauguration offerings (ibid. 10-13, 15-222, 24-27).In each of these verses Hashem commands Moses using the second person pronoun (i.e. you in English translation) or implied by the Hebrew verb (e.g. ולקחת you shall take which occurs 11 times in this chapter). His presence is felt but not his name specifically.
By contrast in parsha Tzav (Leviticus 8:1-36), where the Torah describes the actual inauguration ceremony, Moses is mentioned by name 24 times. One can say that Hashem omitted the name of Moses in parsha Tetzaveh as part of the divine plan discussed above. However Moses deserved the recognition of the people and hence his name is mentioned many times in parsha Tzav.
Verses – ואתה
As mentioned above the expression תצוה ואתה occurs only once in the Torah. This section will examine each instance of the word ואתה (and you) in reference to Moses in the book of Exodus to determine a pattern to explain the omission of his name in this parsha. The following table lists these verses, the context, if the name of Moses appears nearby, and where applicable provides the verse number.
|Context – Moses
|Name of Moses
|To become leader
|Lift his staff to split the sea
|Command Israelites about olive oil
|Bring Aaron to serve
|Command Israelites for vestments
|Prepare spices for anointment oil
|Command Israelites about Shabbat
From the table we can see that the word ואתה appears in many contexts indicating the multifaceted role of Moses. However in each case, except for this parsha, the name of Moses appears in a nearby verse, indicating that Moses plays a different role in the context of the priesthood as explained above.
Although the name of Moses is omitted in this parsha there is a still a hint to his name. In verses Exodus 29:42, 43 and 30:6, the Torah uses the word שמה (there) to describe Hashem’s meeting with Moses or the children of Israel. The letters of שמה are exactly the same as משה, albeit in a different order, fortifying the role of Moses as teacher and focal point for the children of Israel.
For a different perspective on this omission the reader is encouraged to study a talk by the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l (Likkutei Sichos, vol. 21, pp. 173ff; adapted into English at Chabad.org) in which he points out that in a sense Moshe is present even more in this parsha than usual. It’s very first word, ואתה, “and you,” expresses his existence even more strongly than the use of his name.
There are many layers to the omission of the name of Moses in this parsha. This article considered the roles of Moses, Aaron, and Hashem to analyze this omission. We can draw lessons for daily life in that Hashem assigns responsibilities for each person according to their abilities and character, as Hashem did for Moses and Aaron.