Parshat Tetzaveh 5772 — The Bigdei Kehunah, The Urim U’Tumim and the Balance Between Speech and Silence

by Moshe Burt

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Moshe Burt
In our Parsha Tetzaveh, the laws regarding the anointment, the vestments and the Avodah (service) of the Kohanim are enunciated for the Jewish people. Moshe Rabbeinu is notably absent in our parsha. Both the laws concerning Kohanim and Moshe’s absence seem interwoven with the lesson of the delicate balance between when and how one should choose their words when speaking, and when one should remain silent.

R’ Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, z’l offers this commentary on the Kehunah and the Bigdei Kehunah (the vestments of the Kohanim) in the new Hirsch Chumash (published by Feldheim in 2005 and translated to English by Daniel Haberman), pages 662-663 in Sefer Sh’mot:

The priestly garments must be supplied and owned by the nation. From this fact alone we draw the important conclusion that only when a Kohen dressed in these garments can he be considered a Kohen. Only… [in this attire] does he appear as the nation’s servant in the Sanctuary of the Torah. Only thus does his service become the nation’s service in the Sanctuary… Only thus does… his service attain the character of a Mitzvah given to the nation by Hashem in His Torah….

Without these garments, the Kohen is merely an ordinary individual. His actions take on the character of personal preference, and thus are antithetical to the basic idea that the Sanctuary of the Torah is meant to foster.

Without these garments, the individual personality of the officiating Kohen is exposed for all to see, and the weaknesses and faults that afflict even the best among us could easily portray him as a flawed character, far from the ideal that should be embodied by the offerings as a model in harmony with Hashem’s Torah.

When he is clothed in his priestly garments, the Kohen does not appear as he actually is, but as he should be according to the dictates of Hashem’s Torah.

Our Parsha, unlike any other place throughout Torah (including Sefer Devarim where Moshe himself speaks to the Jewish people in one continuous Mussar shmooze reviewing the laws and the events of the 40 years in BaMidbar and where each of the Parshiyot are distinguished only by the sections Halachas enunciated) from the time of his birth through Vezos HaBeracha, omits any mention of Moshe Rabbeinu.

A few years ago, Rabbi Aba Wagensberg, in his shiur on our Parsha, brought sources which gave possible explanations for the absence of Moshe’s name from the Parsha. He mentions the Ba’al HaTurim who stated that Moshe’s name is absent because of his response to Hashem after the Cha’it HaEigel (the sin of the golden calf). When Hashem stated his intention to destroy B’nai Yisrael and start again creating a people from Moshe’s seed, Moshe responded that “If you do not forgive their sin, blot me out from the book which you have written.” (Midrash Says, Sh’mos, Tetzaveh, P.273) “The Midrash Says” goes on to state that “A Tzaddik’s words must take effect (even if the condition attached to them is not fulfilled). Hashem consequently erased Moshe’s name from Parsha Tetzaveh.” (Midrash Says, Sh’mos, Tetzaveh, P.273)

Rabbi Wagensberg also brought The Gr’a as a source, which it is said, stated that during the week of Parsha Tetzaveh, Moshe was niftar and we commemorate his Yahrtzeit. For that reason, it would seem that Hashem omitted Moshe’s name from the Parsha. However, he notes that in Biblical Times in Eretz Yisrael, Torah was read in a 3 year cycle and not a 1 year cycle. It’s not possible that the Great Vilna Gaon would have overlooked this point. Obviously, something else is at work here.

R’ Wagensberg then proposes a possible answer as to why Moshe was not openly mentioned, but rather concealed — Nistar in our Parsha.

Parsha Tetzaveh has 101 posukim. If one counts the inside, concealed letters of Moshe’s name (Mem, Mem; Shin, Yud, Nun; Hay, Aleph), you find Mem = 40, Yud = 10, Nun = 50 and Aleph = 1. Hashem, it would seem, omitted Moshe’s name from the Parsha not out of anger for Moshe but maybe, out of anger at B’nai Yisrael who were far beneath Moshe’s level of Selflessness and Spirituality.

But then a revelation hits me “up alongside the head.” Perhaps one could theorize that just as Moshe’s name was nistar in our Parsha, the great ones have been taken from us; Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rav Shlomo Carlebach, Rav Me’ir Kahane, Rav Schach and the many other great Tzaddikim — a list which goes on and on, too numerous to remember — each, it seems, passing before the government of Israel took further steps on the road of appeasement. Eight years ago at this time, the Tzaddik Adir Zik, who fought against weakness and appeasement with all of his journalistic and film-making talents, resources and with his last breaths — out of an endless, passionate love for his Jewish brethren, was niftar — a mere 10 days before the heinous Knesset passage (with Bibi Netanyahu’s upraised hand of affirmative vote) of the Expulsion law.

It seems that throughout history from the death of the Tzaddik Metushelach which closely preceded the Mabul, the great flood, by a mere 7 days; through to our days when the deaths of a number of great Gedolim closely predated Oslo and, including Tzaddikim like Adir Zik, whose passing predated terrible events such that perhaps Hashem, Kovei Yokel — as it were, can’t bear to have the great Tzaddikim live to witness what Am Yisrael wreaks upon itself.

Another possible answer as to why Moshe Rabbeinu’s name is missing in our Parsha could be out of Hashem’s Anger at B’nai Yisrael who were far beneath Moshe’s level of selflessness and spirituality. Perhaps now, as He was in the time of the Jews in Bamidbar, Hashem is angry at a modern-day Am Yisrael which lacks collective “fire in the belly”, which lacks Emunah and lacks a loving compassion for their Jewish brethren and for Eretz Yisrael — our Biblical Jewish heritage and legacy. Perhaps collectively, we don’t want our land badly enough. Perhaps collectively, it’s each guy for himself and his own and to heck with Am Yehudi, to heck with “…that place; after all, it’s not my neighborhood at risk.” Not your community?? Not yet. But, “As sure as Hashem made little green apples and it don’t rain in Indianapolis in the summertime …”

Here’s where the laws concerning Kohanim, their righteousness, and Moshe’s absence seem to meld with that delicate balance of determining when, what and how one should speak and when one should remain silent. And this point could also be a link to understanding why it is that Moshe Rabbeinu’s name is missing in our Parsha. Rebbetzin Shira Smiles, in her sefer “Torah Tapestries” on Sefer Shemos (pages 131-134 on Parsha Tetzaveh) cites The Sefas Emes (from the year 5662) in her commentary on Speech and Silence:

Two well-known figures that represent the… delicate spiritual-physical balance are Moshe Rabbeinu and Aaron HaKohen. The Sefas Emes points out that Moshe and Aaron had complimentary roles leading the Jewish people. Moshe brought the spiritual down to the physical; he was the conduit for the Torah. Aaron raised the physical up to the spiritual; he was the priest who brought korbonot (sacrificial offerings). His priestly garments were physical coverings that elevated the body for a spiritual purpose.

Silence is the middah related to the physical. We learn in Pirkei Avos [Chapters of the Fathers, perek 1, posuk 17], “All of my days I grew up among the Sages, and the only thing that I found good for my body was silence.” Silence was the middah exemplified by Aaron. After the dramatic death of his sons, “Aaron was silent.” By contrast, Moshe Rabbeinu was Hashem’s mouthpiece for the giving of the Torah; he represents the power of speech, which is a quality of the neshamah. Like the physical and spiritual, speech and silence are also complimentary; a balance of both creates shleimus [wholeness, unity].

…There are two types of speech; internal and external. The purpose of both kinds is to clarify and articulate concepts. The difference is the audience. When we define to whom we are speaking and for whom ideas are being clarified, we can determine if we are using internal or external speech.

Any abstract idea is difficult to grasp. It takes thought to clarify ideas for ourselves. The first kind of speech is an internal dialogue of processing concepts thoroughly. Internal speech is unlimited, because we are talking to ourselves.

On the other hand, communicating… to others requires external speech. Additional challenges arise in the physical articulation of… ideas, because language is limiting…. Two people can listen to the same shiur and walk away with two completely different messages.

Everyone came to shiur with their own past experiences, affecting how they receive the words… spoken. Each person has their own understanding of what words mean. To assure accurate communication through external speech, the speaker needs to first fully understand his audience’s perspective.

Our Sages tell us that “the only thing that I found good for a body was silence.” (Kiddushin 49b) This is referring to the speech of the body, external speech…. Unlike spiritual, internal speech, external speech requires the challenge of finding the right balance between speech and silence. It is not appropriate to communicate in every instance and… about every topic. Achieving this fine balance is something which everyone [has] the power and responsibility to work towards.

It seems to this author that bearing in mind the points made by Rebbetzin Smiles, we may now be able to discern an understanding of the message concerning the balance between speech and silence regarding righteous judgement and the Urim U’Tumim — that there seems a definite connection between the right balance of approppriate speech, or silence, and righteousness and Ruach HaKodesh — Divine Inspiration. The Urim gave it’s reader a series of letters. The reader then needed the Divine Inspiration of the Tumim to understand the message of the Urim correctly. Therefore, we might be able to understand what may have occured in the citing below, attributed to Ma’ayanah Shel Torah, from Torah Gems, by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg (pg. 193);

The Gaon of Vilna uses Ramban’s explanation to explain the dispute (I Sam. 1:13-15) between the Kohen Godol Eli and Hannah, who would later become the Navi Shmuel’s mother. We are told that Eli saw her lips move but heard no sound, and he thought Hannah to be drunk. Hannah, though answered, “No my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit.” On this, the Talmud (Berachot 31) comments: “She told him: ‘You are not a master in this matter, and you have no Divine Inspiration concerning it, seeing that you suspected me of this.” The explanation of this is as follows; Eli sensed… something unusual about Hannah’s prayer. He, therefore consulted the Urim and Tumim, and four letters lit up: heh, kaf, resh, shin. He assumed that this spelled shikorah – shin, kaf, res, heh – “drunk” – but she answered him, “No, my lord – you have no Divine Inspiration” – “I am a woman of sorrowful spirit” – “what the letters spelled out was kesherah – kaf, shin, resh, heh” – worthy – just as our mother Sarah, who had difficulty in conceiving and having a child.”

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard and the other MIAs be liberated alive returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the backbone, moral courage and fortitude to prevent both the eviction of Jews from their homes in all of Eretz Yisrael and the handing of Jewish land over to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima — the Ultimate Redemption bim hay v’yameinu — speedily, in our time”, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim” — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.