ESSAY: The Anonymous Essence
It is G-ds Torah, yet we call it the Five Books
of Moses, for the Torah was Moses very identity.
There came a time, however, when Moses was willing to forgo
his identity for the sake of something even more intrinsic
to his being: his people
INSIGHTS: Two Futurists
There are those who know what will be done, and there are
those who know what to do
And Moses returned to G-d and said: I beseech You:
this nation has sinned a great sin, and have made themselves
a god of gold. Now, if You will forgive their sin--; and if
You will not, erase me from the book that You have written.
And G-d said to Moses: Whoever has sinned against
Me, him will I erase from My book.
No human being is as deeply identified with the Torah as
Moses: the prophet goes so far as to refer to the revealed
wisdom of G-d as The Torah of My servant Moses. As the Midrash explains, Because he gave
his life for it, it is called by his name.
And yet, there was one thing that was even more important
to Moses than his connection with the Torah: his connection
with the people of Israel. In order to secure G-ds forgiveness
of Israel for their sin in worshipping the Golden Calf, Moses
was prepared to forgo his place in the Torah. Following Israels
transgression, Moses gave G-d an ultimatum: if
You cannot forgive them, obliterate my name from the book
that You have written.
Beyond the Word
Our sages tell us that the righteous emulate their
The same is true in this case: in giving precedence to Israel
over Torah, Moses was following the divine example. As the
Midrash states, Two things preceded G-ds creation
of the world: Torah and Israel. Still, I do not know which
preceded which. But when Torah states Speak to the children
of Israel..., Command the children of Israel...I
know that Israel preceded all.
In other words, since G-ds purpose in His creation
of the universe is that the people of Israel should implement
His will as outlined in the Torah, the concepts of Torah
and Israel both precede the concept of a world
in the Creators mind. Yet which is the more
deeply rooted idea within the divine consciousness, Torah
or Israel? Does Israel exist in order that the Torah might
be implemented, or does the Torah exist in order to serve
the Jew in the fulfillment of his mission and the realization
of his relationship with G-d? Says the Midrash: if the Torah
describes itself as a communication to Israel, this presumes
the concept of Israel as primary to that of Torah. The very
idea of a Torah was conceived by the divine mind as a tool
to enhance the bond between G-d and His peoplea bond
that predates it and which it comes to serve.
Thus our sages have said: A Jew, though he has sinned,
is still a Jew. Even if the Jew sins, thereby violating his relationship
with G-d as defined by Torah, he is still a Jew. For the essence
of his relationship with G-d runs deeper than that aspect
of it that is realized through his fulfillment of the divine
will as formulated in the Torah.
Therein lies the deeper significance of Moses declaration
to G-d, ...if You will not [forgive them], erase me
from the book that You have written, and G-ds
response, Whoever has sinned against Me, him will I
erase from My book. At first glance, Moses words,
dramatic and moving as they are, are very puzzling: other
than its dubious value as some sort of threat
to G-d (?!), how would Moses eradication from the Torah
(G-d forbid) help the people of Israel attain atonement for
G-ds reply also requires explanation. G-d seems to
be rejecting Moses plea, saying, in effect, I
will do what I see fit with My Torah. You are in; they go
out. But that is not what G-d does. He forgives the
Jewish people and gives them a second set of tablets engraved
by His hand with the Ten Commandments to replace those broken
as a result of their sin. Moses words have their desired
effect: the Jewish people are rehabilitated, and their place
in Torah is preserved, even enhanced.
But according to what we said above, we can understand the
deeper stratum of meaning implicit in their exchange. True,
Moses is saying to G-d, Your people have sinned a great sin.
A sin so great, a sin that so acutely violates Your relationship
with them as formulated in Your marriage contract
with them, the Torah, that in terms of this relationship,
their betrayal is unpardonable. But Your bond with them runs
deeper than Torah, deeper than anything that can be expressed
or destroyed by their deeds. If You cannot forgive them, it
is because You are continuing to relate to them on Torahs
terms, continuing to define Your bond with them on a level
on which their sin cannot be tolerated.
Well, said Moses, I, for one, will not accept such a state
of affairs. If there is no way that Torah allows for their
forgiveness, then erase me from the Torah. Cut me out of the
very thing that has consumed my mind, heart and life so completely
that the book that You have written has come to be called
the Torah of Moses. Strip me of my very identity,
so that I shall stand denuded of all save my very essencemy
relationship with my people.
Now it was the Creator who emulated the righteous. Whoever
has sinned against Me, him will I erase from My book,
G-d promised. Those whom Torah cannot forgive, those with
whom I can no longer sustain the relationship delineated by
My book, I will exempt from My book. I will transcend My Torah
to revert to the quintessential bond between them and Myself
that precedes and supersedes My word, wisdom and will. I will
follow your example, Moses, you who are prepared to relinquish
everything you have and are, should it interfere with your
most quintessential priority: your oneness with your people.
Ultimately, Israels erasure from the Torah
resulted not in a diminution, G-d forbid, of their Torah-defined
relationship with the Almighty, but, on the contrary, in its
reinforcement and intensification. For once the quintessential
bond between G-d and Israel had been reiterated, this selfsame
relationship could now be manifested via the vehicle of Torah,
which would now be broadened to accommodate that
which earlier was beyond its realm. Torah would now incorporate
the highest level of teshuvah (return)the
level on which sins are transformed into virtues and the greatest failing and the most terrible betrayal can be
sublimated into even greater achievement and even deeper connection.
In the words of our sages, The First Tablets contained
only the Ten Commandments. The Second Tablets contained also
Halachah, Midrash and Aggadah.
Had Israel not sinned with the Golden Calf, they would
have received only the five books of Moses and the book of
Joshua. Why? Because, as the verse says, Much
wisdom comes through much grief.
The same is true regarding Moses: his readiness to divest
himself, G-d forbid, of his identity as the vehicle through
whom G-d communicated His Torah to man, actually resulted
in a deepening of his identification with Torah, as we shall
Given the centrality of Moses role to the transmission
of Torah to humanity, it comes as no surprise that his name
is mentioned, often as much as several dozen times, in every
single parshah (section) of the books of Exodus, Leviticus
Every parshah, that is, but one. The single exception
is the parshah of Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10),
in which the word Moses does not appear. Most
amazingly, Tetzaveh is the section that, by rights,
should be most saturated with Moses name: in the annual
Torah-reading cycle, Tetzaveh is almost always read
either on the Shabbat preceding the 7th of Adar or on the
Shabbat that follows it. Adar 7 is the day most closely related
to the life of Moses, as it is both the date of his birth
(in the year 2368 from Creation1393 BCE), and the date
of his passing (24881273 BCE).
In his commentary on Torah, the Baal haTurim  explains this omission as the result of Moses
words, erase me from the book that You have written.
Our sages have said that the words of a tzaddik, even
when expressed conditionally, always have an effect.
So once Moses uttered these fateful words, they were destined
to somehow be realized. Thus, concludes the Baal haTurim
, even after G-d forgave the Jewish people and the conditions
for Moses proclamation no longer applied, there remains
one section of the Torah devoid of his name.
But upon closer examination, Moses is hardly absent from
the section of Tetzavehindeed, he is more profoundly
present there than any mention of his name could possibly
express. Tetzaveh consists entirely of G-ds ongoing
communication to Moses, instructing him with the details of
the menorah-lighting in the Sanctuary, the construction of
the priestly garments, and the Sanctuarys inauguration.
All that is missing is the customary G-d spoke to Moses,
saying... that precedes the divine directives in the
rest of the Torah. Thus, Tetzaveh begins almost in
mid-sentence: And you [Moses] shall command the children
of Israel to bring you pure olive oil, crushed for illumination,
to light up a constant lamp....
On the surface, there is a diminution of Moses presencehis
name does not appear in the entire parshah. But he
is the subject of its first word, vatah, and
youa word that is a truer and deeper reference
to Moses than his name. A name, after all, is something that
is given to a person, something appended to an already
existent being (in Moses case, the name Moses
was given to him by Pharaohs daughter when he was more
than three months old); you, on the other hand,
is a reference to the person himself. Thus, a persons
name represents his manifest self his intellect
and character, his communicable thoughts and feelingswhile
the abstract you refers to his anonymous essence,
anonymous because it is too sublime and ethereal to be articulated. Tetzaveh is thus the
parshah in Torah that embodies the you
of Moses, his transcendent essence.
This is fully in keeping with the Baal haTurims
explanation that Moses anonymity in Tetzaveh
is the result of his expressing the possibility that he be
erased from G-ds book. Moses was prepared to forgo his
place in Torah because his bond with his people was on the
level of his you, his truest, most quintessential
selfa self even deeper than his connection to the Torah.
In effect, Moses actually did obliterate his namehis
identification with Torahin order to be one with his
people. As a result, G-d, too, was moved to forgo His insistence
on relating to His people on the name leveli.e.,
on Torahs termsand to reaffirm His quintessential
bond with them. This was followed by a renewed giving of the
Torah in which this deeper bond could also be named
and expressed. Nevertheless, even after Moses and Israels
identity were re-grounded in Torah, there remains one parshahthe
parshah most intimately related to Mosesin which
his anonymous essence reigns supreme, unencumbered by name
and name-defined identity. Tetzaveh stands as an eternal
tribute to Moses, as the Torahs own testimony to his
greatness in relinquishing everything, including his bond
with Torah, in order to preserve his bond with his people
and restore them to their G-d.
The Mosesless section of Tetzaveh attests
to Moses self-sacrifice for his people, and is an example
and lesson for every leader of Israel. It is also of eternal
relevance to each and every one of us.
We all sense that beyond our expressed self lies a deeper,
more intimate selfthoughts, feelings, convictions and
potentials that are too sublime to articulate to others, or
even to our own conscious self. But what effect does this
deeper self have upon our actual behavior and accomplishments?
Does it remain in a seventh heaven of abstraction,
or can it somehow be made to impact our daily lives? We know
that Moses, in his greatest moment, touched this purest core
of self. But Moses was the most perfect human being to ever
walk the face of earth; what do his achievements imply to us?
The Talmud cites the verse And now, Israel, what does
G-d want of you? Only that you be in awe of G-d..., and asks: Is awe of G-d
a minor thing? The answer given is: Yes, for Moses
it is a minor thing. But G-ds request is addressed to all of Israel. How does
Moses capacity for the awe of G-d answer the question?
In his Tanya, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains: Each
and every soul of the house of Israel contains within it something
of the quality of our teacher Moses, for he is one of the
seven shepherds who feed vitality and G-dliness
to the community of the souls of Israel... Moses is the sum
of them all, called the shepherd of faith in the sense that he nourishes
the community of Israel with the knowledge and recognition
Indeed, it was Moses uncompromising identification
with his people, no matter to what depths they might have
fallen, that ensured that each and every Jew, regardless of
his spiritual station and moral circumstances, possesses,
and can readily access, the Moses within himhis
quintessential source of faith and oneness with his Creator.
Based on the Rebbes talks, Shabbat Tetzaveh 5740
and 5751 (March 1, 1980; February 23, 1991)
and on other occasions
Who is wise? He who foresees the future
Talmud, Tamid 32a
Chassidim ask: What is the difference between a wise man
and a Rebbe?
And answer: A wise man foresees the future; a Rebbe makes
Adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe by
3:22. Cf. The Five Books of Moses.
. Mechilta Beshalach 15:1.
 Midrash Rabbah, Bereishit 67:8.
. Tana Dvei Eliyahu Rabbah, ch. 14.
.Talmud, Sanhedrin 44a.
. See the passages from Midrash Rabbah, Shemot 46:1
and Talmud, Nedarim 22b, quoted below.
. See Talmud, Berachot 57a on Deuteronomy 33:4; Midrash
Tanchuma, Ki Tisa 30; Rashi, Exodus 34:1.
. Midrash Rabbah, Exodus 46:1.
. Talmud, Nedarim 22b. As Chassidic teaching explains,
the Oral Torah the dimension to Torah
that was added in the wake of Israels sin, G-ds
forgiveness, and re-issue of Torah in its broadened
form is synonymous with the concept of teshuvah,
as it employs the doubt, contradiction and refuted assumptions
that are part of every intellectual discourse (and reach
their height in the pilpul of the Babylonian Talmud)
to achieve an even deeper appreciation of a truth than is
possible by the more tranquil approach of faith
and tradition (see Yom Tov Shel Rosh Hashanah 5666,
pp. 85-93; Sefer HaMaamarim Melukat, vol. I, pp. 364-370;
. The first of the Five Books of the Torah, Genesis,
relates events that occurred before Moses birth. The
fifth book, Deuteronomy, consists wholly of Moses
words to the people of Israel before his passing.
. Cf. Shaloh, introduction to Parshat Vayeishev:
To everything there is its season, the appointed
time for each purpose (Ecclesisates 3:1). Certainly,
the arrangements of the festivals and days of commemoration
of the year, both the [biblical] seasons of G-d
and those rabbinically ordained ... all have a connection
to the [weekly] parshah in which they fall, for all
is arranged by the hand of G-d.
. Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, 1268-1340.
. Baal HaTurim on Exodus 27:20.
. Our sages have said that a persons name
is the conduit of his life, the channel that carries the
flow of vitality from his soul to his body (Shaar haGilgulim,
Hakdamah 23, et al.). But this itself indicates that
it is secondary to the persons very essence, as the
soul, prior to its entry into the body, has no name whatsoever
(Likkutei Torah, Behar 41c).
. The entire Torah is names of G-d
(Nachmanides introduction to his commentary on Torah).
. Maimonides introduction to chapter Chelek,
. Talmud, Berachot 33b.
 Raaya mehemna, usually translated faithful
shepherd; here Rabbi Schneur Zalman renders it shepherd
of faith, in the sense that Moses is Israels
conduit of faith, the one who inculcates them with their
quintessential recognition of G-d as a shepherd who feeds
his flocks their vital needs.
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. XXI, pp. 173-180; Sefer
haSichot 5751, pp. 352-358.