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Parashat Tetzaveh 5780 — 03/07/2020

Parashat Tetzaveh 5780 — 03/07/2020

Shemot 27:20-30:10

Parashat Tetzaveh is always read around Purim time. What is a connection between the two? Megillat Esther, which we read on Purim, is the only book of Tanach in which Gd is not specifically mentioned. Likewise, Tetzaveh is the only parashah (except for Genesis, which all takes place before Moshe’s birth) in which Moshe’s name does not appear. In Moshe’s case the lacuna is attributed to Moshe’s own statement (32:32) Yet now, if You will forgive their sin – but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book… This is a conditional curse, and the condition did not come to pass – Gd did forgive our sin (of the golden calf). Nevertheless, the words of a great person comes from such a powerful level that even if they are conditional and the condition is not fulfilled, some trace of the curse comes to pass. Moshe was, of course, not blotted out of the Torah, but in this one parashah his name does go AWOL.

The parashah therefore begins not with the “traditional” Gd spoke to Moshe, but rather, And you, command the Children of Israel. This unusual expression invites a plethora of explanations from the commentators, and Or haChaim presents many explanations, some of which relate to Torah study and its relationship to Moshe and to the Jewish people as a whole.

Perhaps, by saying tetzaveh (“command”) the verse is alluding to a saying of the Sages of blessed memory (Tikkunei Zohar §69 112b), that every Torah scholar has a spark from Moshe’s soul, and due to this, our Sages would call each other “Moshe” when discussing Torah – for it is the soul of Moshe who is speaking, as it were, through the person who is studying Torah. And that is what the verse is saying: And you shall tetzaveh [taking tetzaveh in its meaning of “to accompany”]

Hashem chose to make this allusion in the mitzvah of the oil [for lighting the Menorah]  because it is symbolic of the Torah, which is the light of the world.

What does it mean that every Torah scholar contains a spark of Moshe’s soul?  People are not born Torah scholars. Does this mean that at some point the “spark” of Moshe’s soul is implanted within them, like an “Aha!” moment? Or does it develop gradually as they grow into mature scholars? Or perhaps only certain people have this spark from birth, and only they grow into Torah scholars.

I would like to begin approaching this question by reviewing what I believe Torah is. The Zohar tells us that “Gd looked into the Torah and created the world.” This blueprint is in the form of a sequence of sounds, which contain the same vibratory qualities as the basic impulses of nature that structure creation. Moshe Rabbeinu was able to cognize these sounds and transmit them, or at least a projection of them, to the Jewish people.

Now whatever the experience of cognition of the virtual structure of the transcendent is, it is an experience, and therefore it is mediated or modulated by the nervous system of the human being having it. That is, although the experience is of universality and wholeness, it is, to some extent, colored by the specific, individual qualities of the cognizer. Certainly, an impure nervous system cannot really grasp the totality at all (this is the situation of all but a very, very few people!), but even a completely pure nervous system still exists within finite creation and thus has some individuality attached to it. That individuality can color the cognition. Thus, our Torah is called Torat Moshe, Moshe’s Torah, because he cognized it and it bears the stamp of his personality, even though it is eternal and unchangeable.

Now as one studies Torah, reading it, thinking about it, talking about it, chanting it, and, perhaps most important, meditating on it, Torah gradually gets imprinted in one’s own consciousness and begins to mold it into its own form. That means primarily that our own consciousness becomes more universal, more unchangeable, and more in tune with the deepest structures of creation that are represented in Torah. But also, since our Torah is Moshe’s Torah, the imprint of Torah on each of us also contains something of Moshe’s individuality. I think this may be what our Sages were telling us when they said that a Torah scholar has a “spark of Moshe’s soul.”

A bit later Or haChaim says that the 4 exiles (Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman, the latter being the present, ongoing exile). The first three ended in the merit of the three Patriarchs, and the fourth is to end in the merit of Moshe. Or haChaim comments:

It is for this reason that the present exile has lasted so long, for as long as [the Jews] are not occupying themselves with the study of Torah and performance of mitzvot, Moshe has no desire to redeem a people that is neglectful of Torah.

I believe that study of Torah ultimately means bringing one’s awareness to the transcendental level on which Torah is structured, so that Torah becomes a part of us. When we are operating from that level, we are truly participating in Torat Moshe, but we have also made Torah our own – Torah is revealed to us as our own essential nature. This is itself redemption from exile in the material world, and when a critical mass of our people reaches this level, it will provide redemption to our people and uplift for the entire world.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parshat Tetzaveh
In this parshah, Gd continues giving Moses many instructions to command the children of Israel to do so that He will dwell among them The first is that they shall bring pure olive oil to kindle the Eternal Flame continually.

Flame, oil, lamps and light all have deep symbolism that guides us to live in such a way that we will be aware of Gd’s Presence within every aspect of our mind, body, soul, heart and in the world around us, that guide us to experience the Eternal.

Oil, for example, symbolizes the aspect of Gd through which He appears, speaks to us. It is used for anointing kings and priests, making them holy (Whole) so they can serve Gd.

Lamps are containers to hold kindling, such as oil, and they symbolize we human beings who have become pure enough to know that Gd’s Presence is already within us.

Light, for example, symbolizes the actions in which we not only know Gd’s Presence but also act with Gd’s Presence enlivening, purifying, enlightening every action of ours so that they are in accord with Gd’s Will and spread awareness of Gd’s Presence so we are aware of it everywhere and so is everyone else, so is every impulse of Gd, all of what we call Creation, the Universe.

In addition to oil for the lamps, Gd commands Moses to bring Aaron and his sons “near to yourself”: this is raising them close to the level of awareness Moses has: constant awareness of the Presence of Gd.

They are to be brought near so as to be initiated into the priesthood and Moses and those who Gd has “filled with the spirit of wisdom” shall make garments for them, garments that Gd describes in great detail. The High Priest was to wear tunic, cloaks, apron, breastplate, turban, gold plate above the turban, belt and pants and these were to made of gold, linen, wool, precious stones. The ordinary priests were to wear tunics, turbans, belts and pants.

The extensive detail suggests deep symbolism, symbolizing different levels of drawing near to Gd and different levels of bringing not only the priests into harmony with Gd but bringing all of Israel and all of Nature into Harmony.

The main point for us that whatever literal garments we wear and whatever garments we wear symbolize our purity, our love, our harmony so we should be guided by our sense of harmony and purity: continue to increase those things which allow us to experience and radiate harmony and joy, Harmony and Joy; and continue to let fall away anything which limits joy and harmony, clouds them.

As we do this, Gd fills us more and more with the spirit of wisdom and we are able to make not only pure physical materials and the garments but spiritual ones as well — our innocent hearts and minds are the materials and our thoughts and actions are the garments — that enable us to serve Gd with Holiness, to serve as High Priests and priests even while walking, talking, working, playing—all the things we do in our daily life, no matter what our literal profession.

Just by reading this parshah, in Hebrew or in English, or hearing it – a bit, a lot or all of it, – we become Lamps in which Gd’s Presence is apparent and Lights in which Gd’s Will is done—a little, more, a lot, and then all, and we return through our openness and our good actions to the Oneness in which all separations are dissolved and all details are enjoyed as harmonious, joyful, loving expressions within the Oneness which is Gd, our Self, One.

Baruch HaShem