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Parshat Tetzaveh - 5765

We learn in the Midrash: "You provide light for the entire world and yet You command to have a lamp burn continually! We see light through Your light and You say to light lamps! Said Rabbi Meir: Hakadosh Baruch Hu said, 'The lights that Aharon lights are more cherished by me than the lights I have fixed in heaven" (Tanchuma, Tetsaveh, 2).


The lights in the Mikdash are not there to provide light for Hakadosh Baruch Hu, as He provides light for the entire world and fixed the lights in Heaven, so He certainly has no need of the menorah's lights. This truthful understanding can lead to a loss of motivation in the service of Hashem, as it is naturally difficult for man to undertake and perform actions that entail no changes, no spiritual or physical novelties. Yet a reflection on the Midrash reveals that man's actions do possess the power of renewal, for Hakadosh Baruch Hu states that the lamps that Aharon lights are more cherished by Him than the lights He has fixed in heaven. If so, new lights are revealed through the lamps, which are not seen via the natural lights. However, the opposite concern is also present – that a person might feel that through his actions he, G-d forbid, influences and has an effect on Hakadosh Baruch Hu, since through his actions he adds light and abundance. Therefore the Midrash teaches us that Hakadosh Baruch Hu has no need of the menorah's lights. We learn from these two aspects that the performance of mitzvot indeed has an effect on the world, not as a result of our voluntary efforts, however, but rather as obligations and Divine commands. This is the plain meaning of the pasuk that opens our parsha, "And you shall command the children of Israel, that they bring to you pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually" (Shemot, xxvii, 20). On the one hand the Torah commands us, yet on the other hand it emphasizes that it is "to you," meaning for us rather than for Hakadosh Baruch Hu. The menorah expresses man's toil, as opposed to the Aron, which is the vessel that receives the Torah and forms the foundation and basis to the service of the menorah, for we must first listen, accept and nullify our selves before the appearance of the Torah, and only thus can we continue with our service. Therefore, it is by the menorah that the Torah emphasizes these two aspects, for when they are harmoniously connected we truly serve Hashem.


The Midrash Rabbah (36:1) comments on the verse "a leafy olive-tree, fair with good fruit, has Hashem called your name" (Yirmiyahu xi, 16): "Were Israel only called an olive? Were not Israel also likened to all sorts of pleasant and fine trees? Rather, just as the olive is crushed while still on the tree and is then lowered from the olive-tree and beaten, and after it is beaten it is carried up to the press and placed in a grinder and ground and is then wrapped in ropes, and stones are brought and finally it gives out its oil, so with Israel – idol worshippers come and beat them from place to place, capture them and enslave them in chains and surround them with warriors, and then they repent and Hakadosh Baruch Hu answers them." According to the Midrash, the olive symbolizes the process of servitude that every person of Israel, as well as the people as a whole, undergoes. Many actions are necessary, both from within us as well as from outside things, in order that we can discover the oil that is inside us, through which we can bring light to us and to the world as a whole. We may not rely on the pure Divine strength imprinted in us as part of our very creation, but rather our own efforts are required. Yet the entire process is to no purpose if the pure oil is not found inside us, as the underpinning of our creation. The Midrash continues: "Another interpretation – why did Yirmiyahu compare our fathers to the olive-tree? Because all liquids mingle with each other, except for oil, which stands firm and does not mingle. Thus, Israel does not mingle with idol worshippers. Another interpretation – with all other liquids, a person mixes them and does not know which is below and which on top, but with oil, even if you mix it with all the liquids in the world, it remains above them. Likewise, our fathers, when they fulfill Hashem's desire, stand above the idol worshippers."

This Midrash also teaches us that the basis of the Israelite nation is different, and therefore does not mingle with the other nations. Our function is to light the light of Hashem in the world and that is why we were chosen to be Hashem's people. Yet in order that the world should be willing to accept the light from us we must be above (like the oil); this, however, is dependant on our actions. This is why the Midrash says that when we fulfill Hashem's desire we stand high.


According to the Midrash it is clear why the Torah emphasizes the olive oil here, as it teaches us how to realize the Divine strength inside us, through which we will be able to fulfill our purpose. This is the purpose of the service of the Mikdash, prominently expressed through the lighting of the olive oil in the menorah, and therefore at the beginning of the commands regarding the Mishkan the Torah already emphasizes the complete purpose. The Gemara in Shabbat (21a) states: "Rami bar Chamma taught – those wicks and oils that the sages prohibited for lighting for Shabbat may also not be used for lighting in the Mikdash, as it says 'to cause a lamp to burn continually' (Shemot, xxvii, 20), that the flame should rise of its own accord and not through anything else." The wick and oil symbolize the body and the mind. The oil is supposed to be smoothly attracted to the wick, and the wick is supposed to of a variety that its fire burns smoothly. The same is true of the life of man. In order that wisdom should be permanently joined to the crude, physical body it must be appropriately purified so that its fire should not flicker but rather stay steady. This is the purpose of Shabbat and its rest, to bring it about that a person's bodily tendencies should lean towards a connection with holiness and Divine justice. Yet the mind must also have a favorable influence on the life of the body, unlike those overly-clever people, who continue to behave as they see fit, despite all their sharpness and knowledge. Thus the oil must be attracted to the wick. In this manner a person will live a perfect and harmonious private life. What is true of the individual is also true of the community – the nation must refine its life on this earth and connect it to the mind, while the nation's education should not remain at the level of wonderful theories and ivory towers but must affect the life of the nation at each and every moment. Therefore, just as there are wicks and oils that may not be used for lighting for Shabbat, i.e. the individual is required to live a complete life through both body and mind, so they may not be used for lighting in the Mikdash, in the life of the nation. Since this kind of life appears impossible, like an impractical, pure theory, the Gemara continues by saying: "'to cause a lamp to burn continually', that the flame should rise of its own accord and not through anything else," meaning that in the depths of the individual Israelite's soul, as well as that of the entire people, a pure strength exists, capable of connecting the wick to the oil. Then the flame will rise of its own accord, from itself, as we will have revealed our inner side, and then it will be permanent and not cease "to cause a lamp to burn continually" (see the Ein Ayah concerning this). This is undoubtedly a lofty level, and in order to reach it we are in need of many preparations and much effort. As is well known, they would dress the lamps, meaning "they would clean the menorah's containers from the remainders of the wick that burned during the night, and he would dress them each and every morning" (Rashi, xxx, 7). Rav Kook (Olat Re'iyah I, p. 138) explains that "the dressing of the lamps forms a preparation for the influence of wisdom, and comes from the holiness of the lamps in the south; and the preparation comes from a source which is nobler and loftier than the wisdom." In order to receive the Torah in its revealed and practical form, one must connect to the loftier foundation, to the general soul of the Torah, and through this to fulfill it in practice. This is how it was with Moshe Rabbeinu who ascended to Mt. Sinai; he went up to accept the Torah from its roots and through this he brought it down to us with its generalities and particularities. Therefore, at the beginning of the appearance of the Divine light, i.e. at the beginning of the day, the lights are dressed. Morning reveals the original Divine light that is not dependent on the actions of man, yet the lighting of the lamps is at "bein ha'arbayim," meaning towards evening, when the original appearance is withdrawn and man begins to light lamps himself, yet with the purpose of connecting it to Hashem's light.


At the conclusion of our parsha the Torah commands us regarding the Altar of incense, and links the burning of the incense to the menorah: "And Aharon shall burn on it incense of sweet spices; every morning, when he dresses the lamps, he shall burn it. And when Aharon lights the lamps at dusk, he shall burn it, a continual incense before Hashem throughout your generations" (xxx, 7-8). The incense [ketoret], which connects [mekasheret] (keter=kesher) and raises all that has been separated and lowered back to the single Divine source, functions in parallel to the dressing and lighting of the lamps. In order that the learning of the Torah (expressed through lighting) should be connected to the foundation of wisdom (expressed through the dressing) assistance is required from the special function of the incense, and then one can live permanently in this manner. Therefore the Torah uses the word "continual" [tamid] both by the menorah and the incense.


It is interesting that in-between the "continual" of the menorah that opens our parsha and the "continual" of the incense that closes it, the command regarding the offering of the korban tamid [daily offering] appears. The chapters dealing with the Mishkan do not include the sacrifices, which appear in the Book of Vayikra. If so, why does the command regarding the korban tamid appear in our parsha? The Torah says, "The one lamb you shall offer in the morning; and the other lamb you shall offer at dusk" (xxix, 39). With this the Torah teaches us that the sacrifice must be linked to the morning and the evening (as we learned regarding the menorah and the incense). "The morning tamid is closer to the inner fountain of the appearance of the Torah, whereas the evening tamid is closer to the imprint of nature – 'lift your eyes up heavenwards and see who created these,' for the viewing of distances comes at night through the stars, and the beauty of creation in the multitude of its hosts is revealed particularly at night" (based on Olat Re'iyah I, p.120). We learn from this the obligation to connect ourselves to the general foundation and through this to reveal it in practice in the actuality of our lives – this is our function and the purpose of the service in the Mikdash. The Torah, therefore, linked the command regarding the korban tamid to the menorah and the incense, as all three of them teach us this essential principle.


Upon our return to the land we are required to achieve the complete service of Hashem, which connects the basis to the actual appearances of things. Sometimes, however, we require the beatings of the nations to purify the oil that lights (as we learned in the Midrash Rabbah). Yet the more we understand our purpose and act to realize it, we will merit that the light which lights up (=menorah) will be continual and the offerings (=korban) will be continual in a complete and fixed connection (=ketoret, incense).

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