Please enjoy a d’var Torah this week from our Program Director Gal Atia. A longtime Ramahnik, Gal has held many roles at camp, including Rosh Mishlachat, Rosh Sport and staff trainer. Gal is from Neytanya, Israel, where he lives with his wife and children and works as a special education teacher.
Reflections on Parashat Tetzaveh
by Gal Atia
You might say that the theme of Parashat Tetzaveh is preparation. We read God’s instructions to Moses regarding the seven-day inauguration of the Mishkan (the mobile sanctuary that will accompany the Israelites through the desert). There are details regarding the lighting of the menorah and there is a lot of information given by God to Moses about preparing Aaron and his sons to do their holy work as priests. It’s clear that the real work of sacrifices in the Mishkan can’t begin until the Kohanim (priests) are thoroughly prepared.
As I read the text, I was immediately reminded of what it takes for an Israeli to prepare to come to camp as a shaliach, a representative of Israel. Over the last few years I have had the amazing opportunity to be directly involved in preparing our Mishlachat (Israeli staff) for camp. You might not know that the process starts in November when interested young men and women go through a screening workshop. This is followed by an interview with the camp director, a four-day training seminar and a visa interview. All this comes before the 24-hour trek from Israel to the Northwoods of Wisconsin! Both Parashat Tetzaveh and my own personal experience tell me that the more time and energy you put into preparing to do a job, the more meaningful the work will be when you actually do it.
A second interesting item of note in this parashah is the fact that Moses’ name isn’t mentioned even once. The parashah begins with God calling Moses “You,” and this is very uncommon in the Torah. One commentator explains that God was furious with the Israelites after the sin of the golden calf which we read about next week (though the exact timeline of events in these chapters is quite murky) and wanted to punish them harshly. In response Moses said to God, “If you punish them, erase my name from your book (ספרך/sefercha).” This word can be looked at as ספר-כ/sefer-chaf, which means “the 20th book.” Parashat Tetzaveh is the 20th portion in the Torah and perhaps God took Moses’ name out to show us a true, humble leader who doesn’t care about his name being on the front page as long as his people are safe.
After Shabbat we move immediately into the joyous and raucous celebration of Purim, a day of unadulterated joy and goofiness that, amidst recent events in America and Israel, provides hope for a more carefree era and helps strengthen our ties to our heritage. In a striking way this year, the story of Esther and Mordechai also does not contain the name of a figure we’d expect to feature prominently in the story – God. The author’s self-awareness of this may be hinted at by the Hebrew root of אסתר/Esteir/Esther of ס.ת.ר/s.t.r meaning “hidden.” According to a beautiful midrash in the Talmud, the Purim story, in which God is absent from the surface narrative, is the time when the Jewish people truly accept upon ourselves the responsibilities and obligations of our role in relationship to God and each other.
As we move inexorably towards the brightening sun, warming temperatures, and unabashed joy of the upcoming summer, let’s remember these two lessons: preparation leads to success and the perception of God’s absence can empower us to achieve great things.
שבת שלום וחג פורים שמח
Shabbat shalom and chag purim sameach (Happy Purim!).