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Parashat T’tzaveh (Exodus 27:30-30:10)

“And they shall know that I the Lord am their God, who brought them out from the
land of Egypt that I might abide among them, I the Lord their God. “ (Exodus 29:46)

Parashat T’tzaveh concludes the instructions for building the mishkan (Tabernacle), with particular attention to the oil for the menorah, or candelabrum. It also describes the priests’ clothes in great detail and prescribes the ceremony to consecrate Aaron and his sons as priests. Throughout, the parasha (portion) makes a subtle but powerful commentary on leadership and inspiration.

T’tzaveh is the only parasha in the Torah with no mention of Moses (since his introduction in Exodus 2). So, building the mishkan falls to Moses’ appointees, those people who are chochmei lev, or wise of heart (Ex. 28:3). Therefore, the phrase, “They (or you) shall make…” appears repeatedly (Rather than the typical Biblical verse, “And God said to Moses…”). Since Moses is absent, the mishkan is not the work of the leader; it is the work of the people.

Yishayahu Leibowitz (1903–94; an Israeli intellectual known for his outspoken opinions on Judaism, ethics, religion and politics) infers from this recurring trope the mishkan also is not the work of God; it is an entirely human project. God’s dwelling in our midst (Ex. 29:45) is the result of mortal, not divine effort. Inspiration comes only when individuals prepare for it.

T’tzaveh offers a provocative idea and image: Divine inspiration resides within the people only when they are willing to accept it. No leader from above can force such a readiness and when the people are ready, no external force is required (hence Moses’ absence in the parasha). The mishkan, then, while serving as God’s abode, also is a symbol of the Jewish people.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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