Parashat Tesaveh: Moshe and Noah
The Ba’al Ha’turim (Rabbenu Yaakob Ben Asher, 1269-1343) famously observes that Moshe Rabbenu’s name is conspicuously absent from Parashat Tesaveh. Rather than begin this Parasha with the standard introduction, "Va’yedaber Hashem El Moshe Lemor" ("G-d spoke to Moshe, saying"), this Parasha instead begins with G-d saying to Moshe, "Ve’ata Tesaveh Et Beneh Yisrael" – "And you shall command Beneh Yisrael," as though He specifically did not want to mention Moshe’s name. The Ba’al Ha’turim attributes this unusual omission to Moshe’s demand after the sin of the golden calf that if G-d did not forgive the people, "then erase me from the book which You have written" (Shemot 32:32). Although G-d ultimately forgave the people, nevertheless, the Sages teach that a righteous person’s curses are fulfilled, at least partially, even if they are conditional. Moshe’s pronouncement was thus fulfilled in the form of his "erasure" from Parashat Tesaveh.
The Vilna Gaon (Rav Eliyahu of Vilna, 1720-1797) added that this Parasha, Parashat Tesaveh, was chosen as the section from which Moshe’s name would be "erased" because this Parasha is almost always read around the time of 7 Adar, Moshe Rabbenu’s yahrtzeit.
Let us delve a little deeper into Moshe Rabbenu’s pronouncement, "Erase me from the book which You have written."
The Midrash contrasts Moshe’s response to G-d’s decree following the sin of the golden calf, with Noah’s response to G-d’s decree to flood the earth. Noah obeyed G-d’s command to build an ark for himself and his family, but he did nothing to try to save the rest of humanity. In fact, the prophet Yeshayahu (54:9) refers to the flood as "Meh Noah" – "the waters of Noah," and the Zohar explains this phrase as implying that Noah was held accountable for the flood because of his failure to intercede on the people’s behalf. Moshe, however, reacted the opposite way to G-d’s decree, not only pleading for Beneh Yisrael, but going so far as to say, "Erase me." Like the captain of a ship, Moshe declared that he would not abandon his "passengers" under any circumstances, and that if they were destroyed, then he would be destroyed with them.
The Hida (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1806) develops this idea further, explaining that Moshe was actually a Gilgul – reincarnation – of Noah. Noah’s soul returned in Moshe in order to achieve its Tikkun (rectification). Indeed, the Torah (Shemot 2:2) tells that when Moshe was born, his mother saw that he was "Tob" ("good") – a word which in Gematria equals 17, alluding to the 17 generations between Noah and Moshe. Noah and Moshe are the only ones in the Torah who are said to have been in a "Teba" – the word used in reference to Noah’s ark, and in reference to the basket in which Moshe was placed in the river. The Hida writes that when G-d informed Moshe of His decision to annihilate Beneh Yisrael after they worshipped the golden calf, this was his moment to achieve his Tikkun. Moshe responded by declaring, "Meheni" – "erase me." The letters of this word can be rearranged to spell the words "Meh Noah" – "the waters of Noah," which, as mentioned earlier, speak of Noah’s responsibility for the flood. Moshe’s pronouncement of "Meheni" rectified this mistake, and thus his soul achieved the Tikkun that it required.
This is a vital message that applies to each and every one of us. We are here in this world to look out not only for ourselves, but for everyone around us. The Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria, 1534-1572) would tell his disciples that the most important thing they need to do is to look out for one another. If a student is concerned only with himself, his wellbeing and his own spiritual advancement, the Arizal warned, then he will not grow. The Torah he learns will not be properly absorbed.
The omission of Moshe’s name from Parashat Tesaveh is not a punishment, but to the contrary – a badge of honor, a magnificent testament to Moshe Rabbenu’s unbridled and unlimited devotion to Am Yisrael, which sets an inspiring example for all of us to follow.