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Parshas Tetzaveh – The Benefits of Swallowing Pride

By: Rav Dov Lipman

The Parsha begins:

“And you shall command (tetzaveh) the children of Israel that they shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination, to kindle the lamp continually…Aharon and his sons shall arrange it…And you bring near to yourself Aharon your brother and his sons with him…to serve me as priests…And you shall make clothing of holiness for Aharon, your brother, for glory and splendor.  And you shall speak to all the wise-hearted people whom I have invested with a spirit of wisdom, and they shall make the vestments of Aharon to make him holy to serve me as a priest.”   (28:1-3)

One cannot read this opening passage of our Parsha without noticing that G-d refers to Moshe as “you” four times.  The Hebrew word “ata” is actually spelled out three times.  Throughout the rest of the Torah we do not find G-d talking to Moshe in this way.  Why here, in the beginning of Parshas Tetzaveh, does G-d suddenly shift to this mode of communication with Moshe?

The Ramban explains that the word “ata” is used since in each of these commands, Moshe is called upon to analyze the job which the Jews are doing.  Regarding the oil, the Jews were to bring the oil to Moshe for his assessment as to whether or not it was pure and pressed in accordance with the halacha.  With regard to the priestly garments, Moshe was to evaluate the skills of these workers to properly assign them their specific jobs.  We must ask why, specifically with regard to these laws, was Moshe’s involvement and expertise required as captured by the focus on “ata? 

The Kli Yakar and Ohr Hachayim comment that the word “ata” places special emphasis on the fact that it is Moshe who is obligated to perform these commands.  Once again, we must ask why this emphasis was necessary with regard to these commands?

There is another use of language in the first passuk of the Parsha which further emphasizes the point that these commands require Moshe’s specific involvement.  The Abarbanel, Kli Yakar  Or Hachayim and Seforno all teach that the word “tetzaveh” implies that the command is to come across as coming from Moshe, himself, as opposed to the word “tzav” which connotes Moshe simply relaying G-d’s command. 

All these commentaries are consistent with the general rule in biblical Hebrew that when a personal pronoun precedes an inflected verb in the past or future it serves for emphasis.  It places added stress on the person who is being addressed.  So, the bottom line questions is:  Why was there a need for there to be stress placed on Moshe in general, for Moshe to personally issue the commands and for Moshe to use his own expertise regarding these specific mitzvos?

Let us look back at the story of the Burning Bush.  After G-d charged Moshe with redeeming the Jews,  Moshe questioned whether he was worthy to perform this task.  G-d then reassured Moshe of his ability and Moshe replied, "Send this mission with the one you usually send" (Shemos 4:13).  Commentaries explain that in this one sentence, Moshe revealed the real motivation behind his hesitation.  “The one you usually send” refers to Aharon, the older brother, who Moshe felt was the rightful successor to Amram, their father.  Moshe feared that Aharon would feel slighted if his younger brother were chosen over him.

The Gemara in Zevachim (102a)teaches that Moshe was punished for his reluctance to accept the position as the Jewish leader.  In the original plan, he was going to be the progenitor of the Kohanim.  Now, because of this failing, Aharon was chosen to be the father of the Kohanim while Moshe was relegated to being an ordinary Levi.  Why was Moshe punished so harshly for what seems like a noble concern?  

Rav Zeff Leff points to the Gemara in Shabbos (97a) which teaches that when one suspects someone of a flaw with no real basis to do so, the suspicion actually reflects back on him.  The person knows that he would act in the suspected way were he in that same situation and projects his own reaction on the other.  Moshe had no grounds on which to suspect that Aharon would be jealous.  As G-d informs Moshe in the very next verse, Behold Aharon your brother is coming out to meet you and when he sees you he will rejoice in his heart.” (Shemos 4:14)

In fact, there is a concept that the very first act a person does in the Torah captures that individual’s essence.  The first act performed by Aharon in the Torah is his coming to greet Moshe, the new leader, with pride and joy.  That was the essence of who Aharon was.  He was completely selfless and he had the ability to accept G-d’s will even if it meant that his younger brother surpassed him in stature.       

Therefore, Moshe’s baseless suspicion, actually reflected a flaw in his own personality.  Had he been in Aharon’s position, he would have felt slighted and jealous.  That is why Moshe lost the priesthood.  As Rav Leff explains, a Kohein serves as G-d's representative.  He must be completely selfless.  To Aharon it made no difference who would lead and redeem the Jewish people as long as G-d’s plan was fulfilled.  That is the selflessness required of the Kohein Gadol.  Moshe, who projected jealousy onto Aharon, suffered from this flaw to some degree and, as a result, could not be the progenitor of the Kohanim.

G-d provides people with the opportunity to perfect their character flaws.  He arranges for us to be placed in situations where we must confront our flaws head on thereby giving us the chance to  overcome them.  Perhaps, that is what occurs at the beginning of this week’s Parsha.  G-d challenges Moshe with a most difficult situation – a series of commands which will define Aharon as the Kohein Gadol and Aharon’s descendents as the future Kohanim.  G-d insists that Moshe be the one to make these commands (“ata” according to Kli Yakar and Ohr Hachayim) and that the commands come across as Moshe’s commands and not His (Abarbanel, Kli Yakar, Ohr Hachayim, and Seforno about “tetzaveh.”) 

Moshe was forced into a position where his attitude would be tested.  The Torah even stresses twice in this passage that Aharon was Moshe’s brother, a relationship we already know.  G-d seems to be emphasizing to Moshe that he has to  face the reality of appointing his brother to the priesthood.  Now for the test - Could Moshe withstand appointing Aharon to these priestly tasks, to do so as if they were his own commands, and to do all this with a positive, accepting and happy attitude.  This was a defining moment for Moshe.

G-d’s idea here was not to destroy Moshe.  After all, he still needed to feel empowered  to lead the Jewish people.  In addition, G-d does not give people challenges they cannot handle.  Therefore, Moshe’s dignity was preserved during this process.  As the Ramban explains, in each of the commands Moshe’s expertise was required.  He was still Moshe Rabbeinu even though he was involved in the act of handing the priestly duties over to Aharon.  In fact, that can be another understanding of the explanation of the word “tetzaveh” quoted above.  G-d wanted it to seem that it was Moshe giving over this command not only to make it more of a challenge for Moshe but to also demonstrate clearly that Moshe was still in charge despite his relinquishing power and prestige.

Based on our approach, the message of “ata” and “tetzaveh” is very meaningful.  It teaches us that G-d provides people with the opportunity to correct character flaws.  He choreographs situations in which we can rise to the occasion, break with the past and change for the better.  We also learn that G-d would never completely crush us with challenges in life.  Just like Moshe Rabbeinu’s expertise was required in this trying circumstance, there is always an element in a difficult situation that can give us a boost and preserve our dignity, thus enabling us to move on.     

However, the lesson goes much deeper.  Let us focus on Moshe Rabbeinu’s response.  The Moshe-Aharon relationship was fine until this point.  This was the critical moment when things could explode.  Would a sibling rivalry develop as it had between Kayin and Hevel, Yitzchak and Yishmael, Yaakov and Esav and Yosef and his brothers?  Would there be a political battle amongst the Jewish leadership during this tenuous era in our development as a nation?  Moshe Rabbeinu would not let that happen.  He rose to the occasion and overcame a flaw – a flaw which caused him to lose the very responsibility with which he now had to empower his brother.

Everyone of us experiences situations where jealousy and self esteem negatively impact our relationships with others.  This can have devastating effects on families, friendships and communities.  When those circumstances arise in our lives we should try to remember the “ata tetzaveh” in this week’s Parsha.  May we all learn from Moshe Rabbeinu to swallow our pride and overcome our natural instincts of jealousy to insure that there will be peace and harmony in our personal lives and amongst all of the Jewish people.