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Self-Sacrifice and the Tribute of Anonymity

Last Friday was the yahrtzeit of Moshe Rabbainu. However, parashat Tetzaveh, which we read last Shabbat, is the only parasha from the beginning of Shemot to the end of Devarim that does not contain the name of Moshe.

Two explanations for this have been suggested by the earlier commentaries. Both seem to focus on the idea that the omission of Moshe’s name was a type of punishment. 

The Paneach Raza relates it to the principle: “There is no anger that does not leave an impression”. When Moshe for the last time, declined G-d’s invitation to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt, saying “Please send someone else”, G-d “became angry with Moshe” (Ex. 4: 13-14) and told him that his brother Aaron would accompany him. That is why he is missing in the parasha which is dedicated to the role of Aaron as the Kohen.

The Baal HaTurim relates it to Moshe’s plea for G-d to forgive Israel. “If not,” says Moshe, “blot me out of the book you have written” (32: 32). There is a principle that “The curse of a sage comes true, even if it was conditional [and the condition has not been satisfied]” (Makkot 11a). Thus for one week his name was “blotted out” from the Torah. 

I find these explanations hard to accept. After all, Moshe's pleading on behalf of the Jewish people was a very noble deed. Due to his efforts, the Jewish people were saved. As a matter of fact, the Zohar states that if Noach would have waged such a forceful argument to G-d on behalf of his generation, the Flood would have never occurred. It doesn't seem fair that Moshe should be punished for such heroic efforts.

Similarly, regarding Moshe’s reluctance to take the leadership position that G-d offered him. Seemingly, the reason he declined was due to his concern that Aaron who had been the people’s leader until then would be deeply hurt being replaced by his younger brother.

I would like to suggest that the omission of Moshe's name in Tetzaveh is not a punishment. It is the price, however, that he was willing to pay. He knew that upsetting G-d or offering "erase me from the Book You have written" was going to cost him. But he said, "I do not care. I am more worried about my brother or the Jewish people than about my honor”. Tetzaveh is a tribute to the self-sacrifice of Moshe, who was willing to have his name erased from the Torah, in order to respect his brother or save the Jewish people. 

Self-sacrifice is a key factor in helping people realize how serious they are about the values they espouse. For example: if having a relationship with someone is important, what is a person willing to give up in order to have that relationship? If having children is important, what are people willing to sacrifice of their time and resources for them? If knowledge is important, how much of one’s free-time is one willing to devote to acquiring it? If Judaism is important, how much is one willing to sacrifice in committing to it? The answers to these questions (and others like them) provide a pretty good indication of whom a person really is, as opposed to who they claim to be. Moshe truly valued his brother and People and behaved accordingly.

--Rabbi Joel Landau