In this week’s Parsha, Tetzaveh – Moses is missing. Not as in: call 911 and file a missing person report, but, for the first time since his birth and until the last Parsha in the Torah, his name is not mentioned once.
Where’s Moses? What happened to him? In the first sentence of the Parsha,
G-d says: Ve’atah Tetzaveh: You shall command – Ve’atah -----You.
God isn’t talking about him he is talking directly to him. He’s not talking in conversation ‘with’ him but ‘at’ him. G-d is getting up front and personal with him. We are witnessing Moses receiving direct orders from God.
According to Hayyim ben Moshe ibn Attar known as the Or ha Hayyim, the word Tetzaveh, “you shall command” also means: “you shall connect and you shall bond.” And, it is this bond with the people that is the spark of Moses. This is leadership.
Moses didn’t really want to be a leader. He never applied for the job. It wasn’t a career path. He was chosen.
He stuttered. He was shy and the last thing he wanted was to be put on the spot. But he was a natural because he cared about community. Moses was the closest being that God could put in charge of birthing a nation that was not a woman. Think about it. He didn’t choose it, he didn’t refuse it, he didn’t feel entitled, and his heart was open. He felt responsible for community and no matter what, he didn’t shirk his duties. The laundry always got done. The kids were always washed and dressed and sent to school. Moms get that. Women get that. Things have to get done and you know, there isn’t a medal waiting or expected. It just has to be done.
And what was his finest moment? When he stood up to Pharaoh? When he kept pumping sunshine, so to speak, to k’lal Israel in the desert? When he received the commandments? Nope. Nope and Nope.
Remember when he returned with the commandments and the people were worshipping the golden calf? God was in full temper tantrum mode and told him he would just wipe out the nation and start all over again.
Moses argued with G-d. Says Reb Schneerson: “it was his finest moment as a leader.” It was when he stood his ground and said: Don’t wipe out the nation of Israel – erase my name instead. Moses took the fall and he did it many times throughout the journey. You see, leadership to Moses was about being IN community, IN conversation and not top down. In Parshat Tetzaveh we see his name is actually erased and that is significant – it’s supposed to be noticed. He wanted to be erased – he got it but G-d recognized his sacrifice too. He spoke to him directly and commanded him with a laundry list of things that he would carry out starting with how the Priests would dress, the sacrifices that would be made and how they would be made and all the while, Moses listened patiently to God knowing that Aaron would take his place as a priest. You know it’s too bad it’s International Women’s day weekend and not Gay pride – the jewellery and the clothes as well as the menu are nothing short of exquisite.
So here is Moses. Exhausted from his sojourn to Israel and the burden of leadership. G-d has just placed another load on his overextended plate. He knows he won’t be a priest in the temple, he won’t even get to walk into Israel. But G-d has decided that he will become the dressmaker, the interior designer, and the protocol manager and that it is all on his shoulders. This is a ginormous job for which he will get no credit and expects none. He doesn’t care. He loves his community and knows that the end point, the ideal is freedom.
The ideal is freedom for all – not for a fleeting sense of accomplishment or recognition. Freedom fuelled his will to go on.
You see, when Moses was taking orders about how the priests should dress and how the rituals should be addressed he was doing so like a patient waiter at a table. He made note of how the Mishkan should be fashioned and he would deliver on the order. That was his job but it wasn’t necessarily his heart or his motivation.
The Mishkan for Moses was the Mishkan that held his heart – community and that dwelt within him and he dwelt within community.
Moses was a feminist. Actually. He listened to people. He took the counsel of women. After all…..women saved him. Look at the players: Shira and Puah refused Pharaoh’s order to kill off all the first born Hebrew males. Yocheved who floated him down the Nile to safety as Moses’ sister Miriam watched from afar. The Pharaoh’s own daughter received him and knew from his cry that he was a Hebrew and sent for a wet nurse to feed him. The wet nurse was none other than Yocheved. So, Moses was received, sustained and loved by women who were the daughters of the enemy – the enemy on both sides.
Pharaoh’s daughter was referred to as Batya- the daughter of God!
Zipporah, the wife of Moses was another foreigner from Midian. At a point on the journey from Midian back to Egypt in preparation to carry out God’s plan, Moses stopped at an Inn. Zipporah and the kids Gershom and Eliezer waited (not in the car). Moses had a lot on his mind.
The Talmud explains: He had two commandments to worry about. The first was to heed the word of God and save the entire nation. The other he saw as more parochial: the circumcision of his own son. Wrong.
The Talmud makes the point that when he was in proximity to Egypt, he could have performed the procedure, but instead, he was busy with lodging arrangements. God got really really mad and it isn’t quite clear if he threatened to kill Moses or Gershon because God only referred to killing ‘him.’
But Zipporah knew what was up. She used a sharp stone and circumcised Gershon to save their lives. She knew they were in deep danger and she had the solution. She acted. She knew that the Mishkan wasn’t a permanent place. It wasn’t a place you arrived at and rested. Mishkan is a process. It is a process that is never complete. Holiness doesn’t exist in stasis. We don’t arrive there and declare holiness. That’s the problem right? That’s why the temple ultimately was destroyed and never rebuilt. We are constantly engaged in the struggle to be holier than thou.
International Women’s Day isn’t a fuzzy warm day where we celebrate the women in our lives. That’s Mother’s day and Valentine’s day which are both commercial holidays. International Women’s Day defines struggle. Women have struggled, fought and lost their lives in the pursuit of the mishkan - In pursuit of freedom.
Ordinary women – my mother Jane, who worked in a factory and stood on concrete for 37 years to make half as much as a male doing the same job. Ellen Greenblatt’s mom – Thelma of blessed memory, who was a seamstress and had a goal to see her kids go to university – kids who became a doctor, a lawyer and a business person. Myra’ s mom Rosalind who owned a grocery store alone and raised 4 children on her own. Rabbi Elyse’s mom Terry, who broke through the male ranks of the reform movement to become a beloved role model to young people in the fight for social justice. These women, as well as women in Russia and Europe who fought for revolution and that revolution was for a holy new beginning of freedom and prosperity for women and all people. These women all did the work that Zipporah knew was essential for holiness.
We are being tested. We are being called to action. We must be united as mothers, sisters, daughters. This isn’t a time for choice, this is a time where we must move forward. We are facing a time of profound danger and we recognize this as did Zipporah and Shifra and Puah. This is a time to wear our hearts on our sleeves to show compassion and mercy to those who are treated as others as strangers …. for we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. This is a time to walk forward to build a nation – no more and no less than when God addressed Moses directly. We know our instructions. We know what we must do.
We are being called to stand in defiance and lend ourselves as shields to those who would be harmed and to circle them and receive them with light and love.
We are being called to rebellion through writing, through demonstrations and court actions. The Babylonian Talmud Sotah 11b tells us that:
"Rabbi Avira taught: It was only because of the merit of righteous women who lived in that same generation that Israel was redeemed from Egypt."
And this holds true for us today. Women have stepped up to the plate for centuries and we are doing that today. Millions of women have turned out to march against the current fascism spouted by Trump and his pals whom have invoked the ire of women in the United States and throughout the world.
It is the women that will wage war on those that would seek to destroy our freedom and generosity of spirit. It is women who patiently carry out the day to day tasks of home and community while at the same time knowing, intuiting and resisting.
The Ari, (Isaac Luria, Jewish mystic of 16th -century father of Kabbalah”) teaches: "The future redemption will follow the pattern of the Exodus, and will come as a result of the merit of the righteous women of that generation…"
Sojourner Truth, African American feminist said it best:
If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these together ought to be able to turn it back and get it right side up again
So, sisters and brothers, I ask you today, this International Women’s Day Shabbes. Take this Parsha with you. Stand it on its head. Give it a little shake and be in awe of what we can accomplish together. The description of what and how is not really this Parsha, it is the whom. It will take all of us together, a people who recognize that the word feminism isn’t an epithet, a people who aren’t afraid of equality. A people that understand difference without insisting on a normative model. It is in every one of us to be the change.
Hallelujah. Hallelujah. Hallelujah. We can BE the change.