By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
This week's parsha, Tetzaveh, begins with the command: "V'yikchu
eilecha shemen zayis/t zach (And take to you pure olive oil) [27:20]".
This oil would be used for the lighting of the menorah in the Mishkan
What is meant by the seemingly extra word of: "eilecha (to you)"? The
Ramban explains that the oil needed to be brought to Moshe in order
for him to check that it had been processed properly. The Baal HaTurim
(quoting the Talmud [Menachos 86B]) explains that Hashem was
clarifying the need for this light. Eilecha - for your needs, not for
Mine. Hashem doesn't need the light - we need that pure and piercing
illumination emanating from the Menorah to guide us through the
darkness and deception of this world.
The Medrash takes a different approach. Eilecha - You... You are like
the olive... "A 'moist leafed olive tree', Hashem has called your name
[Yirmiyahu 11:16]." Just as the olive goes through many different
grinding processes and only then does the end product of oil result,
so too Yisroel must go through 'grinding processes' to bring us to the
point of t'shuva (repentance).
Let's take an alcoholic as an example. He's on a course of self
destruction but he's either unaware or chooses to make himself unaware
of that fact. To allow him to continue without pushing him to get the
necessary help would be an act of cruelty. One who truly loves him
will make his life uncomfortable enough to force him to reconsider his
lifestyle. He needs to be jolted. He needs to be made aware of the
danger he's courting. He needs a wake up call. That's perfectly
obvious to each and every one of us.
Yet we, while living in a world filled with spiritual ignorance and
self destruction, are constantly bothered by the questions of why is
there so much tragedy and hardship in the world. Don't we need a jolt?
Don't we need to be made aware of the danger we are courting? Don't we
need a wake up call?
We are like the olive. The 'grinding processes' that we endure
individually and collectively bring out our latent potential. The
loving admonitions of our concerned Father.
I heard a story of a person who had been picked up at 'the Wall' and
was brought to speak with Rav Noach Weinberg. When Rav Noach suggested
that he might want to enter a Yeshiva to learn about Judaism he
insisted that he had no need for that. "G-d loves me" was his
After a bit of prompting, he shared with Rav Noach the episode which
convinced him of G-d's love for him. "While hiking along a cliff in
upstate New York after a strong rainfall, the ground suddenly slid
from beneath me and I found myself in a free-fall. Everything seemed
to move in slow motion. Surveying the quickly approaching
boulder-strewn ground, I thought it was all over. Then, out of
nowhere, G-d extended his loving Hand and placed me ever so gently
right on the only leafy tree in the whole area. I climbed down from
the tree without even a scratch! Rabbi, don't you see? G-d loves me!"
"Are you absolutely sure that it was G-d's Hand that saved you?", Rav
Noach asked. "Absolutely", was the confident reply. "G-d reached out
His Hand and caught you?", he asked again. "No doubt in my mind", he
answered. "Well, if you're so sure that G-d did the catching, who do
you think did the throwing?! Now, assuming that G-d is pretty busy,
why do you think He's spending his precious time throwing you off
cliffs and then catching you? I'd say he's trying to get your
attention... I'd advise trying to see why G-d wants your attention
before He feels the need to throw you off a cliff another time!"
As could be imagined, this fellow decided to enter the Yeshiva after
all. His son, a student at my Yeshiva, related this incident to me.
The Nesivos Sholom writes that many fruits go through a 'grinding
process'. They are converted from a fruit to fruit juice. The unique
aspect of the olive is that this process transforms it from an edible
food to fuel for a fire. The 'grinding process' transformed it into
something totally different than its original state. Not so long ago,
Klal Yisroel (the Jewish Nation) endured a 'grinding process' that was
shocking in its severity. We are like the olive. The following,
gleaned from Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust, clearly illustrates one
incident of such a transformation.
Kalmen had been placed in a Hungarian labor battalion, forced to aid
the war effort of the Third Reich. Uniforms were distributed with
yellow arm bands for the Jews and white arm bands for the Jewish
converts to Christianity.
On the eve of Rosh Hashana, 1944, the Russians launched a big
offensive and the German retreat hastened. The labor battalion was
given orders to demolish everything, leaving only the scorched earth
behind the retreating Germans.
On the eve of Yom Kippur they reached the Polish mountain of
Bornemissza. The German commander announced that, as soldiers at time
of war, it was strictly forbidden to fast. Any violators would be
On Yom Kippur they worked as usual. It was especially difficult as
heavy rains turned the whole area into a muddy swamp. When food was
distributed, all of the men spilled their coffee into the mud and hid
their ration of stale bread in their soaked jackets. One man recited
the Yom Kippur prayers that he knew by heart and all others joined in
as their tears mixed with the rain. The battalion of converts
approached the Jews explaining that they too were fasting and wanted
to join in the prayers. Together they said the Neilah (closing)
prayer. As night finally arrived they fell exhausted at the foot of
the mountain ready to break their fast.
Just then the German commander and a group of soldiers emerged from
their covered wagon and ordered them to line up for a roll call. "I
know that you fasted today but, being a benevolent officer in the best
German tradition, I am not going to invoke the death penalty that you
deserve. Instead, you are going to climb that mountain and slide down
on your stomachs. Any of you who would like to 'repent' may say that
they were wrong in fasting today. Those who would like to do so please
raise your hands." Not a single hand went up, neither from the Jewish
battalion nor from the converts.
And so, tired, soaked, starved, emaciated Jews climbed the wet,
slippery mountain. At the top, they were ordered to slide down on
their stomachs. At the bottom, they were again ordered to line up. and
asked if any wanted to repent and express regret. Mud-covered figures
with feverish eyes looked at the immaculate German in silent defiance.
Ten times they repeated the humiliating performance, each time with
more determination and strength.
At midnight, as the rains abated, the performance was stopped and they
were given food and drink. As they sat, trying to warm their bodies
around small campfires, their faces shone with a strange glow. Each
and every one of them had been transformed. Some had even been
transformed from being a convert to Christianity to being a Jew
willing to risk his life for Hashem and His Torah.
This week is Parshas/t Zachor (remember). In preparation for the Purim
holiday we read about Amalek attacking us. Just a few weeks ago, the
saber rattling of our present day Amalek, Saddam Hussein, was
temporarily halted. We are like the olive. These are nothing but
Hashem's 'grinding processes'. If we get caught up in the diplomatic
maneuvering then we are falling victim to the world of Amalek. A world
where everything can be and is explained away in natural terms. If our
eyes and hearts are focused upward, recognizing and acting on the
desperately needed wake up calls, then we will be transformed,
obviating the need for any scud missiles to jolt us.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in
Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).