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Tzav 5766

Parshat Tzav
Shabbat Hagadol
(Malakhi 3:4-24, 3:23)
April 8, 2006

Moses\’ role in the exodus is undeniably without parallel. He is most certainly the human liberator of the people of Israel. Yet, as almosr every participant in the Seder ritual is aware, Moses is absent from that recounting of the story. When we think of Moses\’ role, he is resolutely \”Moshe Rabbenu – Moses our teacher\” and not \”Moshe Moshienu – Moses our redeemer.\” The role of redeemer is left exclusively to God and not to man, not even to Moses who was surely God\’s partner in the process of restoring the nation to its own and to God\’s sovereignty. (See Rav Soloveitchik, Festival of Freedom, pp. 155-6)

Our tradition sets Moses up as a different kind of hero. The Jewish hero is the teacher and the student. It is this role that God willingly shares with others provided that they are hewn of the right stuff. For this, Moses is our ultimate role model: Be mindful of the Teaching of My servant Moses, whom I charged at Horeb with laws and rules for all of Israel.\” (Malachi 3:22) The following midrash examines the significance of this role: \”You will find… that whatever a person gives his life over for, it goes by his name… Moses gave over his life to the Torah and it is called by his name, as it is said: \’Be mindful of the teaching of My servant Moses\’. But is it not, on the contrary, God\’s Torah, as it is said: \’The Lord\’s Torah is perfect, restoring the soul\’ (Ps. 19:8) So, why then does Scripture say: \’The Torah of My servant Moses\’? It is only because he gave over his life for it; that is why it goes by his name. Where, however, do we find that he gave his life for the Torah? In the passage: \’And he was with the Lord etc.\’ (Exodus 34:28); it says elsewhere: \’Then I was on the mount forty days etc.\’ (Deut. 9:9) Since he gave over his life for the Torah, it is called by his name. (Mechilta d\’Rabbi Ishmael Shirta 1; Horowitz-Rabin ed. p. 117; J. Goldin, The Song of the Sea, p. 71) This midrash sees Moses\’ ascent on the mountain to receive the Torah as a life threatening experience where he willingly fasted for forty days and forty nights. This great act of self-denial for the sake of Torah made him worthy of having it called by his name.

This idea is amplified in a later midrash: \”Rabbi Abba taught: \’If you take delight in the Torah, the result will be the naming of the Torah after you. And Rabbi Yudan observed: Scripture does not say: \’In the law of the Lord does he meditate day and night\’, but says: \’In his law does he meditate day and night.\’ This is to say that if a person meditates and works hard at his/her Torah studies day and night, then the Torah will be named after him/her: For example, Rabbi Hiyya\’s Mishnah, or Rabbi Hoshaiah\’s Mishnah, or Bar Kappara\’s Mishnah. Why are these collections so named? Because those for whom they are named meditated on them day and night. (adapted from Midrash Tehillim 1:16, Buber ed. p. 15)

Moses\’ heroic role is that of student and teacher of the tradition. As a student, he toiled over the Torah, learning it and formulating it. As a teacher, he shared it and ensured that it was understood and preserved. This same role is passed on to each of us to emulate as was done by the masters in the second midrash. This is the same role that each of us will perform this coming week at the Seder. The Torah that we share with each other will surely share our names.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

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