Parshat Tzav - 5761
“Command Aharon and His Sons…”
The first word in Sefer
VaYikra is written with a “little Aleph” at the end of the word.
The Baal HaTurim, one of the Masters of “Halachah,” Jewish Law,
the major component of the Oral Torah, and also a Master Commentator on the
Written Torah, suggests that this was another occurrence of a dialogue
the Great “Metzaveh,” the Law-Giver, and Moshe, the humble “Metzuveh,”
Recipient of the Law.
HaShem addresses Moshe
in a manner suggesting closeness and love, “VaYikra,” “And He
called upon him” (VaYikra 1:1), with an Aleph.
But Moshe, in his great humility, wants to write the word in the
same manner as when HaShem is addressing Bilaam, the evil Prophet of Midian,
“VaYikar,” “And he happened upon him” (BaMidbar 23:4),
without an Aleph, suggesting coldness and randomness.
They compromised on a “little Aleph” at the end of the word.
Perhaps it is possible
to say that the Book of Shemot, preceding VaYikra, is the Book of the Large
Aleph, the Great “Anochi,” a word that begins with the letter
“Aleph,” meaning “I,” representing the “I” of the Universe, the
One Who Owns it because He created it.
That word is also the first word of the “Ten Commandments,” which
begin “Anochi HaShem E-lohecha asher Ho-Tzeticha Me-Eretz
Mitzrayim Mi-Bet Avadim;” “I am the L-rd your G-d, Who took you
out of the Land of Egypt, the House of Bondage” (Shemot 20:2).
The Book of Shemot
continues the role of the Creator of the Universe, and of the “Avot,”
the creators and founders of the Jewish People, into the history of nations.
In Shemot, HaShem demonstrates for all to see that there exists an
Omnipotent Divine Supreme Being Who defines morality and Who is interested
and insistent that Man be moral.
The Book of VaYikra is
the Book of the Little Aleph, the “Little Anochi,” the humble creature,
weak and frail, but possessed of a potentially infinite and eternal soul.
It is called “Torat Kohanim,” the Law of the Priests, a family in
Israel, human beings who, though mired in innumerable sources of earthly
“contamination,” aspire to and act according to Laws of Holiness.
And in this Book, the entire People of Israel is taught how to
fulfill its Eternal Mission, to be a “Mamlechet Kohanim Ve-Goy Kadosh,”
“a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation” (Shemot 19:6). This Book to
some extent defines the relationship between the two “Anochi’s,” the
two most important identities, one the Creator, the other the most favored
creature, in the Universe.
But for now, let us
examine the first dialogue between Moshe and HaShem, that occurred at the
Burning Bush, and was described in Parshat Shemot, because it is here, in
Parshat Tzav and in the beginning of the next Parshah, Shemini, that we see
the outcome of that first dialogue.
There, Moshe repeatedly
rejects HaShem’s offer of greatness, to undertake the mission of being His
sole Messenger in the Redemption of Israel.
Let’s listen to the Torah’s portrayal of the dramatic dialogue:
(introducing Himself) “Anochi E-lohei Avicha, E-lohei
Avraham, E-lohei Yitzchak, Ve-E-lohei Yaakov,…,” “I am the G-d of
your fathers, the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak and the G-d of
Yaakov” (Shemot 3:6).
(HaShem tells Moshe of
the horrible conditions under which the Jews are living in Egypt, and of His
resolve to redeem them, in accordance with His covenant with the
“And now, go as My
Messenger to the Pharaoh of Egypt” (Shemot 3:10).
“Mi anochi ki elech el Paroh?”, “Who am I that
I should go to the Pharaoh (and hope to have any effect upon him)?” (Shemot
(HaShem assures Moshe
that He will be with him all the time, and gives him a guarantee that will
be meaningful to Moshe, that after the Exodus, the Jewish People will
worship HaShem at Mt. Sinai, which is near the site of this encounter.)
“Ve-Zeh lecha ha-ot ki Anochi shelachticha…”, “And
this is the guarantee for you that it is I Who has sent you” (Shemot
(Moshe still feels
inadequate to undertake what he perceives as a “Mission Impossible.”)
“Hineh anochi ba el Bnei Yisrael…ve-amru li ‘Mah
Shemo?’ Mah omar aleihem?” “When
I come to the Children of Israel…and they will ask me ‘What is
His Name?’ What shall I say to them?” (Shemot 3:13)
(Moshe feels that he
will be unable to convince the People of Israel, sunken in their present low
spiritual state, that HaShem, their Holy Redeemer, has truly appeared to
“I Will Be That Which I Will Be…Say to the Children of Israel,
‘The Eternal One has sent you to them.’ “
“…Go and gather the elders of
Israel and say to them, ‘The Eternal One, the G-d of your fathers appeared
to me; the G-d of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, saying ‘I have remembered
you and what is being done to you in Egypt.
And I have said, ‘ I will bring them up from their poverty in
Egypt…to a Land flowing with milk and honey…And they will accept you
as their leader!’ ” (Shemot
“But they will
not believe me, and will not accept me as their leader, for they will say,
‘The Eternal One did not appear to you!’ “ (Shemot 4:1)
(HaShem tells Moshe to
perform three miracles in the event that the People are hesitant to believe
him: (Shemot 4:2-9)
But Moshe remains
“Lo ish devarim anochi…kevad peh u-kevad lashon anochi”,
“I am not a speaker…My speech and my tongue are slow and
awkward.” (Shemot 4:10)
“Who created the power
of speech, or Who withheld it (leaving a person dumb), or Who withheld the
ability to hear (leaving a person deaf), or Who withheld sight (leaving a
person blind)? Ha-Lo Anochi
HaShem?!’, Was it not I, the Eternal?!
(HaShem is becoming, as
it were, exasperated with Moshe.)
“Ve-atah lech, ve-Anochi ehiyeh im picha,” “Now go
already, and I will help you in your speaking.” (Shemot 4:12)
But Moshe will not be
moved, and he utters these final words of refusal:
“Shelach na be-yad tishlach;” “Please send someone else.” (Shemot
(“Va-Yechar af HaShem
Be-Moshe,” “HaShem became, so to speak, angry with Moshe.” (Shemot
4:14), and withdraws the offer to Moshe of being the sole representative of
“Then Aharon, your brother, the Levi, will do it.
I know that he will be most willing to speak…You will speak with
him and, as it were, put the words in his mouth, and I will Be with your
mouth and with his mouth, and teach you both what you should do.
And he (Aharon) will speak for you to the People; thus he will be
your spokesman, and you will be, as it were, his “G-d.”(Shemot 4:14-16)
There is a disagreement
between the “Tannaim,”
great Sages of the Mishnah,
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha and Rabbi Yosi.
The former says that in all other cases but here, when an
expression involving the “charon af,” the “burning anger” of HaShem
is mentioned, as there is here in Verse 4:14 (cited above), there is a
punishment, for the one(s) who provoked the anger.
Rabbi Yosi, however, maintains that here too Moshe received
punishment for his excessive humility, as explained below:
explains that “originally,” Aharon was supposed to be the ancestor of
the “Leviim,” and Moshe was supposed to be King and the father of
the Priestly Dynasty. Now Moshe
would be reduced from being High Priest to being “only a Levi,” and
Aharon would be elevated to High Priest.
Here, in Parshat Tzav, and in Parshat Shemini, we find the occurrence of the events that reflect the punishment of Moshe, according to the view of Rabbi Yosi. What is happening is the inaugural of the “Kohanim,” the Priests, and the consecration of the “Mishkan,” in an eight day ceremony of dedication.
In Parshat Tzav, we
find Moshe acting as High Priest for the first and last time.
The emotion he felt is indicated by the cantillation marks
(“musical notes” that describe the melody of the chant used in reciting
from the Sefer Torah). Three
times does Moshe perform the act of “Shechitah,” Slaughtering the animal
for the sacrifices that were part of the Inaugural Ceremony; in each case,
the Torah writes “VaYishchat,” meaning “And he
slaughtered,” with its own cantillation mark, indicating the
“trop,” or melody.
Moshe first sacrifices
a bullock as a Sin Offering, then a ram as a Burnt Offering.
Finally he slaughters the Ram of the Inauguration, and on the word “VaYishchat,”
we find the cantillation mark known as the “Shalshelet,” the
“Chain.” That musical note,
the longest of the notes, rises and falls approximately two and a half times
(depending on the custom of one’s community), and ends with a “sigh.”
It is quite likely that it reflects the inner turmoil and conflict
that Moshe underwent before his removal from the position of High Priest,
and its transference to Aharon. One
of the few times that the “Shalshelet” appears is on the word “VaYemaen,”
“And he refused,” (Bereshit 39:8), where Yoseph wrestles with and
ultimately conquers his desire when the wife of Potiphar attempts to seduce
Here Moshe “pays the
price,” for being excessively modest at the Burning Bush. Or perhaps, this is what Moshe had in mind, maybe
sub-consciously, when G-d wanted him to assume all the greatness; namely,
that his older brother, Aharon, not be neglected.
This fits well with the other half of the Torah’s portrait of this
pair of great siblings, who had conquered the universal tendency of
“sibling rivalry.” For
HaShem tells Moshe (in Shemot (4:14)) that when he will leave Midian for
Mitzrayim, Aharon will come to greet him, and when he will realize the level
of greatness that his younger brother had achieved, he will “rejoice in
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel