And you shall command the Children of Israel to bring to you pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. (Shemos 25:1-2)
One of the many things that fascinates me about Torah is how so much can be learned from so little. Take the first word of this week’s parshah, v’attah—and you—for example, not something to which we might pay much attention, but a word about which the Zohar speaks at some length.
- Rabi Chiya said: What is different about this place [more than other places in the Torah] that it says, “And you bring close to you,” and, “you will speak to all the wise-hearted,” and, “you will command the Children of Israel,” and, “and you will take spices”? Rather, all of it alludes to a great secret, that it is in order to include the Shechinah with it. (Zohar, Tetzaveh 179b)
In order words, the word ‘v’attah’ somehow alludes to a combination of The Holy One, Blessed is He, and the Shechinah—Divine Presence—working together to perform the mitzvos mentioned above. For, apparently, one of the Kabbalistic Names for the Divine Presence is ‘attah’, since it is the sod of the revealed world (Pardes). Hence, the word v’attah alludes to something very holy going on here.
This, of course, requires some explanation, especially since this is the one parshah in which Moshe Rabbeinu’s name is not mentioned. For, as Chazal explain, after Moshe demanded that God either forgive the Jewish people for the sin of the golden calf or remove his name from the Torah, both occurred. The Jewish people were forgiven, and ‘Moshe’ was removed from the Torah, or at least from one parshah from the Torah—this week’s—because you don’t threaten God, no matter how sincere you are.
But this raises a question. Regarding the other verses that begin with ‘v’attah’ an explanation is necessary. However, regarding the verse from this week’s parshah, a simpler reason can be given as to why ‘v’attah’ is used: to avoid referring to Moshe Rabbeinu directly. Usage of the third person here could have been the Torah’s way of not mentioning ‘Moshe’, as per God’s plan.
Not in this case. For had that been true, the Torah could have begun with the word ‘You’ alone, without the word ‘and’, or the letter Vav, preceding it. Once the Vav was used together with the word attah, the combination alludes to something far deeper, something that included Moshe Rabbeinu in God’s Torah in a way that the usage of his own name could not have done. Perhaps Moshe’s ‘threat’ worked to his advantage, not his disadvantage.
To begin with, there are many names for the Divine Presence, many of which are plain words in everyday language, but which take on a new meaning when viewed from a Kabbalistic perspective. For example, the halachah says that one should pray the Amidah in front of wall—a kir in Hebrew—when possible, the obvious reason for this being in order to reduce the amount of possible distractions when standing before God.
However, according to the Zohar, one of the names of the Shechinah is Kir, or wall, because it refers to some aspect of the Divine Presence. Therefore, what the halachah is really saying, on a Kabbalistic level, is that when a person prays the Amidah, he should do so before the Divine Presence, meaning in a way that is appropriate for someone who is standing before the Shechinah.
Likewise, another name for the Shechinah is ‘Attah’, because it is a word that refers to the Sefirah of Malchus, the source of the Shechinah (i.e., the Malchus of Atzilus). Therefore, in many places that the word attah shows up in the Torah, on a Sod-level, it is probably a reference to the Shechinah as well. Certainly in some of the more obvious places, like in this week’s parshah and all those to do with the construction of the Mishkan, it is a reference to the Shechinah.
The letter Vav, which represents the number six, is unique for many reasons, one of which is that it represents the six sefiros of Chesed, Gevurah, Tifferes, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod. This is also the level that corresponds to what we call ‘The Holy One, Blessed is He, in the Sefiros. Therefore, when the Vav is added to ‘attah’, the combination alludes to the union of The Holy One, Blessed is He, together with His Shechinah, which is what history is all about, brought about through Moshe Rabbeinu.
We’d all like to believe that the Shechinah dwells upon us to some degree, that when we do holy things, the Holy Presence joins together with us, on some level. Perhaps it does to some extent, but not to the extent of Moshe Rabbeinu, through whom the two levels achieved unification, which was absolutely necessary for the building of the Mishkan. In fact, the Zohar explains, this is how Divine wisdom was filtered to all the wise-hearted who participated in its construction.
That is quite a level to achieve, something that can only be the result of hisbatlus—self-annulment—to the point that the will of God matters more to you than your own will, and the well-being of the Jewish people is more important to you than your own well-being. Surely this is what Moshe Rabbeinu exhibited when he asked to have his own name removed from the Torah if God did not forgive the Jewish people.
If so, then leaving Moshe Rabbeinu’s name out of this week’s parshah may have served two purposes. On one hand it is true, you do not threaten God, even if you are Moshe Rabbeinu and you have His own people’s best interest at heart. However, on the other hand, it is hard to ignore how brave Moshe Rabbeinu had acted in doing so, something that also had to be acknowledged in some way.
It is not unlike the story of Choni HaMagel—Choni the Circle Drawer—told in the Talmud:
- It once happened that [during a drought] they petitioned Choni HaMagel, “Pray for rain to fall.”
Choni told them, “Go, bring your Passover ovens indoors so that the should not dissolve.”
Choni prayed, but no rain fell. What did he do? He drew a circle and stood in the middle of it and said to God, “Master of the Universe! Your children turned to me because I am like a member of Your household. I swear by Your great Name that I am not moving from here until You have compassion upon Your children!”
Rain began to drizzle.
Choni said, “That’s not what I asked for! I asked for rains to fill the cisterns, trenches, and reservoirs!”
As a result, rain started coming down in torrents.
So Choni added, “That’s not what I asked for either. I asked for good rains, of blessing and generosity.”
A proper rain began to fall, and it continued to fall until it forced the Jews out of Jerusalem up onto the Temple Mount because of the flooding caused by the rains. So they told Choni, “Just as you prayed that the rains should fall, pray now that they should stop.”
He told them, “Go and see if the ‘Stone of Claims’ has dissolved yet.”
Shimon Ben Shetach sent a message to Choni, “If it were not for the fact that you are Choni I would have issued a decree of excommunication against you! But what can I do against you? You are like one who unburdens himself before God and yet He still fulfills your wish, like a child who unburdens himself before his father and yet his father fulfills his wish! ‘Let your father and mother be glad, and let her who bore you rejoice’ (Mishlei 23:25).” (Ta’anis 19a)
What was Shimon ben Shetach saying? If what Choni did was wrong, why did God fulfill his request, and in such detail? And, if God fulfilled Choni’s request to such an extent, then why did Shimon ben Shetach assume that Choni was out of line, and get so upset at Choni? There seems to be some kind of inconsistency here.
It has to do with protocol. There is a way to relate to God. As the Talmud notes, even in the World-to-Come when man will exist on a much higher spiritual plane and become far more endeared to his Creator, still God will maintain a certain distance, so-to-speak because, after all, God is God. No matter how close man comes to God, he will still be infinitely distant from God since God is infinite. How much more so while man remains in his present unholy state!
Yet, God has soft spot, and it is amazing how much He is prepared to sacrifice His own honor because of it. It is a Jew’s love for his people, and his willingness to sacrifice himself for their well-being. The more he is willing to put himself out for their sake, the more endeared he becomes to their Father-in-Heaven.
This is what the Talmud means when it says that if one is worried about his upcoming judgment on Rosh Hashanah, he should obligate himself to the community. This way, if he lacks sufficient personal merit to survive Divine judgment, the merit of the community will be added to his own personal merit, and push him over the top, so-to-speak.
But, it is more than that. It is the willingness to give of oneself for the sake of the Jewish people that is also being added to his previous merits, and it is a merit that counts for many mitzvos at one time. For, it shows love of the Jewish people, and by helping the children of God, one not only helps them, but their children as well, and their children after them, etc. The impact of chesed, especially the teach of Torah, is incalculable my man, but it is by God, and He adds that to a person’s account.
Nevertheless, there is still protocol, as Shimon ben Shetach pointed out to Choni HaMagel, and God to Moshe Rabbeinu. “You are great,” God told Moshe, “for your willingness to put yourself on the line for your brothers, My children. But,” He added, “you have to also set an example for others lesser than you, about how they should have the proper respect for Me.”
So, though leaving Moshe Rabbeinu’s name out of this week’s parshah indicates that you have to be careful how you address God, even if you are on the level of Moshe Rabbeinu and Choni HaMagel, the sod behind the exclusion reveals that if you are sincerely acting on behalf of the Jewish people, all will be forgiven. If, just to repeat, you are sincerely working on behalf of the Jewish people.
Copyright © by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston has authored many books on Jewish philosophy (Hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston’s Perceptions on the Parsha, you may enjoy his books. Visit Rabbi Winston’s online book store for more details! www.thirtysix.org