The Ultimate Leader – thoughts on Ve’atah Tetzaveh
by: Tanya Markel
edited by: Mendel Markel
This week’s portion is “V’atah Tetzaveh”, which means “and you command”. The “you” here refers to Moshe. The Baal Haturim, a commentary on the Torah, explains the seemingly strange beginning of this Torah portion. Why is Moshe given this commandment without his name being mentioned? Without the classic “And Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: command the Jewish people”? This Torah portion instead begins abruptly “and you command”.
The Baal Haturim explains that by the sin of the Golden Calf, Hashem wanted to destroy the Jewish people. Moshe argued with Hashem to save them and he told Hashem “If you destroy the Jewish people – “mecheini nah” please erase me from your Torah. Hashem finally gives in to Moshe’s pleas for his people. Still, since the words of a Tsadik are so great, even his conditional words have to be partially fulfilled. Therefore, Hashem erased his name from This commandment. In fact, Moshe’s name is not mentioned in this whole Torah portion. From the time he was born until the final chapter, when he passes away, this is the only portion where his name is not mentioned.
Why this portion? Because this is the portion about the Kohanim – the priests. Much of the portion focuses on their garments, their anointment and their holy tasks. This alludes to a different occasion when Moshe argued with Hashem. That was by the burning bush. As a result of that argument, Moshe – who was originally supposed to be the Kohein Gadol – lost the high priest position to his brother Aharon. This is the reason his name was removed specifically from this portion.
There are 2 things I found confusing about all this. One thing is – why call the parsha “ve’atah tetzaveh” – which points out things that are embarrassing for Moshe. Moments when he argued with Hashem and as a result suffered great personal losses. Why do we have to emphasize these seemingly negative moments in Moshe’s otherwise great, larger than life story? The second thing I find confusing is: what did Moshe need all this trouble for? Why didn’t he just throw in the towel and run away from the Jewish people. Because of them his name gets erased from part of the torah, he loses his priesthood, he loses the privilege of going into the Land of Israel. They complain to him about food when they have food, they complain to him about water when they have water. They accuse him of leading them out to be slaughtered in the desert, they accuse him of greedily appointing his own brother as the high priest. They are a constant source of trouble for Moshe. Who needs that? Why didn’t he get fed up and leave? Here were these people on such a high spiritual level who had witnessed the miracles in Egypt, the splitting of the sea and the giving of the Torah – and they were acting like children!
That’s when it hit me… acting like children…. isn’t that exactly what all parents go through with their children? Our parents give and give and give. Yet, after all they do for us, we somehow feel cheated – like we are somehow entitled to more. And when they say “NO” we get upset and even feel abandoned. I will take the liberty of admitting that I have a closet and many drawers full of beautiful things – dresses, shoes, accessories – you name it. Yet, I somehow very frequently find a way to convince myself that I don’t have enough and I need more. Then when we don’t get it, we throw a giant tantrum. And it’s not just me! My 3 year old sister is way ahead of her age group in that department. She is in the 96th percentile of the complaint and tantrum growth curve. All parents have to deal with this from their infants, toddlers, teenagers and even from their grown children.
So why do our parents stick around? With countless complaints and tantrums and sometimes even being accused of hating us for not giving us what we want… don’t THEY get fed up? Yet they stick around and keep trying to teach us and improve us. Why? Simply because we are their children. And because we are their children, no matter how we act, they believe in us. They believe in our ability to be better people, and they never give up on that, despite the fact that over and over again we display traits that might suggest otherwise.
This is the same trait displayed by the ultimate leader, Moshe. No matter what we did, he stuck around and tried to improve us. Why? Simply because we are Jews. We are HIS people. And because we are Jews…HIS Jews… no matter how many times we acted in ways that caused our devotion to Hashem to be questionable… he never gave up the belief in our ability to be better people, to be better children of Hashem.
And THAT is why this portion is called “Ve’atah Tetzaveh” – “And you command”. Because the removal of Moshe’s name from this portion is NOT and point of embarrassment. It is rather proof and testament to why moshe was a leader above all other leaders. It paints the picture of a leader so selfless and so devoted that he had no place for his own comfort or even personal existence outside of being a leader of his people. A leader whose belief in his people was so strong that he was willing to have his legacy completely erased for their sake.
We were very fortunate in modern times to have a similar leader in the Lubavitcher Rebbe of saintly memory. He was also a leader who had no room for personal existence outside of leading his people. While most people chose to focus on how materialistic and self serving the world had become, he chose to see the light and potential of every Jew and indeed, every human being. Like Moshe, he believed in our ability to make a better world. A world of light, a world of purity, a world of Torah and Mitzvos, a world in which the knowledge of Hashem would cover the earth like the waters cover the seas. May we soon merit see his vision fulfilled in the coming of Moshiach and may the third holy temple be built speedily in our days.