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At the Shluchos Convention 5749 (1989): The Women's Convention of Emissaries

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Tetzaveh: The Essence of Moshe Rabbeinu

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Through the Eyes of a Woman
A Chassidic Perspective on Living Torah

Tetzaveh: The Essence of Moshe Rabbeinu

by Nechoma Greisman, Edited by Rabbi Moshe Miller

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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 level."

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 at all.

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, covert way.

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.


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