There is one person noticeably absent from this week’s parsha. Moses, whose name appears more than anyone else in the Torah, is no longer in the script. Where has he gone?
The great commentator and halachic authority, Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (d.1343), also known as the Baal Haturim, says his absence is due to his request to God: “Erase me from your book that you have written.”
When the Jewish people served the golden calf, it was deemed to be such a catastrophic error that it could have been the end of them and their role as being God’s representatives on earth.
God suggested to Moses that he would now become the forefather of a new nation, which would carry on that mission.
Moses stood his ground and, like a loving father and the loyal shepherd he was, refused to accept God’s offer and pleaded instead on behalf of his people.
He even beseeched God to remove his own name out of the Torah, because the prospect of being there without his beloved nation was too much to bear.
The Jewish people were spared, however parshat Tetzaveh (which always falls at the time of Moses’ yahrzeit) remains without his name as a reminder of the extent to which he was willing to go on behalf of the Jews. Later on in the Torah, Moses is referred to as the “humblest of all men”. He is the shining example of true leadership.
Moses consistently places the people and the fulfilment of their historic role in world history above his own.
He was not in it for personal glory. Moses was willing to sacrifice everything for the Jewish people and realised that their mission, as a nation who can lead by example, was far more important than his own success or aspirations.
Moses’ absent name teaches us that humility, coupled with care and compassion, are the hallmarks of authentic leadership.
- Rabbi Naftali Schiff is the founder and chief executive of Jewish Futures