A seemingly dubious distinction belongs to this week’s Parshah, Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20–30:10). It is the only reading in the Torah — from the first Parshah of the book of Exodus (in which he is born) until the end of the book of Numbers — where the name of Moses is not mentioned. Tetzaveh’s opening words are V’atah tetzaveh—“And you shall command.” The “you” is Moses, and G‑d is telling him what to instruct the Jewish people. But the verse only says “you”— no name, no “Moses.”
Some explain that the day of Moses’ passing, 7 Adar, almost always occurs in this week, and the absence of his name is an appropriate symbol of his demise. Others suggest that it is as a result of Moses’ own words. Remember the golden calf episode? The people had sinned, and G‑d was going to wipe them out and start over again with Moses and his own dynasty. Moses defended his errant flock before the Almighty, arguing for their forgiveness. And if not? Well, Moses used some very strong words there. “Mecheini na misifrecha — erase me from Your book that You have written!” Moses himself said that his name should be erased from the Torah if G‑d would not forgive His people. So, even though G‑d did forgive them, the words of a tzaddik (perfectly righteous person) are eternal and leave an impression. The effect of those words, therefore, was that somewhere in the book, in the Torah, his name would be erased. Moses would be missing where he normally should have appeared. Thus it is that in the week when we remember his passing, Moses’ name is gone.
So say a variety of commentaries. But, characteristically, the chassidic commentaries, reflecting the inner dimension of Torah, go a step further —a nd deeper. What’s in a name? they ask. Who needs a name? Does a person require a name for himself? Not really; he knows who he is. So, a name is essentially for other people to be able to attract his attention, so they can call him, address him, etc. In other words, a name is only an external handle, a vehicle for others to identify or describe a person; but it is all outside of the person himself and peripheral to his own true, inner identity. Names are secondary to the essence of an individual. The essence of every person, who he or she really is, is beyond any name, beyond any title.
So, why is Moses’ name not mentioned? Because he said “Erase me” after the golden calf? Because he spoke with chutzpah before the Almighty? You think it is a punishment? Not at all, says the Rebbe. On the contrary, this was perhaps the greatest moment in the life of our greatest spiritual leader.
What would we imagine to be Moses’ finest hour? Receiving the Torah? Leading the Jews to the Exodus? Splitting the sea? Would you be shocked if I told you it is none of the above? Indeed, Moses’ finest, most glorious, absolutely greatest moment on earth was when he stood his ground before G‑d, pleading for his people, fighting for their forgiveness. His most brilliant, shining hour was when he put his own life and future on the line and said: “G‑d, if they go, I go! If You refuse to forgive these sinners, then erase my name from Your holy Torah!” It was through Moses’ total commitment towards his people that the faithful shepherd saved his flock from extinction. And G‑d Himself was pleased with His chosen shepherd’s words, and acceded to his request.
So the absence of Moses’ name this week, far from being a negative, carries with it a profound blessing. It does not say the name Moses, but v’atah — “and you.” A name is only a name, but here G‑d talks to Moses in the second person directly. You. And the you represents something far deeper than a mere name; it is the you symbolizing the spiritual essence of Moses. And what is that essence? His unflinching commitment to his people, come what may—even if it be at his own expense.
This is the very soul of Moses, the faithful shepherd. The you that goes beyond the superficial, and beyond what any name could possibly encapsulate. It represents the deepest core of his neshamah, deeper than any appellation or detailed description could hope to portray.
Moses’ name may be missing, but his spiritual presence is felt in a way that no name could ever do justice to. May all our leaders take note and be inspired.