Weekly Torah Commentary — Tetzaveh February 7, 2014


This week’s parashah begins with God commanding Moses “And as for you, you shall instruct the Israelites to bring you pure olive oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling the Eternal Lamp (v. 20).” At first glance there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual. Isn’t God simply giving Moses yet another instruction concerning the construction of the Mishkan?

What caught our attention is the phrase: ‘and as for you.’ It’s different from the other instructions and a little study reveals that there are two other times where God’s directions begin with this same phrase: ‘and as for you.’

1) “Bring forth your brother Aaron, with his sons, from among the Israelites to serve me as priests (28:1)” and 2) “speak[ing] to all who are wise of heart … to make Aaron’s vestments for consecrating him to serve Me as priest (28:3).” Both of these are prefaced with ‘an as for you.’ Why?

All three instances are directly related to laws concerning the priesthood, something that was going to be Aaron’s prerogative and not that of Moses.

The Sages point out that when Moses was before the Burning Bush, he begged God to use someone else. God’s response is to tell Moses that, because of his unwillingness to take up the mission to which God is calling him, he will not be permitted to partake of the priesthood, except for the brief period of 7 days when the Mishkan is being dedicated. Afterwards, the priesthood belongs to Aaron and his descendants.

Though some would interpret this as a punishment of sorts, Moses’s reaction was to rejoice over the blessed call given to Aaron. Aaron likewise rejoices at God’s choice of Moses as the leader who will deliver Israel from the Pharaoh.

In the Torah we are told that Moses’ primary attributes were that of greatness and humility. In reality it is his humility that is at the heart of his greatness. Though Aaron is appointed High Priest, Moses’s humility allows him to rejoice, much as his humility caused him to reject God’s initial call for fear that Aaron, being the elder brother, would be hurt. This is the meaning underlying the seemingly innocuous “and as for you” that begins the command for Moses to prepare the oil, decorate the courtyard of the mishkan and instruct others to prepare Aaron’s garments.

Properly understood, this phrase “and as for you” is not a punishment at all. It instead is an acknowledgement by God of Moses’ humility and his consequent ability to rejoice in the blessing given to his brother.

Being able to rejoice over the blessings given to others is a wonderful character trait and is the mark of a spiritually mature person; that is to say, one who is not egotistical or self-absorbed, thinking all good things should be theirs. The lack of humility breeds jealousies and resentments and betrays a lack of acceptance for God’s call and direction in one’s own life.

The ability to embrace one’s own purpose and position in life, right along with that of others, is a wonderful trait and in addition to demonstrating maturity, also conveys a deep faith in God’s guiding hand as well as an attitude of thanksgiving for one’s own blessings.

In Tune with Torah this week = Whenever our ego rears its head and urges us to move away from friends and family, and even from God, we need to remember the humility and integrity of Moses who after his initial struggle, embraced his own calling and was then free to rejoice in the calling and blessings of others.

Shabbat Shalom

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