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Parshas Tetzaveh – Hey Brother!


Holy Moses, where did he go?  

Since arriving on the scene at the beginning of the book of Shemot, Moshe has been a ubiquitous character in the Torah narrative; his presence towers over all others like a Colossus.

But this week, he is gone.   

Sure, his role and influence are hinted at, but in Tetzaveh, unlike other Torah portions, his name is not mentioned, and he does not take center stage. 

Tradition tells us that Moshe’s wish was to take a back seat, both at that point in history and for all eternity, when this Torah portion is read. 

Why did Moshe shy away from the limelight at this specific time? Despite his unmatched humility (actually because of it), Moshe was the divinely appointed leader, a role he took on hesitantly but accepted nonetheless. So, what changed in this week’s portion? 

The rabbis explain that Moshe wanted to shift the focus from himself to his brother, Aharon. This week’s Torah portion focuses on Aharon and his family and their role as priests in the Holy Temple. Moshe wanted Aharon to have his “day in the sun” without Moshe’s presence casting a shadow over the proceedings. 

While this represents an important lesson for everyone, the teaching is especially poignant regarding brothers.

Cain and Abel. Yishmael and Yitzchok. Yaakov and Esav. Yosef and his brothers . . .  

Since the beginning of time, the world has suffered from sibling rivalry, frequently with tragic consequences.  

Then came Moshe and Aharon. Their virtues are extolled in the classic words of King David:

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalms 133:1)

But that’s not all. The “sweet singer of Israel” continues:

“It is like the precious ointment . . . that ran down upon the beard of Aharon, running down over his garments . . .” 

The ointment that ran down Aharon’s beard at his anointing ceremony was so beautiful and precious because it was his brother Moshe who did the anointing. And it would seem challenging for Moshe to do so. The midrash tells us that Moshe thought he would be the one serving as High Priest and wearing the special priestly garments; only at the last moment was this privilege taken away from him and given to his (seemingly) less prestigious brother. Not only that, on the very day that he was to anoint his brother with the special oil that would run down his beard onto those very garments, Moshe was told that he would have to shave his own beard, something that was not emotionally easy to do (See Bamidbar 8:7 with commentaries, Sanhedrin 110a). 

Moshe lost both the garments he thought would be his and his beard. And yet he experienced such joy for his brother that he felt as if the precious oil was running down his own (at that moment, non-existent) beard. He shared in his brother’s happiness like it was his very own.

Lest you think that Moshe and Aharon got along so well because they had similar personalities, the Talmud and midrash tell us this was not the case. They were diametric opposites of one another – Moshe represented strict justice, and Aharon, compromise. And yet they shared entirely in each other’s successes (see Shemot 4:14). 

Neither one felt they were losing when the other gained; indeed, they weren’t. The paradox is that Moshe is teaching us this fundamentally important lesson in the very Torah portion where he isn’t mentioned. 

The place to start putting this concept into practice is where it is often hardest — with our siblings, family, and closest friends. But we shouldn’t stop there. The entire Jewish people are brothers and sisters – some have beards, some don’t; some are more talented, some less so; some more prestigious, some less. But as long as we realize we are all on the same team, we know that when one gains, we all gain. 

King David ends his paean to Moshe and Aharon with the following:

“There, G-d commanded the blessing, life for evermore!”

G-d commanded the blessing. It is ours for the taking. May we have the wisdom to bring it into our lives. 

* Dedicated in loving memory of my dear brother Shaya, Yeshaya Zev ben Zelig Pesach HaLevi Z”L [may his memory be blessed]. May his neshama have an aliyah. Also dedicated in honor of YBLCT”A [to differentiate those who have passed from those who still live] my other brothers and their amazing families. May Shaya Z”L be a meilitz yosher [an advocate in heaven] for us all, and for our dear mother, may she live long and be healthy, always.

Also dedicated in memory of our beloved father, Rabbi Pesach Oratz, ZT” L, who passed along his unique generosity of spirit to his children.

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