Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 16 February 2019 / 11 Adar I 5779

Parshat Tetzaveh

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Kindling the Light of Torah

The parsha opens with instructions to Moshe to command the people to take pure, pressed olive oil for light “to make light spring up continually.” Immediately following the details of the construction of the Mishkan we are instructed regarding the service of “tending to the lights.” This service precedes all other service in the Mishkan. Symbolically, this teaches that the enlightenment drawn from the Torah (the “kindling of the light”) precedes all practical observance of mitzvot. The details of this service teach much about how we are to kindle the light of Torah, and ensure its impassioned and accurate transmission throughout the generations.

Moshe is to command The children of Israel, and to collect the oil from the entire nation. Torah study is not reserved for the priestly caste, but is to be the concern of every Jew, of the entire nation. The “oil” of the entire nation is to be offered for the light of the Torah, and the Menorah symbolizes the tree of life of the national spirit, not of the priestly spirit. Indeed, while preparing the wicks and oil may be performed only by a Kohen, the actual lighting may be performed by a non-Kohen.

The text describes the action in this service as l’ha’alot ner tamid: to make light spring up continually. This language describes the duty to hold the kindling flame against the wick until the wick continues to burn on its own. The flame is transferred so that the new flame may rise with its own passion and vitality. This signifies that the task of the Torah teacher — the kindling flame — is to make himself superfluous! His task is not to keep the student continually dependent on him, but rather to light the flame of his pupil so that the flame is an independent bright light which can burn on its own.

Finally, the placement of the Menorah is significant: in the Ohel Mo’ed, outside the dividing curtain that is in front of the Testimony. A person who directs his mind to the Torah and draws enlightenment from it must be kept aware at all times that he stands outside the Torah, and that Torah was given to man. It is not a product of the human intellect. Man is to draw and increase his enlightenment from and through Torah, but he must not introduce his own light into the realm of the Torah in order to amend or reform it. In this way he will contribute to the collective ner tamid, the eternal light of Torah.

Sources: Commentary, Shemot 27:20-21

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