Thursday, February 17, 2011


After Klal Yisrael sinned by creating the Golden Calf, Moshe Rabeinu ascended Har Sinai with the mission of finding forgiveness for this nation from Hashem. In his plea, Moshe requests that if Hashem refuses to forgive Klal Yisrael then Moshe should be “erased from the book that Hashem has written.” Hashem responds by saying that it is not Moshe who has sinned and it is not he who deserves to be erased.(See Shemos 32:32-33)

The commentators offer their understanding as to what book Moshe was mentioning. While one understanding is that this book is a reference to the Torah, the Ibn Ezra offers another possibility. He suggests that this “book” is actually a reference to the stars. All of life and the various forces of nature that affect life are encoded in the stars. Essentially, the sky acts as the bridge between the physical and metaphysical realm. Everything that occurs on this planet originates from the heavenly realm, passes through the realm of the stars and is then showered upon this planet. The stars are thus called “Hashem’s book” since all of life is “written” into them; their movements and position reflect that which is happening on Earth. Moshe’s request was for the representation of the forces that affect him to be erased from this book, meaning he was asking to die if Hashem was not going to forgive Klal Yisrael. (Ibn Ezra Shemos 32:32; also see Ramban and Rabbeinu Bachye Shemos 32:32)

Although Hashem did, in fact, forgive Klal Yisrael, we are taught that because of Moshe’s tremendous stature that his request could not be completely denied. According to the understanding that it was the Torah from which Moshe was requesting to be erased from, this erasure is found in Parshas Tetzaveh. Starting from Shemos when the Torah first discusses his birth, Tetzaveh is the only Parsha that does not contain Moshe’s name in it. (See above comentaries) The question one can ask is how then was this request seen in accordance with the understanding that Moshe was requesting erasure from the book of stars?

I find the following parallels very telling and based on them would like to offer some suggestions. When one simply counts the amount of Parshiyos that exist from Shemos, the first in which Moshe is mentioned, through the end one will find there to be thirty-six Parshiyos. Thus, Moshe’s name can be found in thrity-five of the thirty-six Parshiyos. (The Parshiyos were added by considering all double Parshiyos that can be read as such in Eretz Yisrael as one Parsha).

When Moshe asks Hashem to erase him he says that it should be done from "ספרך" “your book”. The numerical value of this word is 360. Since ancient times it has been recognized that all the stars occupy an area of 360 degrees and this number reflects a spiritual understanding of the stars themselves. (See Ibn Ezra Reishis Chachama 1) The sky above the horizon is 180 degrees and then that which is below the ground adds the other 180. If we take a ratio of 36:360 which represents the total of Parshiyos to the total degrees in the sky then we should expect Moshe to be erased from 10 degrees in the sky because our ratio would equal 1:10.

When Hashem responds to Moshe he says, “מי אשר חטא לי אמחנו מספרי” “Who is it that has sinned that I should erase him from My book.” The book is now called as “My” book as opposed to “Your” book since it is now Hashem’s response and from His perspective. As mentioned before, ספרך, had a value of 360, but ספרי has only a value of 350. The מ at the beginning of these words connotes to take from. Perhaps Hashem when saying, “מי”, which literally means “who”, was also meant to be taken as “from י”. Meaning that Hashem was going to take י, whose numerical value is 10, from ספרך which equals 360. The result is ספרי which equals 350. Thus, our ratio from above 36:360 = 35:350. Just like 35/36 of the Parshiyos have Moshe in them and he was erased from 1/36, so too, 350/360 of the degrees of the sky have Moshe expressed and 10/360 do not.

We find the Chazal compare Moshe to the sun and his disciple Yehoshua to the moon. (Bava Basra 75a) The moon receives its light from the sun just like a disciple receives his Torah knowledge from his rebbi. When the moon or the planets are too close in the sky to the sun then they cannot be seen because they are washed out by the massive daylight and we cannot see them with our eyes. The moon is the brightest object in the sky, after the sun, but even the moon needs to have some distance from the sun in order for our eyes to see the reflected light. Although it is theoretically possible to see this when the moon is just under 7 degrees from the sun when there are abnormally good seeing conditions, practically it is only seen when the moon is about 10 degrees from the sun. Part of what displays the sun’s greatness is that it is able to “give” from its light and reflect off the other planets and the moon. This cannot occur when the moon is too close. This element of the sun’s light is “erased” from 10 degrees of space in the sky since the planets, and even the moon, cannot be seen that close to it. Perhaps, this is a representation of Moshe being erased in the sky. It is interesting to note that Moshe was pleading on behalf of a nation of his disciples who did not live up to the standards he had left for them. His countenance was not reflecting on them in the way he wanted it to and this is comparable to the moon’s inability to reflect the countenance of the sun when it is too close. (Also see Rashi Shemos 32:32-33)

Another possibility could also have to do with the moon and its apparent position relative to the sun. Throughout the year the sun appears to move from one area of the stellar background to another. The path it takes is called the ecliptic. The moon always stays relatively close to the ecliptic, as well. The moon will always be within approximately 5 degrees north or south of the ecliptic (it can be as much as 180 degrees east or west of the position of the sun on the ecliptic which is why the moon can be many more than just 5 degrees from the sun). We know that the sun is considered to be the ruler of daytime and the moon of the nighttime. (See Bereishis 1:16) Perhaps the erasure of Moshe, compared to the sun, is seen that his competing counterpart has ten degrees through which it can move while the sun always stays directly on the ecliptic. I must say, though, that both of these are only theories and I would love to hear if anyone has any other suggestion. I definitely feel more partial to the first of these two suggestions.


Anonymous said...

But there are other parshiot that do not contain Moshe's name? I.e. Shoftim, Ki Teitzei?

Ari S. said...

Firstly let me thank you for pointing that out. Rabbeinu Bachye mentions that Moshe was erased from only one parsha, Tetzaveh. Obviously, Rabbeinu Bachye did not miss something as clear as this (his work is clearly very comprehensive and it displays he was a master of Tanach and other sources, so something so blatant would not have been overlooked), but I do not know with certainty how he would respond (although I have a suggestion). The other parshiyos that do not mention Moshe's name do not appear to have had his name erased. They are recording mitzvos that he was stating to the people. Tetzaeh, on the other hand, has a directive from Hashem to Moshe, but does not mention his name. Instead a pronoun is used, "you" (at the beginning of the parsha). Perhaps, I should restate in my post that there are 36 parshiyos after Moshe is introduced where he has not been erased from. Thank you again.

Moshe P. said...

Forgive me for saying so, but this is what is known in the trade as a 'klutz kashya', because Rabbeinu Bachaye wrote that his name was erased, not just that his name is not mentioned, so that fact that his name does not appear in several other parshas is irrelevant.
A possible explanation as to how Moshe's name was erased from the parsha, is to say that since the beginning of parshas Ki Sisoh continues with the instructions of the Mishkan, it would have been reasonable for parshas Tetzaveh to include these posukim, which do mention Moshe's name. Thus erasure was achieved by moving the possible end of parshas Tetzaveh to where it is now.