“And now, you shall command the Children of Israel...” (27:20)
It always amazes me how many people it takes to make a movie – all those names that roll down in the titles at the end.
There’s the “third assistant grip”. “Poodle manicure services by...” “Beers chilled by....” A vast and determined army has come together to create two and a half hours of armchair illusion.
And that’s only the end titles. The opening titles are usually a showbiz lawyer’s nightmare (or dream, really, when he bills his client).
Who goes first, the Director or the Star? Is it “Sheldon Shmendrick presents Rock Jaw” or should it be “Starring Rock Jaw in A Sheldon Shmendrick production”? What about the pecking order of the lesser actors? Is it “with Gilly Arayos” or should it be “featuring Gilly Arayos as Brenda.” And then of course there are the TV trailers and the print ads. Have you ever seen so many names in so many typefaces in so many different point sizes grace a piece of printed material as the average Hollywood blockbuster poster?
If Hollywoodis about anything, it’s about prestige. Or as it’s called in Hebrew — Kavod. Honor-seeking in Judaism is one of the things that “removes a person from this world”. It puts him into a non-real world where he becomes a legend in his own lunchtime. Kavod is something that a Jew runs a million miles from.
There’s a fascinating section of the Talmud which describes a conversation between the Almighty and Yerovam ben Navat. Yerovam was a Jewish King, a great and brilliant scholar, who was ultimately responsible for turning the Jewish People to idol worship. It was he who caused the division of the twelve tribes into the Kingdoms of Yisrael (the ‘ten tribes’) and Yehuda (the other two tribes). Those ten lost tribes, the vast majority of the Jewish People, are now vanished, invisible and lost to the Jewish People. That was Yerovam.
What can cause someone who was so great to fall so far? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 102a) gives us a telling insight into Yerovam's character:
Rabbi Abba said, “the Holy One, Blessed is He, grabbed Yerovam by his garment and said to him ‘Return to your former self and I and you and Ben Yishai (King David) will walk in Gan Eden’. He (Yerovam) said, ‘Who’s going to be at the head?’ ‘Ben Yishai will be at the head.’ ‘If so, I don’t want’.”
Why did Yerovam ask the Almighty who would be first? He already told him. G-d said “I and you and Ben Yishai will walk in Gan Eden.” He already told him that he would be first. If G-d put Yerovam ahead of King David, why then did Yerovam ask who would be at the head?
Yerovam wanted a billboard fifteen stories high with his name in lights. He wanted G-d to spell it out.
This was the granddaddy of disputes over billing. It wasn’t enough that he would go first. Yerovam wanted his billing locked into the contract.
If Kavod — seeking honor — is something so despicable and lowly, its reverse is the greatest treasure. Humility is the greatest prize that man can aspire to. The praise of the greatest Jew who ever lived was that he was the humblest of men. That man was Moshe, our teacher.
From his birth until Sefer Devarim (Deuteronomy), Moshe’s name appears in every Torah portion except one — this week’s parsha. The Vilna Gaon explains that Moshe died on the seventh of Adar. This date usually falls in the week of Parshat Tetzave. So just as Moshe was removed from this world during the date of this week, so too his name was ‘removed’ from the parsha of this week.
The words of the tzaddik can have a power beyond their immediate context. When G-d wanted to destroy the Jewish People after their infidelity with the golden calf (next week’s parsha), Moshe pleaded with G-d, saying “Erase me from your Book that you have written.” Moshe asked that he, rather than the Jewish People, should be eradicated. Even though Moshe spoke out of total self-sacrifice, nevertheless his words made an impression, and it is for this reason that his name was ‘erased’ from this week’s parsha.
The question remains however, why this week’s parsha? Moshe’s name could have been omitted from any of the other parshiot in the Torah. The answer is the G-d ‘delayed’ omitting Moshe from the Torah as long as He could, as it were. For next week’s parsha deals with the golden calf and Moshe will again make the statement “Erase me from your Book that you have written.” So this parsha was G-d’s last chance, so to speak, to leave out Moshe’s ‘billing’ from the Torah.
- Sources: Ba’al HaTurim, Nachal Kadmonim, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz