Through The Eyes of a Woman
Tetzaveh: The Essence of Moshe Rabbeinu
In the course of this sichah the Rebbe discusses Moshe Rabbeinu's utter self-transcendence
-- he was willing to set himself completely aside for the sake of his
fellow Jews. In so many ways, this mesirus nefesh describes the Moshe Rabbeinu of
our own generation.
Moshe Rabbeinu had many confrontations with Bnei Yisrael. There were times
when the Jewish people complained, and even sinned. Although the commentaries point
out that they were not always entirely at fault, nevertheless, we see that they
were sometimes punished. That was why they didn't go into Israel right away, as
G-d had wanted, and that's why the generation that came out of Egypt died in the
desert, and so on.
After one of the most serious of these confrontations, the sin of the Golden
Calf, HaShem said to Moshe Rabbeinu: "What do I need this for? What do I
need this obstinate and stubborn nation for? I will destroy the entire Jewish people
and I will start a new Jewish nation from you. Maybe this time they'll be on a higher
What did Moshe reply? "If you are planning to destroy the Jewish people then
you can destroy me first: mecheyni na misifrecha -- erase me from
Your Book, the Torah." Moshe put himself on the line for Bnei Yisrael. And
he did this many times, not just once.
Most leaders are hungry for power, and that is their motivation for becoming
leaders. People run for President, for Prime Minister. They try to show everybody
how wonderful they are. They really want to be in office and once they are in office
they won't leave that office for anything. They don't want to step down. They don't
have the best interests of the people in mind, but rather their own. Very often
they want the prestige, the power, the salary and the status.
Moshe, by way of contrast, was a leader who didn't want to be a leader, as we
see from the very beginning of his career when he tried to refuse to accept upon
himself the leadership of Bnei Yisrael. He had to be forced and coerced into
becoming the leader, and once he became the leader, his own interests were always
secondary and subordinate to the interests of Bnei Yisrael. They always came
first. So when HaShem threatened to kill the entire Jewish People, and start
a new nation which would be called Bnei Moshe and not Bnei Yisrael,
Moshe said, "I won't hear of that. If You do that then You may as well forget about
me. I will not agree to that."
The commentaries say that whatever a tzaddik says must come true. Just
as when Yaakov declared that whoever had stolen Lavan's terafim (idols) deserved
to die, not realizing that it was his beloved wife Rachel who had done so, in order
to prevent her father from worshiping avodah zarah, his words took effect
and she later died in childbirth. There are several other examples as well in
Tanach of the same principle.
Thus, when Moshe Rabbeinu said these words, "If You do not spare Bnei Yisrael,
then erase me from Your Book," this had to have its effect. This is the uniqueness
of Parshas Tetzaveh -- it is the only parshah in the Torah,
from the time Moshe's birth is recorded in Parshas Shmos, until the beginning
of Devarim (Mishneh Torah), where Moshe Rabbeinu's name is not mentioned
Commentaries explain that instead of erasing him from the entire Torah, he was
erased from one parshah, Tetzaveh.
Why Parshas Tetzaveh, however? The Rebbe explains that even though Moshe
Rabbeinu's name was not mentioned at all in Parshas Tetzaveh, he is still
mentioned in the very first pasuk, in the very first word, albeit in a different,
The parshah begins with the words, Ve'atah tetzaveh
-- "And you shall command Bnei Yisrael to bring you pure
olive oil to kindle the eternal light." "You" here refers to Moshe Rabbeinu, but
instead of being referred to by his name, he is simply referred to as "you."
The Rebbe explains that the name of a person is not really his essence. A name is
not necessary for the person himself, only for someone else, so that others can
call him. We see that a person's name can be changed, added or even dropped. A person
doesn't get a name at birth, but only at the bris milah for a boy or at the
next time the Torah is read for a girl. A person's name comes after they have been
around for a while. Sometimes it's only a day, sometimes it's a week, sometimes
it's two months. I know a situation where a baby was born very prematurely and he
didn't have a bris until he reached a healthy weight, when he was two months
old. He remained nameless for two months, until his bris. So we see that
the essence of a person transcends his name. The name is only a revelation, a manifestation,
albeit a lofty one, but not synonymous with the essence of the person.
When we say atah, "you," that is something higher than a name.
It refers to the person himself; that which cannot be limited by a name.
Chassidus explains that this is the meaning of the word Anochi
-- the first word of the Ten Commandments -- "I, Myself." Why
is Anochi the first word of the Ten Commandments? Because it refers to
HaShem Himself, higher than any Name or attribute. All of HaShem's Names
are like manifestations -- "According to My deeds I am called," he said
to Moshe Rabbeinu. Each name refers to a certain attribute, a particular trait.
When one calls a person kind, or brilliant, or artistic, or short-tempered, one
refers to his qualities, his traits, but not to his essence. The person is something
that is higher than any description. In the same way, and of course much more so,
HaShem's Names signify particular attributes. But Anochi refers to
Him Himself, beyond any Names. It's His hidden Essence.
The same is true of the word Atah, "you," signifying the highest level
of a person, that which transcends names and descriptions. When somebody says, "I
love you," it's not that she loves your name, or your nose, or that you're so kind,
or you made a good supper last night. I love you, your essence.
When HaShem talks to Moshe Rabbeinu and says, Ve'atah tetzave,
it means that he is referring to the essence of Moshe Rabbeinu --
not to his qualities of leadership, not to his wisdom, not to his knowledge, but
to Moshe himself, the source and origin of all these other qualities. Even
though Moshe's name isn't mentioned here at all, this is not to be interpreted as
a negative thing -- that HaShem was punishing him. On the contrary,
because of his mesirus nefesh, his self-transcendence, his willingness to
erase himself from the Torah for the sake of Yidden, the Torah reveals him
as he is in his essence -- atah, transcending his name and
all of his attributes and qualities.
The Rebbe then goes on to explain the next part of the verse -- "...command
Bnei Yisrael to bring you pure olive oil..."
An olive is by nature a bitter fruit. If you take an olive as it is from the
tree, and you eat it, it's not at all appetizing. In order to make olives tasty,
or in order to make oil from them, there is a definite process, a procedure that
the olives have to go through. I'm not an olive expert so I can't tell you what
that procedure is, but there is a process. And through the process the olive is
transformed from something bitter into something tasty.
This is an analogy for the Jewish people. When a Jew serves HaShem he
should not only seek out a service which is sweet and pleasant and tasty, and say
for example, "I will work with the brilliant people, because that's more fun; I
will do what's popular; I will do what's easy." Sometimes you have to work with
olives as they are just off the tree. It isn't so much fun, it isn't so easy, it
isn't so popular, it isn't so attractive. There is no immediate gratification. Nevertheless,
through your work, the olive can become sweet and pure.
As Rabbi Feller once said: "Do you remember what happened when the Torah was
given to the Jewish people? Every Jewish soul was there, even those who would be
born in the future, for all the generations until Mashiach comes. Do you
think that the Torah was only given to the beautiful people, to the intelligent
people, to the nice people? No! The Torah was given to every Jew for every
generation. Accordingly, it's our obligation to think of each person as a fellow
Jew, even the ones that are not so much fun."
This is what I think the Rebbe's referring to when he talks about the bitter
olive. It's so much easier to serve HaShem in a way that is pleasant for
us, but then we have to ask the question, whom are we serving, HaShem or
ourselves? If you're interested in serving yourself, then fine, you can choose what
you want to do. But if you want to do what HaShem wants then it's not always
fun. That's the idea of the olive.
The Rebbe then goes on to explain the words, "to kindle the eternal light." In
the Menorah there were seven branches, one in the middle and three branching
off to each side. Six of the candles had to be rekindled every evening, from the
one which remained alight. This was the ner tamid, the eternal light. One
of the miracles in the Temple is that it never went out. The verse used the expression
lehaalos, which we have rendered as "kindle." However, the literal meaning
of lehaalos is "to raise." The idea is that we have to take all the things
of the world and raise them up to the fulfillment of their spiritual potential.
Use the physical things in this world for a spiritual purpose, and in this way you
elevate them to their highest potential.