It Takes a Village: The Music of a Community


safranBy Rabbi Eliyahu Safran

In Mary Poppins, we are introduced to Dick van Dyke’s character, Bert, when he is performing as a “one-man band.”  It is fascinating, watching how he plays drums, percussion, accordion, brass… all together and creating a.. a what?  Music?  Noise?  A mere cacophony of sound.

One could be forgiven for concluding that Bert’s “music” is little more than a curiosity, a childlike fascination not worthy of our deeper consideration.  Why then might we be interested in this image of the quintessential one-man band?  I would suggest, with the greatest humility and qualification – l’havdil! – that our Bert can provide insight into our understanding of Parashat Tetzaveh.

Tetzaveh begins with the words, “And you shall command the children of Israel” – a directive to Moses to rally k’lal Yisrael to bring everything necessary to properly maintain the Menorah. In addition, he is to instruct the “wise-hearted” to prepare the vestments for Aaron the Kohen.

This language is familiar to us.  Throughout the Torah, we read this formula over and over.  “You shall command the children of Israel…”.  However, as the Parasha proceeds, there is a subtle and profound change in the format God uses in instructing Moshe.

Rather than the comfortable and familiar format, we read, “And you shall make a Meno­rah…”, “and you shall make a Shulchan, and the Mishkan shall you make.”

Mah pitom?  What has happened?  No longer is Moshe to command the children of Israel but instead he is personally commanded to the task.  Are we really to believe that it was no longer a communal task to build the Mishkan?

Clearly not!  To understand fully the context of this change in format, Midrash Hagadol refers back to the first pasuk of the parasha.  “V’ata tetzaveh…” – and you shall command the children of Israel “…veyikchu…” – that they shall bring.  (emphasis, mine)   There is no question that, throughout, it is Moshe’s responsibility to command, instruct, and guide while it is Israel’s task to hearken and do.

This “global” command is very likely the reason that Moshe’s name remains unmentioned throughout the Parasha.  God forbid that the Torah create the false impression that Moshe is a “one-man band” and that the re­sponsibility of creating and maintaining a sanctuary are placed only upon his shoulders.  Such a task and responsibility must be shared by the entire community of Israel.

Rav Ovadya Yosef zt’l made a wry observation that when Moshe stands before God and pleads on behalf of the people, that if God will not forgive the nation after the Golden Calf, then He should, “wipe me out of the book (sifrecha) that You wrote.” (Shemot 32:32)   While the people were ultimately forgiven, Moshe’s words were not erased or forgotten. He was erased from Tetzaveh.  Why?  As Rav Ovadya explained, sifrecha can be read not only as “the book you wrote” but also “book 20”.  That is, Moses pleads to be erased from the 20th book – Parashat Tetzaveh!

Kol hakavod for such a creative and clever drash about why Moshe isn’t mentioned but I would argue that, more importantly, Moseh should not be mentioned in this Parasha!

* * *

There are so many who believe that power should be in the hands of the powerful, in the hands of the leaders of the community.  Indeed, there are cynics and religiously uninitiated Jews who believe that the tasks and responsibilities of Mikdash and Kedusha are the domain of religious leaders and rabbis.  Such people point to the change in command formula and remain intentionally blind to first pasuk of the Parasha, where Moshe is told to command the community.

Yes, these people cry out to their leaders, like Moshe, “you make, you do, you be responsible!”  These “modern” Jews are happy to duck responsibility for their Jewishness by foisting upon their rabbis the responsibility of carrying the reli­gious burdens of praying, learning, and observing mitzvoth. They feel religiously comfortable and relaxed when their rabbi “conducts services,” and officiates at religious events even as they sit, passively looking on.

The cynics might embrace such a view but the Torah gives them no quarter to justify it.  Veata tetzaveh – your job, Moshe, is to teach and in­spire, nudge and prompt the community. The community’s job is to generously respond – veyikchu ­– to fully coop­erate and participate.

The cynics protest.  They read these words and feel only the onus of the communities’ burden.  “What is left for the leaders to do?” they want to know.  “The people bring, do, labor.  And the leaders?  They merely ‘lead’.  How difficult can that be?”

* * *

There was once a poor, simple man who had been befriended by a wealthy man, a man enamored by music and who, true to his love, maintained a private orchestra.  One day, the simple man approached his benefactor and requested a position in the orchestra.

“Why, I had no idea you could play an instrument!” the wealthy man exclaimed, truly astonished.

“Oh, I can’t,” the man explained.  “But I see you have a man there who does nothing but wave a stick around while the others work hard, making music.  His job I can handle.”

How many people feel the same about their leaders?  They do nothing more than “wave a stick around” while it is the members of the community who labor.

But what of those who do nothing but “save a stick”?  What of the leaders?

There was a famous conductor who was rehearsing a great symphony orchestra when he suddenly stopped in the midst of a fortissimo passage, rapped on his stand and looked at his hundred and fifty skilled performance.

“Where is the piccolo?”

In the roar of glorious music, the piccolo player had missed his entry.  Only the trained ear of the conductor had noticed its absence.

So too the trained and seasoned leader is attuned to the role and mission of every member of the community. It is only when everyone plays together, closely watching and following the leader’s beat, and when the leader is aware of every person, that we have a perfect community.

Only the fool believes that it is possible to be a one-man band, conductor and musician at once.

* * *

Just as it is wrong for the cynic to foist responsibility only on the leader, it is wrong for the leader to assume that only he is capable.  Moshe could have said, “I can do all this by myself.  I can handle it.”  But no true leader – or teacher or parent – would take such a position.  To do so is to miss the dynamic and trusting relationship between leader and community, replacing it with a negative sense of dependence and passivity.

The piccolo player is vital – even amidst the ferocity of a fortissimo passage!  The great symphony of life is best served when every member of the community plays his and her role – from leader to most modest member.

No member of the community should ever feel unneeded.  No leader should ever feel that he is capable of moving forward without the community.  Every rabbi and every rebbe must indeed feel and communicate their inner need for every member of the community, of the team in order to create the best community.

Certainly Moshe is our ideal leader.  So then why was he not mentioned in Tetzaveh? Because in his pleading he told HaShem to wipe him out of His Book if He does not forgive?  For his total commitment and mesirus nefesh for Klal Yisrael?

R’ Shimon Sofer suggests that, in fact, Moshe was not punished at all by being excluded. In fact, he was rewarded for his selfless willingness to sacrifice on behalf of the community. God rewarded him with the honor and prestige to be the one and only individual throughout the parasha to communicate all that Bnai Yisrael needed to know and do.

Moshe was given full charge in this parasha.  He is the one and only “tetzaveh”, the one and only conductor.  Without him, nothing would happen.  Not a note would be played, not a piece of music accomplished.

The Toldos Yaakov Yosef notes that the word “tetzaveh” is connected to the word tzavtha – togetherness, chavershaft.  Only when a leader forges an unshakeable connection and chavershaft with his people can there be true growth and development.  When he fully identifies with all of the community’s needs, is there tetzaveh /tzavtha.

Only when Moshe and the community attend  to their responsi­bility is a sanctuary built where God can com­fortably reside.

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