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MY PEN IS LEAKING

by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

There is a perplexing Midrash on a passage at the end of this week's Torah portion, regarding the special radiant light which was upon Moses' face when he descended from Mt. Sinai carrying the two tablets (Exodus 34:29). The Midrash reads as follows:

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There is a perplexing Midrash on a passage at the end of this week's Torah portion, regarding the special radiant light which was upon Moses' face when he descended from Mt. Sinai carrying the two tablets (Exodus 34:29). The Midrash reads as follows:

For what did Moses merit the radiant light which emanated from his face? Rabbi Yehudah ben Nachman said that when Moses finished copying over the Torah there was extra ink remaining in his pen. That ink was wiped over his head producing the radiant light on his face.

After a cursory perusal of this passage, one may be left with several puzzling questions. First of all, what is the Midrash trying to teach us by saying that there was extra ink remaining in Moses' pen? Secondly, the question raised by the Midrash was not, "what was the source of the radiant light," but rather was, "for what did Moses merit the radiant light?" How does simply saying that there was extra ink in the pen answer the question at hand?

The Chanukas HaTorah, a great scholar of 19th century Europe, provides a beautiful explanation of the Midrash as follows: Earlier in this week's Torah portion, when Hashem wanted to destroy the Jewish people because of the sin of the Golden Calf, Hashem suggested that Moses would be the progenitor of Hashem's new Chosen People. As discussed by Benyamin Cohen in last week's issue of Torah from Dixie, Moses responded by saying to Hashem that if You decide to annihilate the rest of the Children of Israel then, "Wipe me out from Your book" (Exodus 32:32). Moses requested that his name should be removed completely from Hashem's Torah if the Children of Israel were to be destroyed. Even though Moses was eventually successful in his plea to Hashem that the entire nation should not be destroyed, Moses' name was removed from one Torah portion where he would have otherwise been mentioned. This is why his name does not appear anywhere in last week's Torah portion of Tetzaveh.

The ink which would have been used to write Moses' name in Parshat Tetzaveh remained in the pen and was left over when Moses completed the process of writing down the Torah. Hashem took that ink and wiped it on Moses' face, producing the radiant light. It was because of Moses' willingness to sacrifice his potentially elevated position, to be the sole progenitor of the Hashem's Chosen People, for the good of the Children of Israel, that there was extra ink remaining in the pen in the first place. The Midrash is teaching us that it was because of his self-sacrifice that Moses merited such a wondrous glory of having the radiant light on his face.

The Or Hachaim, the 18th century classic commentary by the Italian Kabbalist and Talmudic scholar Reb Chaim ben Attar, provides a different explanation of the Midrash. He understands that Moses merited the radiant light because of his extraordinary humility, as the Torah testifies in Numbers 12:3, "The man Moses was the most humble of all men." Upon copying those words from Hashem's dictation, Moses wrote the Hebrew word for "humble", anav, in its chaser (incomplete form) by omitting the letter yud. Moses wanted to limit the praise he would receive in the Torah, and he felt that writing about his humility in its complete form would represent a flaw in that humility. Therefore, when he completed writing over the Torah, there remained in his pen the ink which would have been used for that letter yud. Rabbi Yehudah ben Nachman was teaching us in the Midrash that it was because of Moses' incredible humility, represented by the remaining ink in his pen, that Hashem blessed Moses with the radiant light.

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Michael Alterman, who hails from Atlanta, is currently a sophomore at Yeshiva University in New York.

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