Shabbat Commentary

6/7  Mar: Shabbat Zachor : Shabbat comes in 5:35 pm, ends 6:38 pm

Parashat Tetzaveh (Zachor): The Presence of the Divine

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Tetzaveh, we are in the midst of the preparation of the Mishkan (the portable Temple of the wilderness). The aim of this endeavour is to bring the presence of God into the midst of the people. We turn this week to designing the beautiful, holy clothing of the people who dedicated their lives to serving in the Mishkan.

And it is also Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim. In an interesting contrast with the Torah portion, the Book of Esther is famous for being the only biblical book that does not mention God even once. God is not an active character in the story, and nobody talks about God. It is as Godless as possible, so to speak. Of course, there’s an assumption that God is present in the background of the story, pulling strings to ensure the survival of the Jewish people – however, the presence of the Divine remains subtle and unmentioned.

One of my favourite verses in the Book of Esther calls to mind the ritualistic adornments of the priests in the mishkan. This verse occurs in the turning point in the story – the point at which Queen Esther decides to reveal herself as a Jew in an attempt to save her people. The verse states that Esther ‘clothed herself in malkhut’ (Esther 5:1). There appears to be a word missing in this verse – she’s clothing herself in sovereignty, rather than in bigdei-malkhut, in ‘clothing of sovereignty’. Many commentators claim that this is simply a scribal error. However, according to Rabbi Ḥanina (Talmud Megillah 5a), the wording of the text is deliberate: in preparation for risking her life to save her people, Esther pulls the divine presence around herself. Esther clothes herself in the sovereignty of God.

Esther doesn’t have the ritual specificity of the Temple, and she doesn’t even appear to know how to call on God by name. But in this powerful scene, we see Esther decide that she’s not going in there alone. God will be there with her. Here, Esther acts as a model for faith – not that everything will be okay, but that we do not walk to our fate alone.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Natasha Mann














































































































































































































































































































































































So in terms of a punishment for the people of Noah’s time, the flood and the destruction of all living things does seem a bit extreme.  One of my rabbis, Rabbi Brad Artson argues, that is exactly the point the Torah is trying to make.


Destruction, even when it comes from the God who is “slow to anger and abounding in kindness” bursts beyond any manageable or fair limitations. Even punishments, originally intended to be measured and reasonable, provoke unanticipated suffering and hardship.


Rabbi Paul Arberman.


Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that Adam’s sin was primarily in hiding from God and from himself.  This is not, in Heschel’s eyes, an abstract idea; we all hide from God and from ourselves. Heschel expresses it thus in the third verse of his poem I and Thou:

” Often I glimpse Myself in everyone’s form,

hear My own speech – a distant, quiet voice – in people’s weeping,

as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden. ”

Heschel is describing a personal experience in which he has hidden from himelf, his essence absorbed within society.  His face is masked, hidden from view, making the idea to “know thyself” impossible.

I’m not sure why we hide from ourselves so well when we are young — or perhaps we just don’t take the time to think through who we are — but I can say definitively, that one of the great joys of getting older is the unmasking — getting to know yourself — what you actually enjoy or don’t enjoy doing.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman









March 5, 2020