Commentary for Tetsaveh

17 Mar

This week’s parshah contains two interesting notes of Torah trivia. The first, and much more widely known, is that this is the only parshah in the Torah from the time of Moses’ birth up until the beginning of Deuteronomy (where Moses takes over as the narrator for most of the book) in which Moses’ name is not mentioned.   One common explanation for this is that this parshah is almost always read on the week of Moses’ yahrzeit (Adar 7, which fell this year on this past Sunday), and that his name being missing from this parshah alludes to that fact.


The second, and much less widely known bit of trivia about this week’s parshah is that it is the only parshah in the Torah that is written almost entirely in the second person. God is the narrator, addressing Moses with instructions for the construction of the tabernacle, the vestments of the priests and High Priests, and the procedures for their initiation.


In his exploration of an alternative explanation for the first trivia note, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe seizes on this second one to turn the idea of the first on its head. He points out that the parshah begins with God addressing Moses by saying “And you… (Ex. 27:20).” Rabbi Schneerson sees the word “you” not as a generic second person pronoun but as a truer essence of a person’s being. As he puts it, “a person’s name is not the essence of his being, it is an added dimension to his being that allows him to relate to others. Simply put, why does a person have a name? So that others can call him. In and of himself, he has no need for a name. Thus, before he is given a name, the essence of a person exists (Sicha on Shabbat Tetsaveh, 1991).”

This essence is encompassed in the word “you.” “You” is not limited by a name or a title or a description, or anything else about you or how you relate to that person. “You” is everything that makes you who you are.


As we are often reminded, one of the human limits we face is our mortality. Many years ago this week, Moses died. By choosing this week to not address Moses by name but rather to address him as “you,” God teaches us that although Moses might be gone, the essence of him- the lessons he taught us, the values he lived by, and the example he set- is still here.

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