COUNTING THE COMMANDS.
Enshrined in the name of the sidra is the verb “tz-v-h”, to command. Everyone knows the noun “mitzvah” which derives from this verb. (Even those who claim to know no Hebrew actually are aware of a bevy of Hebrew words, beginning with “shalom” and covering a host of ideas, insights, attitudes and occasions.)
Basically mitzvah means commandment, and there are 613 of them. Why do we need so many? One answer is given by the medieval philosopher Joseph Albo, author of the Ikkarim, who says that in theory a person could earn the life of the world to come by doing just one mitzvah, but it would have to be a really quality mitzvah performed in a truly quality manner.
On the other hand, when the Talmud says (Makkot 23b) that Moses received not one but 613 commandments from God, it is because every moment of every day provides an opportunity for an act of love for God. “You shall love the Lord your God”, says the core text of Judaism, the Sh’ma; the mitzvah-conscious Jew says, “Every mitzvah I do is a love-letter to God”.
LEAVING MOSES OUT
This is the only section of the whole Book of Sh’mot which leaves out the name of Moses, and we want to know why.
Coincidence? Surely nothing in the Torah is coincidence. Everything is deliberate. Everything has a purpose.
Punishment for Moses? It’s true that he committed a sin or two, but where do we find evidence of misdeeds in this sidra?
Intentional? It must be. But why?
There are quite a number of well known explanations (a possibility is Moses’ own words in Ex. 32:32). One explanation which is not often discussed links up with the fact that there are parts of Tanach where God Himself is not mentioned. The most famous example is the Book of Esther. Another book without the Divine name is Shir HaShirim, where God is not mentioned though there is an allusion to him in a passage about a flame which is so powerful that it seems cosmic or Divine in its force.
If we ask why God is left out of the M’gillah, can we find an answer that also helps to explain why Moses is left out of Parashat T’tzavveh?
It could be that in ancient Persia, the setting of the Esther story, and in whatever happens in life, God is present and in charge even if He is not explicitly mentioned. In T’tzavveh we could say that Moses’ omission shows that in Israelite history, in the entire Torah, and in Judaism as a whole, the influence of Moses is ever-present even if he is not named.
SCARLET IS ORANGE
It is a colourful sidra, not by reason of dramatic events but because it lists a spectrum of colours used in making the high priest’s garments, the Ark covering and other appurtenances used in the Tabernacle.
One of the most common colours is “tola’at shani” (e.g. Ex. 28:6). The translations render the Hebrew as “scarlet”. The first of the two Hebrew words, “tola’at”, means a worm, which must be an indication of the source of the colour. The Brown, Driver and Briggs lexicon identifies it as “coccus ilicis yielding scarlet colour” (p. 1069).
A researcher at Bar Ilan University reported that he had worked out exactly what it was. As reported by Arutz Sheva News Service, 30 December, 2002, Dr Zohar Amar of Bar Ilan’s Department of Land of Israel Studies, says:
“‘Shani’ is one of the most valued colouring materials of the ancient world, often mentioned in the Bible together with the more familiar ‘t’chelet’ (blue) and ‘argaman’ (purple), (but) we never knew what it was. It was thought that it was some kind of coccid from outside the Land of Israel, but we have now shown that it is made from something commonly found in the Land of Israel, right under our noses.”
Dr Amar says he has extracted the colour from a coccid (scale insect) he discovered in N’vei Tzuf in south-western Shomron. He learned from medieval Arab manuscripts that they would harvest the coccids at the right time, dry them and boil them up with certain other materials.
From this procedure he found that the “shani” was orange, not scarlet. This accorded with what was said by Josephus, who described the “shani” in the Temple and said its colour symbolised fire, which is orange, not red as commonly thought. Dr Amar is understandably excited that his work has solved a Biblical problem after 2000 years.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, and was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesperson for Jews and Judaism on the Australian continent. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.