This is the part of the Torah during which I start to see eyes glazed over and have people ask me, “What significance do these readings have?” The truth is there is something very special about Parshat Tetzvaeh-it is the only Torah portion in Exodus through Deuteronomy in which Moses is not mentioned by name! Rather the first verse of the portion reads “YOU (Moses) command the people Israel!”
Why is Moses not given the prestige of being addressed by name in Parshat Tetzaveh. The Tosafot say it has to do with the golden calf escapade in next week’s portion. G-d wanted to destroy the Israelites after the creation of the calf, but Moses interceded, making a bargain with G-d. Moses said, “And now lift up their sin, and if not, erase me from the book you have written.” G-d replied, “Fine, I will not destroy the people but I will erase your name from a parsha.” One of the principles of the rabbis is that the Torah is not written in chronological order, so the section with the golden calf could have preceded Parshat Tetzaveh and the description of the tabernacle.
This sounds like a reasonable solution yet I wonder if G-d would be so fickle as to erase Moses’ name because of a bargain that saved the people! Another explanation can be found in the fact that G-d says “all who sin against me shall be destroyed.” Perhaps in the process of sinning against the Israelites Moses sinned against G-d, declaring that his name should be erased from the holy Torah. He also smashed the tablets, which were written by G-d’s hand, thereby destroying the holy work of the almighty. I can see G-d saying to Moses “You destroy my tablets? Then I will remove your name, your identity, from part of my holy book.”
What are the key lessons we can learn from this episode? One is to be careful about what you wish for: Moses saying “Erase me from your book” leads to G-d replying “Fine, I’ll erase you!” The other lesson is to act slowly and purposefully, keeping one’s emotions in check. Rather than smashing the tablets, Moses should have stopped, taken a deep breath and thought about how to constructively respond to the situation. We can learn from both of these lessons that even our greatest leaders have challenges and that through slowing down and responding appropriately, we can achieve a more favorable result. Let us keep our names, our true identities, at the forefront of who we are, rather than risking their getting erased.