Torah: Not to Be Taken Lightly
And you [Moshe], charge the Children of Israel, and let them bring to
you pure, crushed olive oil, to make light, to raise an eternal flame.
Ramban and Seforno derive from the word “ve’ata/and you” that Moshe
himself was to take care of gathering the oil for the Menorah. What was so
special about the oil that it fell to Moshe alone?
Ramban also derives from “let them bring to you” that Moshe needed to
inspect the oil to ensure it was completely pure. In all the Mishkan’s
(Tabernacle) other elements, there is no precedent requiring Moshe’s
To raise an eternal flame. The Torah might have more commonly used to
light (le-hadlik) rather than to raise (le-ha’alos).
Rashi comments that the flame was “eternal” inasmuch as it was lit every
night. Still, it might have been easier just to say, “every day,”
especially since the term “eternal” refers to a weekly mitzvah just as
much as it does a daily (the show bread, which was only changed once a
week, was also called tamid/eternal).
The Gemara (Berachos 57a) says that one who sees olive oil in a
dream “should await enlightenment of the Torah, as it says, ‘Let them
bring to you pure olive oil.’” We are left puzzled by the proof, because
the verse makes no mention that the “light” is the light of Torah study.
The Midrash says that as long as the candles of the Menorah burned, Jews’
enemies were weak before them. “But since the day they were extinguished,
our enemies have had the better of us.” Why do specifically the lights of
the Menorah protect us from our haters?
A Midrash in this week’s parsha (Tanchuma 3) quotes R' Chanina, assistant
Kohen Gadol. “I served in the Holy Temple,” he told. “It was miraculous:
From the first time (during a given year) the Menorah was lit, on Rosh
Hashana, it remained lit the entire year. This is why the Torah insists
the oil of the Menorah had to be well crushed and in perfect form –
because the candles were only lit once a year.”
The Gerer Rebbe once asked R’ Chaim Brisker a difficult question: Isn’t
there a mitzvah to light the Menorah daily? According to the above
Midrash, by allowing the flame to burn steady all year long the Kohaim
were actually being prevented from performing their daily duty?
Reb Chaim took out a Rambam (Shabbos 12:2). “One who pours oil into a
burning candle is liable for Shabbos transgression, because he causes the
flame to burn (longer/brighter). And one who removes oil from the burning
candle is liable for Shabbos transgression due to the act of extinguishing
an existing flame.”
It’s simple, R’ Chaim said. Every morning, the Kohen of the day would add
a drop of oil to the candles. If on Shabbos the act would be one
of “igniting a flame” to the extent such that the perpetrator would be
liable the death penalty, certainly by the same token we can suggest that
it also amounts to “lighting the Menorah” every day.
This is why the Torah writes “to raise up a flame” and not “to ignite.”
Although the ‘miracle of the Menorah’ is not a given, and depends on our
deserving it, Hashem wanted us to deserve the miracle – in which case the
Kohanim would raise the flame, by adding more oil, but not light it.
In the next verse, the Torah describes that the Menorah sat “just outside
the curtain of the Witness [the Torah which was housed in the Ark on the
other side of the curtain].” As the Gemara (Menachos 26b) explains, “[The
word ‘witness’ is used here specifically,] because the [Menorah] bears
witness to the entire world that the Holy Presence (Shechinah) rests upon
Israel.” The Midrash (ibid.) continues: Said the Holy One, Blessed is
He, “Let them light the Menorah once a year.” Clearly, there is an
expectation that we ensure we’re worthy of the miracle of the Menorah.
Perhaps this also alludes to the way in which we should approach the
Torah. Our task, when studying the Torah, is not to forge new paths – to
light a flame – but rather to take advantage of an already-burning light.
To allow the Torah’s wisdom to penetrate our beings, and not to try and
impose our priorities on it.
In which specific merit do we become deserving of such an awe-inspiring
miracle? Ve-darashta ve-chakarta suggests that, as is always the case,
reward (and punishment) directly relate to the deed. To the extent that
our Torah study and mitzvah observance is “tamid/without interruption,” we
merit the eternal, uninterrupted light of the candles.
This, he explains, is why above all other mitzvos, the oil of the candles –
which were to provide the fuel of the eternal light – had to be overseen
by none other than Moshe, through whom the Torah was given to Israel. The
oil of the candles had the ability to burn non-stop, but only if our
dedication to the Torah was in tandem.
One who sees olive oil in a dream, let him await the Torah’s wisdom, as it
says, “Let them bring to you pure olive oil.” The Gemara’s proof is from
the phrase “to you,” from which we derive that Moshe himself had to
oversee the mitzvah. Moshe, who brought the light of the Torah to this
world, was placed in charge of the olive oil. Seeing it in a dream can
only mean one thing.
Perhaps, then, it’s not the candles of the Menorah which protect us from
our enemies, but the words of the Torah through which they burn. In the
spirit of, “As long as the voice of Yaakov is heard in the study halls of
Torah, the hands of Eisav wield no power.” Have a good Shabbos.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org