Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah –T’Tzaveh
Tradition teaches us that in understanding Torah, time and arrangement don’t matter. The purpose of the text is to spawn thoughtful conversation. Rabbis will pull texts from different books and read them as if they were written side by side. Where we can learn from the entirety of the text we apply a concept, “Aen mukdam u’m’uchar ba’Torah.” The written context of the scripture may or may not be in the proper order for the purposes of study – the text is malleable.
As we move forward in the Torah cycle, we will read, that the sins of the parents will vest on the third and fourth generations that follow. The blessings one creates inures to the benefit of thousands of generations to follow. (Ex. 34:7) Torah also teaches us that parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin. (Deut. 24: 16)
If we presume the text’s intentionality, we cannot simply dismiss this textual contradiction. We could argue that over the course of three books and forty years, God changed God’s mind, but given the way in which we have used scripture since creating the canon, this approach is unlikely.
More probably, this week’s portion gives us a more likely answer. This week’s Torah portion stands unique in that Moses’s name never appears in the text. Thus, while he is the conduit through which our teachings pass, he is not imminently involved in the application and proliferation of the lessons and experiences he passes to the rest of us.
The Talmud affirms this truth in a story beginning with Moses asking god why the crowns exist on certain letters in the Torah scroll. God replied, “A person (Rabbi Akiva) who will appear generations from now. He will explain every thorn on these letters and will generate mountains of laws from them. Stand up and turn around.” Moses said: “Master of the universe, please let me see him.” He stood and turned to find himself in the back of Akiva’s yeshiva. He could not understand any of the discussion. His strength dwindled, overcome with sadness over not understanding anything. When Rabbi Akiva reached a certain item, his students asked their teacher: “Rabbi, how did you reach that conclusion?” He answered: “Moses received this law at Mount Sinai and passed it on to succeeding generations.” (Babylonian Talmud, Menahot 29B)
The text does, however, begin with a command from God (presumably to Moses). “You shall command the children of Israel.” (Ex. 27:20) according to the scholar Ohr HaChayim, “The word tetzaveh, ‘you shall command,’ also means ‘you shall connect’ and ‘you shall bond.’ Thus the verse can also be read as God saying to Moses: “And you shall bond with the children of Israel.” For every Jewish soul has at its core a spark of the soul of Moses.”
The contradictions inherent in the above texts call attention to the reality that our parents hand us what they hand us. They then physically absent themselves from our lives and leave us to decide how to learn from/use/ignore the legacy they left to us. Ultimately, our ancestry cannot choose our path without our active or passive input. That said, we are never without their influence. We know the saying that apples don’t fall far from the trees, but sometimes they do. Sometimes we choose or default to paths that enhance the progressive truths left to us and sometimes we fall short. As this portion points out, whatever we do, we do without Moses present in the conversation, even while we could never argue that he was not still deeply involved in the process.
Our tradition admonishes us to each write the “Torah” of our lives – kind of like an ethical will. We need to remember what we want those who come after us to know about us. We need to make sure that the words we write come from the examples we live. We need to make sure that the examples we live build a better world for everyone, not just those we choose to acknowledge or want to favor. We won’t be around to hold their hands, so our messages need to be clear. U’v’charta b’chayim u-v’racha – Always choose life and blessing.