Parashat Tesaveh: Moshe, Noah, and Us
One of the intriguing features of Parashat Tesaveh is the fact noted by our Sages that Moshe’s name appears nowhere in the Parasha – making this the first Parasha since Parashat Shemot (which tells of Moshe’s birth) not to mention Moshe Rabbenu. The Sages teach us that Moshe’s name was "removed" from this Parasha in response to his plea to G-d after the sin of the golden calf, "And now, if You will, please pardon their sin, and if not, then please erase me from the book that You have written!" (Shemot 32:32). G-d had decided to annihilate Beneh Yisrael because of the golden calf, and to produce a new nation from Moshe. However, Moshe refused, and told G-d that if Beneh Yisrael are "erased," then he wants to be "erased" with them. Hashem, of course, forgave Beneh Yisrael, but given the extraordinary power of a Sadik’s words, Moshe’s proclamation, "erase me from the book" had to be fulfilled in some fashion. Therefore, his name does not appear from Parashat Tesaveh. Different reasons have been given for why Parashat Tesaveh in particular was chosen for this purpose. (See http://www.dailyhalacha.com/WeeklyParasha.asp?ChumashID=2&ParashaID=20&ParashaClipID=393.)
Moshe’s response to G-d’s decree to annihilate Beneh Yisrael stands in stark contrast to the response of another righteous figure who failed to pray or help the people of his generation who were condemned due to their wrongdoing. The prophet Yeshayahu refers to the flood that destroyed the world in Noah’s time as "Meh Noah" – "the waters of Noah" – as if to blame Noah for the devastating deluge. The Zohar explains that the flood is blamed on Noah because when he heard about the impending catastrophe, he did not pray to G-d for mercy or try to inspire the people of his time to change. He instead simply complied with G-d’s instructions to build an ark to save himself, his family and the animals. He rescued himself without trying to rescue the people.
The Arizal teaches us that Moshe Rabbenu was a Gilgul (reincarnation) of Noah’s soul, which returned to this world for the purpose of correcting this grave mistake which it had made. By sacrificing his own future for the sake of Am Yisrael, refusing to be rescued as the people are destroyed, Moshe rectified the mistake of Noah. The Hid"a (Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai, 1724-1807) comments that the letters of the word "Meheni" ("erase me") also spell the words "Meh Noah," alluding to Moshe’s role in rectifying Noah’s mistake. In truth, G-d had already foretold that Noah’s mistake would be rectified by Moshe, when He commanded Noah to enter the ark just before the onset of the flood. He said, "Go into the ark…because I have seen you as a righteous person before Me in this generation" (Bereshit 7:1). The word "Ha’zeh" ("this") has the numerical value of 17, alluding the 17th generation after Noah, when Moshe would emerge to correct his mistake. And thus when Moshe was born, the Torah writes, his mother saw that "he was good" ("Ki Tob Hu" – Shemot 2:2). The word "Tob" has the numerical value of 17, and indicates that Moshe’s mother sensed that he would be the one to rectify the mistake of Noah and be a selfless leader prepared to sacrifice everything for the sake of his nation. The omission of Moshe’s name from Parashat Tesaveh thus reminds us of the extent of Moshe’s selfless devotion to his people, how he corrected Noah’s mistake by refusing to rescue himself on an "ark" while the rest of the people perished.
In our times, we – the Torah observant community – live on an "ark" seeking to protect ourselves from the "flood" of immorality and decadence that is ravaging the world around us. As part of this effort, we must learn from the example set for us by Moshe Rabbenu, and not forget the others in our generation. We cannot feel content rescuing ourselves without any concern for what happens to the others. Our obligation is to do what we can to bring them with us onto the "ark" and help them pull themselves out of the "flood." And the most effective way of doing this is through personal example. If we conduct ourselves in a kind, courteous, dignified manner, the people around us will take notice. We cannot imagine how profound an effect we have on others by speaking politely, dealing with people honestly, avoiding anger, and being patient and kind. If the people around us see Orthodox Jews acting in an especially respectful and courteous manner, they will begin to realize the benefits of Torah study and observance, and this, in turn, is the greatest catalyst to change.
It does not suffice to maintain our own level of observance. It is our duty to raise the level of those around us, and the primary way we achieve this goal is through personal example, by conducting our day-to-day affairs the way Torah Jews are supposed and expected to act.