G-d tells Moshe to command the Jewish People to supply pure olive oil for the menorah in the Mishkan (Tent of Meeting). He also tells Moshe to organize the making of the bigdei kehuna (priestly garments): A breastplate, an ephod, a robe, a checkered tunic, a turban, a sash, a forehead-plate, and linen trousers. Upon their completion, Moshe is to perform a ceremony for seven days to consecrate Aharon and his sons. This includes offering sacrifices, dressing Aharon and his sons in their respective garments, and anointing Aharon with oil. G-d commands that every morning and afternoon a sheep be offered on the altar in the Mishkan. This offering should be accompanied by a meal-offering and libations of wine and oil. G-d commands that an altar for incense be built from acacia wood and covered with gold. Aharon and his descendants should burn incense on this altar every day.
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, its easy to become despondent. For the most part, the world seems to be a very unspiritual place. Rampant materialism and the pleasures of the flesh 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 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 Menorahs lamps was quite unusual. Its name was the ner maaravi the Western Light. The ner maaravi 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 maaravi. In fact, there is an opinion that the ner maaravi was lit but once a year.
The miracle of the ner maaravi was a sign that the Divine Presence dwelled amongst the Jewish People. It continued to burn until the Kohen Hagadol, Shimon HaTzadik, 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 as even bigger miracle: Not only did the ner maaravi 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 unparalled in the history of mankind, for the light of the Jewish survival still burns miraculously in a world which gets darker daily.
- Based on the Midrash