Running On Empty
"They shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination, to kindle the lamp continually." (27:20)
When we look at the world around us it’s easy to become despondent. For the most part the world seems to be a very unspiritual place. Rampant materialism and physical pleasures seem to be the dominant messages of our society. The Jewish People, who brought the idea of love and the rights of man to the world, are relegated to the backwaters of spirituality. A Jewish spiritual seeker nowadays is more likely to travel to Katmandu than to Bnei Brak. And Jerusalem is seen as a subject for dissection on the operating table of nationalism rather than the world capital of spirituality.
For all the material benefits that our modern society affords, we grow spiritually more bereft from year to year. Our hope that G-d will send us very soon the redeemer that He has promised us seems so far removed from our lives as to be almost like a dream.
And yet, against all the neon noise of anti-spirituality, a little glimmer of hope has never been extinguished from our hearts.
In the days of the Holy Temple, every evening the kohanim would refill the lamps of the Menorah. Even though the summer nights were much shorter than the long nights of winter, the kohanim always poured the same amount of oil into the lamps. Thus, during the summer months they would return in the morning to find oil still left in the Menorah.
One of the Menorah’s lamps was quite unusual. Its name was the Ner Ma’aravi - the Western Light. The Ner Ma’aravi received no more oil than its fellows, and yet, even after the longest nights of winter, the kohen would return in the morning to find it still burning. That evening he would rekindle the other lamps from the Ner Ma’aravi. In fact, there is an opinion that the Ner Ma’aravi was lit but once a year.
The miracle of the Ner Ma’aravi was a sign that the Divine Presence dwelled amongst the Jewish People. It continued to burn until the Kohen Hagadol, Shimon HaTzaddik, passed from this world.
One year, the olive harvest in Eretz Yisrael was extremely meager and there was but a tiny fraction of the oil needed to kindle the lights of the Menorah. The kohanim wept, taking this deficiency to be sign of Divine displeasure. However, instead of the lamps spluttering into darkness in the middle of the winter nights, G-d made an even bigger miracle. Not only did the Ner Ma’aravi burn throughout the night, but it was joined by the other six lamps as well, and they all burned brightly throughout the night with a totally insufficient amount of oil.
The Jewish People are like the lamps of the Menorah - running on empty but still burning with a quiet powerful flame.
G-d sent us into exile some two thousand years ago. His displeasure was well-deserved, as a reading of prophets like Yirmiyahu so clearly portrays. Even though we have eaten the bitter harvest of exile these two thousand years, G-d has performed a miracle unparalleled in the history of Mankind, for the light of the Jewish survival still burns miraculously in a world which gets darker daily.