Missing Names: Parashat T’tzaveh/Zakhor/Purim


Parashat T’tzaveh/Zakhor/Purim
Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

Their names are missing.

In our Torah reading for this Shabbat we have the only parashah, since the record of his birth in the first portion of the book of Exodus, and continuing to the very last verse of the Torah, in which Moses’ name is missing. He has played and will continue to play a central role in the week-by-week unfolding of the story of the Torah for the rest of the year. Except for this week, when his name will not be mentioned.

Immediately after Shabbat ends we begin the celebration of the holiday of Purim. This holiday, replete with peculiar characteristics, is marked by, among other things, the reading of a scroll. It is not the scroll of the Torah, but a kind of “anti-Torah” scroll, for it is missing the name of the most important figure in the entire Torah, eclipsing even Moses: God. God’s name is never mentioned in this scroll, which was a last-minute addition to our TaNaKh – our Holy Scriptures. Arguably, it is the sole book of the entire Bible that does not mention God’s name. It is a holy book, telling a story that inspired us to create a new holiday so that we could praise God as our Redeemer, but the Redeemer is never mentioned.

Our Torah portion is a dream spun out by God, Who imagines creating a perfect space of rendezvous between the Divine and the human. God’s sacred Presence will be fully manifest. And certain human beings – the priests – are to be clothed with special garments to transform them into God’s permanent servants, to behave in strictly prescribed rituals. The Purim megillah, on the other hand, is a raucous tale of imperfect human beings behaving in unpredictable ways. We see them partying and weeping, plotting and scheming, striving to do what is right or scheming to do what is wrong. God is nowhere to be found. Mordekhai, one of the “good guys,” is clothed with special garments, but only in order to honor him temporarily, as a kind of “king for a day.”

Where is Moses in our Torah portion? Moses is referred to in the very first word of our reading – “v’atah – and you…” Moses is the direct addressee of this Torah portion. As the Torah is being read we join Moses, who was the first person to hear these words uttered. As Moses listens, we listen, too. Moses leans forward in rapt attention. We alternate moods of curiosity and boredom, our ears piqued or slack, our minds in sharp focus or distracted.

Where is God in our megillah, our Purim scroll? This time the direct addressee is us. We may listen closely or drift away. We may follow every mention of “Haman” or lose our place. But, as we listen to the words of the megillah, is any One else joining us to listen along? Does the Holy Blessed One follow the twists and turns of our comedy-drama with shock or amusement? On Purim we may imagine that the Silent Anonymous Listener is sitting right beside us, hoping for a happy ending of our story.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim!
Rabbi David Greenstein

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