It is usually an honor to be asked to deliver a d’var torah at a meeting, so when asked recently to give one for a committee meeting I naturally accepted. Feeling somewhat flattered (the committee is filled with rabbis and others who have more Jewish knowledge than I), I sat down to read the weekly Torah portion and figure out what I was going to say.
It was at this point that I realized that I should have looked before I leaped. This past Shabbat’s parshahseemed to be completely lacking in anything that I could use to deliver a short d’var torah. There was no fascinating narrative to unwrap and no confusing laws to clarify. Instead, Tetzaveh with its descriptions of the interior of the Tabernacle seemed better suited by HGTV than being part of the Torah.
My “ah hah” moment arrived after reading a commentary that shared what was missing from the text, rather than trying to explain what was in it. Moses is a pretty popular guy during the last four books of the Torah. His name appears in every single parshah at least once, except for this one.
The focus in Tetzaveh is on instructions for preparing Aaron and his sons to become priests and Moses was not going to be a priest. However, the text does not even include the line “And God said to Moses” which usually comes before sets of instructions to the people.
Is this absence a mere coincidence or does it signal something deeper? Some commentators felt that Moses was being a nice guy and letting his brother have the spotlight for a change. Others see an interesting combination of events. Tetzaveh is always read during the week which the 7th of Adar falls (next Friday) which is traditionally held to be the date of Moses’ death. Is this just a coincidence that Moses is absent from the parshahduring the week of his death’s anniversary? Some commentators respond that this is part of the active effort to avoid creating a cult around Moses which is the same reason why his name found only once in the Haggadah.
To me, there seems to be another message present. Moses is a critical figure in the establishment of the Israelites as a nation. He is the conduit through which laws are established and provides them with guidance throughout their journey in the wilderness. Yet, his absence here indicates that things can go on without Moses and that there are elements of Israelite life that he is not significant in. Perhaps, most importantly, this text foreshadows that the Israelites can go on without Moses.
This made me wonder about the projects that so many of us undertake and feel that we are such a critical element that they could not go on without us. But, could they? Do we truly bring something so unique that the project would crumble without us?
While our egos may feel good about being the keystone for some many things in our organizations, we may be failing as leaders. Perhaps the true sign of a good leader is that we can make things work without being a critical cog in the wheel. If we establish strong processes that support those that we work with, then life (or a project) can go on when we step back. Maybe this is the lesson that Moses was trying to teach by vanishing from Tetzaveh.