This week’s portion is entirely dedicated to the garments and consecration of the “Kohanim–Priests,” as well their service in the Tabernacle. Now there is something very interesting about this portion that may be missed by a quick glance through. Moses, prophet of God and leader of the Israelites is not mentioned once in this Parsha. From the beginning of Exodus until the very end of the book of Numbers, we find Moses, as Rabbi Sacks Z”TL would say, “centre-stage.” When we come to the book of Deuteronomy, we don’t necessarily read Moses’ name in every portion, but the entire book of Deuteronomy happens to be Moses’ recounting of the Exodus story from beginning to finish in the hearing of the Israelite nation. This leaves one asking, why out of all the portions in the Torah does Moses remain unnamed in this one? Perhaps it is because this portion is all about the role of the priests? The priesthood after all was given to Aaron and his sons, not to Moses. Yet, there are several portions dealing with the jobs of the priesthood, why is Moses left out of this specific portion?

The Vilna Gaon suggests that because “Tetzaveh (this portion) is [generally] read during the week in which the seventh day of the month of Adar falls: the day of Moses’ death…we sense the loss of the greatest leader in Jewish history – and his absence from Tetzaveh expresses that loss.” (Rabbi Sacks book: Covenant and Conversation) However, though this is an interesting idea and a quite reasonable one as well, I think there is something else interesting we must consider. In next week’s upcoming portion, Ki Tissa, we read an interesting plea made by Moses. In Exodus 32:32, after the sin of the golden calf, God, in His wrath, is ready to consume the entire Israelite nation. Moses pleads with God with these words, “forgive their sin—but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written.” Moses is literally offering his life in place of the Israelite nation if it would appease God’s wrath.

Now we know why Moses was chosen to lead the Israelites in their time through the wilderness experience. One can debate whether God’s threat was real or simply a test, but the selflessness of Moses is unquestionable. In Hebrew this idea is encased in the phrase “Mesirut Nefesh—Giving one’s Life.” Rabbi Riskin writes, “God responds to Moses’ pleas. But Moses’ selfless willingness for himself to be obliterated as long as his nation prevails, is eternalized by the fact that one portion of the Torah, Tetzaveh, the master prophet’s name is ‘missing in action.’” This leads me to believe; the reason Moses’ name is missing from this particular portion is to show the importance of the priesthood apart from Moses. The demarcation between the role of Prophet (Moses) and Priest (Aaron and his lineage) must be clarified once and for all time. This leads me to the topic I would like to write about for this week: the significance, difference, and circumstance in the roles of Priest versus Prophet.
Moses is eulogized at his death with the words, “since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face,” and “the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.” Moses was one of a kind. At the same time, Moses set the standard for every prophet who would ever come after him. Aaron on the other hand is mentioned in Pirkei Avot 1:12 as, “loving peace and pursuing peace.” Aaron set a high bar for the everlasting priesthood of his lineage. These two brothers set the standard for all those who would follow in their steps.The prophet and the priest, two completely different positions working in harmony to accomplish God’s will. Before we get into this though, I would like to quickly write about the hereditary priesthood.

As Dennis Prager writes in his commentary, “We believe in choosing leaders, hopefully based on their abilities and values, and not in individuals attaining positions of authority solely through birth.” This has become so ingrained in Western culture that even the idea of a Supreme Being can be off-putting to some. God was not elected in a Democratic process. Nobody chose to name God “King of kings and Lord of lords,” it just is. God did not put himself up for election the same reason He did not put the priesthood up for election. Can you imagine politicians running for a priestly position? For me it is hard to fathom a pure, incorrupt, righteous institution whenever political influence and affluence are added into the mix.

Again, in Dennis Prager’s commentary, writing concerning the hereditary priesthood, he notes, “…priests are to have no power. Their role is to serve to help the community come closer to God…by making the priesthood a hereditary institution…no one can buy or force his way into the priesthood…[lastly] priests do not have to worry about popularity. They never have to run for election…” A hereditary priesthood helps to stem the tide of corruption and power jostling within the community (Though a lot of this happened anyway in the era of the 2nd Temple). God set apart a specific family (Aaron’s) and tribe (the Levites) to serve in His house, not because they were better, rather, it was their position in God’s master plan. All of us have a place in God’s master plan. This is why the roles of priest and prophet are so important for us to understand.Rabbi Sacks Z”TL wrote an entire essay concerning the differences of the priest versus prophet, which I would like to refer/defer to in order to fully understand and comprehend the various distinctions between these two roles.

He wrote, “The task of the priest was not inherently personal or charismatic. The prophets, by contrast, each imparted their own personality.” Each priest was a connecting point between heaven and earth, each prophet was a vessel into which God could put His message. Each connecting point (priest) remained established in God’s service, each vessel (prophet) on the other hand, flavored God’s message slightly differently. The priests had a regimented system to uphold, the prophets on the other hand did not prophesy according to any one way. As is written in the Talmud, “prophetic vision…may appear to several prophets, but [no] two prophets [] prophesy employing one and the same style of expression.” (Sanhedrin 89a) Prophets prophesied according to their temperament and personality. But, “prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21) Rabbi Sack’s Z”TL brings up something interesting to note. He says, “the people of Israel were summoned to become a ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6) they were never called on to be a people of prophets (Moses did say, ‘Would that all God’s people were prophets,” [Numbers 11:29] but this was a wish, not a reality).”

Why would God want a people of priests as opposed to a nation of prophets? Again referring to Rabbi Sack’s commentary, he writes that a, “priest worked to sanctify nature, the prophet to respond to history. Thus the priest represents the principle of structure…while the prophet represents spontaneity.” God doesn’t need a spontaneous nation of unstructured responders to history. A handful of these are enough in every generation. God wants an ordered nation whose prepared purpose is dedicated to sanctifying the world around them.Yes, “God, [] at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets.” But today, most likely, each ancient prophet would be categorized as “God’s fool” and a “Jesus Freak.” They could almost be viewed as an outcast from society, even from a Godly society. The prophet is not a fortune/future teller. The prophet is the one who builds a fire under the people to get them moving. In other words, the prophet is not necessarily the most popular guy/gal on the block. But the prophet also has to realize that, as Television Reporter Bob Teague said, “Lighting a fire under someone will never be as effective as lighting a fire within someone.” 

A prophet’s calling is to be “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” This message makes many uncomfortable, that is the job of the prophet; they are not pleasers of men, they are seekers of God. As we see from this portion, the prophet must be willing to have one’s own name blotted out in order to save the stubborn nation they work within. They must be humble. Lastly, they must speak God’s will and not their own desires and wishes.In Modern Christianity a lot of emphasis has been put upon the idea of becoming a “prophet.” 

There are Prophecy “conferences, summits, meetings, groups, chats, studies, teachings and the like.” In fact, Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) even says in 1 Corinthians 14:5, “I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied…” Notice how I underlined the word “wish.” Moses “wished” the exact same thing in Numbers 11. But a wish is not a command. God specifically told the Israelite nation in Exodus 19, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This was the command, a nation of priests…not of prophets.
Why priests? The role of the priest was to be an intercessor, advocate, intermediary, and portal connecting heaven and earth. To the priest, the most important aspects of his service were “lehorot” and “lahavdil,” to teach and to distinguish (between the holy and the common). (Rabbi Sacks book: Covenant and Conversation) His was a job of faithful obedience to God and His Word. The priest’s job is to elevate the world around him. While a prophet calls people out for correction, a priest nurtures the seeds of Godliness within each individual. A prophet is generally for the exhortation and rebuke of an entire people, a priest is focused more on the personal attributes of an individual’s Godly life.How does this apply to us? God commands His people to be a “kingdom of priests,” Moses and Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) wish for all believers in God to be prophets.

One is a wish, the other a command. Fulfill the commandment! Strive to attain the heart of a priest. A priest is a servant of God and men. Yeshua Himself came as a servant. He clarified His purpose in Matthew 20 when He said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Also in 1 John 3:16 it says, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Our life is truly not our own!

We ought to use what we’ve been given to bring peace between the heavens and earth. Become an “inner priest,” one who pursues God and brings the world with them. Being in this submitted position allows God to use you prophetically in greater ways than you ever thought possible!“The Modern Bible scholar Jacob Milgrom makes the important point that the welfare of Israel depended on both Moses and Aaron. Moses served as the prophet, the sublime ethical voice conveying God’s word to the people, while Aaron served as the priest, the ritual leader responsible for helping people connect individually to God. Both are necessary for a meaningful religious life.” (Dennis Prager’s commentary on Exodus)Moses brought the Voice of God, Aaron brought the Action of God. I believe most of us have callings somewhere in the middle, between Moses and Aaron. Because, as Rabbi Sacks Z”TL writes so eloquently, “Moses lit the fire in the souls of the Jewish people, Aaron tended the flame and turned it into ‘an eternal light.’” What flames are you lighting and/or tending in the world today?

Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,

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