Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah-T’tzaveh
I am told that when my late brother David was a toddler, he was always in trouble. Mom and Dad had to be vigilant to keep him from doing real harm to himself, the house, the dog, etc. Lore has it that he had to be reprimanded so often, that it became part of his identity. He was playing outdoors one day and a neighbor asked him what his name was. Without missing a beat, I am told that he looked at the man and enthusiastically he said, “No David!”
We all have many names, and we like hearing them interspersed throughout conversations. We want to be sure that people know who we are, and at the same time, accept many names based on the way in which people interact with us. Somehow we value our self-worth based on these names. What if we had no “names” and no ability to label values in speech?
Looking at this week’s portion, I had to acknowledge that nowhere in the text is Torah’s central figure ever acknowledged. Moses is not referred to by name through this entire text. With the exception of Deuteronomy (where he is the narrator), this is the only time since his birth story that Moses does not appear in a weekly text. Our sages struggle to determine how Moses could be left out of an entire week’s text. My struggle revolves around the idea that many can’t see that he is very much present.
The portion does begin “You shall command.” The character of God is addressing someone, and in context, that someone is Moses. As does the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, I would assert that using the definitive singular “you” is even more personal and engaging than other texts where we read, “God said to Moses, tell the people …” This is not a third person narrative, but a first and second person exchange. We are not reading a third hand report about what God said; we read the words as they come out of “God’s” mouth. Perhaps the intimacy of this conversation keeps us from needing the reference about with whom God is speaking.
Perhaps there is an important side message, as well. Despite his name’s not appearing in this text, tradition affirms a Mosaic authorship of this text. We have great impact on people’s lives, even where our name may or may not be attached to the text, project, or title. We live in a world where people need to get “credit” for what we do. We embellish our own involvement in matters to increase the credit and credibility we receive. We forget that the reward is in the result of the doing. We forget that impacting lives is the main focus of our work, and success can never be measured by what is written on the paper holding our resumes.
The problem roots in our own insecurities. We feel validated only when someone else validates us. We feel challenged often only when someone else catches us misbehaving. We feel affirmed only after someone extols the virtues of our efforts. We often feel that something we did had little meaning because there was no one there to report on it and witness it. We do not look into the eyes of the people with whom we interact; we do not take time to internalize the concern or appreciation in their eyes. We wait until we see a third hand report surface, telling the story of what we did before we feel concerned or affirmed. Our names are labels, they are not our identities. “No David” was not my brother; it was my parent’s response to his predilection for causing trouble. Ultimately though, it was the very curiosity that got him into trouble that led him to become the pro-active and brilliant surgeon, loving parent and husband and friend who we loved. Had “No David” not been the sum total of who he was, the world would have missed out on a great many blessings.
In the same sense, if Moses is only valuable when his name is being used; if we can only feel his presence in the story when we read his name, we have missed the value of Moses in the breadth of Torah. Faith exists when we can affirm our value, and each other’s value, without the accolades or reminders; when we can understand where we err, even when no one calls us on it. Faith rests in that place where we experience the blessings and the need for healing in life, not just where someone tells us about them. I guess that this phenomenon holds true for God, as well; not the God of the story in Torah, but the source of creative and sustaining engagement in our real world. Faith rests when we feel and experience a connection with divinity, even where God is not specifically mentioned.
There are those who discount faith, unless God … or a specific name for God is used in formulated verbal prayer. I struggle to believe that God needs to be called by name to be present. I look to our Torah portion and appreciate that God never had to say, “Moses, pay attention; Moses, I am talking to you; or Moses, you know you are wonderful.” In this text, the intimacy of the conversation is the blessing; the intimacy of the conversation; is the greatest of examples for how we should see ourselves; and the intimacy of the conversation … devoid of and unlimited by labels and accolades is where we find ourselves open to experience each other’s miracles. Shabbat Shalom.