Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Parashat Tetzaveh - The Miracle of Diversity

The great mystery of the universe -- after the fact of its existing at all -- is Diversification. Why isn't everything in the universe the same? How did the universe evolve into the infinite diversity we see today? In the Platonic / Neo-Platonic world of Jewish thought, it is this very diversity that proves the excellence of the Universe: the definition of a perfect universe is that there is nothing that it does not contain.

What about things that do not exist? The answer is: If you can conceive of it, then it has existence. Even a dream or a thought experiment exists. This is not Solipsism, not Sophistry, not anti-intellectual cuteness. Kabbalah tells us that G-d created the world by withdrawing, by limiting G-d's self, thereby permitting the space for the world of time, space and motion to come into existence. At the beginning of Bereshit, G-d creates with a word. And as does G-d, so do we create with language, which is perhaps the ultimate restriction. As we saw in the midrash describing Moshe bringing the first set of tablets down the mountain, the surest way to open ideas to misinterpretation is to put them into language.

This Parasha begins with the words ve'atah tetzaveh "And you command" or, "And you will command". G-d commands Moshe to take his brother Aharon, and to invest him with the trappings and office of Cohen Gadol - the High Priest. It has been often noted that, while Aharon's name appears seven times in this Parashah, the name Moshe appears not at all.

Moshe was originally supposed to be the single grand leader of Bnei Israel -- both the temporal and the spiritual leader: King and Priest. But Moshe was disqualified from the post of Cohen Gadol on two grounds. First, he hesitated and did not want the job. When G-d calls in Aharon as Moshe's spokesman in the court of Pharoah, G-d is setting the stage for the future relationsip.

Second, Moshe is a murderer. And a cohen who commits murder no longer has the capacity to approach the altar in the Kodesh -- the sacred courtyard -- or the ark in the Kodesh Kodashim -- the inner Holy of Holies -- to atone for the people.

In Parashat Yitro, we saw that differentiation of authority is critical to keeping a society going. So in a sense this "problem" is actually a cure. But for Moshe it must be difficult, bittersweet at best. Perhaps this is one explanation of why Moshe's name does not appear: to prevent him from being put to shame when someone else was taking over his rightful position. And yet, in recognition of the place Moshe was born to, even though he does not get to exercise the function, Moshe serves as cohen during the seven days of inauguration of the Mishkan and the cohanim.

And this act is critical. Just as G-d keeps trying to transfer power and authority to humans, so too, Moshe must transfer his authority to Aharon. Aharon does not merely step in at the fiat of the Almighty; Moshe must perform the act of inaugurating him, and in so doing, the Kahunah -- the priesthood -- is transferred. Moshe, though flawed, is nonetheless the rightful bearer of the Kahunah. He must transfer it properly, of his own free will. If he does not give it over, the Kahunah, and the ability of the Nation to seek closeness with G-d, to enter into our unique relationship (atonement = "at-one-ment") will remain with him and be un-exercisable. Thus, for example, the RaMBaM, writing on the opening words ofthe Parashah, says: "Ve'atah tetzaveh -- 'And YOU command' You, and do not delegate to another." This, too, is an explanation of why Moshe's name does not appear in the Parashah: he refused to put his brother to shame at the time when Aharon was taking on the role of Cohen Gadol. If Moshe's name appeared, we would reflect that his brother is a mere pretender and a poor substitute.

In Parashat Yitro, societal differentiation is revealed as critical to the continued existence of a people. That, in fact, the group of Israelites wandering in the desert and clustering day by day around Moshe, looking for guidance, would not become a people until there was a hierarchy of authority, of leadership. Just as we are later differentiated into tribes, we are first broken down into layers and lines of authority. Yitro, by bringing Moshe statecraft, gave us the practical and political tools to turn us from a wandering band of escaped slaves into the nucleus of a People. It is not accidental that this happens before we receive Torah. Remember the locusts in Parashat Bo -- they look like a giant mass, all moving together. In reality, though they come and go together, when they alight, it is every locust for itself. Bnei Israel, prior to Yitro, are a large mass of individuals. Yitro helps Moshe to start imposing the rudiments of order, to introduce to us the notion of differentiation. To help prepare us to receive Torah.

As with last week's parashah, Tetzaveh is prospective: it describes acts that Moshe is to take in the future, at the time the Mishkan is actually fashioned and erected. The verb, tetzaveh, is in future tense. And while the implication of both Parshiyot, Terumah and Tetzaveh is that this is the plan for the next step, there are intervening events. First, there is the actual giving of Torah, which we appear to be in the middle of. Second, there is the incident of the golden calf, which almost results in Bnei Israel being destroyed. In other words: the prospective nature of these parshiyot contains the risk that they will never be actualized. Terumah and Tetzaveh are theoretical. Like the Torah itself, which is at this point merely words, we still have a long way to go before we learn to put these notions into action.

Yours for a better world.

shabbat shalom


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