Make It Perfectly Clear
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
And you will command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you
clear olive oil.
CLEAR: Without sediments, as learned in Menachos (86a), "He leaves it to
ripen at the top of the olive tree . . ." (Rashi)
In other words, Rashi is explaining, it is not enough that the oil not have
sediments by the time it is to be used for the Menorah, but it must be oil
that NEVER had sediments in it from the beginning.
As the Mishnah explains, the olive tree is harvested three times a
year. The first harvesting time was for the olives at the top of the tree
that ripened the quickest. The second harvest was of the olives from the
middle branches which received less sunlight, and the third harvest was of
the olives from the lowest branches that never receive full sunlight and
only complete their ripening process after harvesting.
Oil was extracted from the olives of each harvest through three
methods: crushed in a mortar, pressed with a beam, and finally, ground
with millstones. However, only the oil that was crushed in a mortar
produced the clear oil to which Rashi refers.
The question arises: What difference does it make if the oil once
contained sediments, as long as it is perfectly clear when used in the Menorah?
There are many lessons that can be learned from this halachic detail, but
one that I can personally appreciate has to do with the difference between
being what is formally called a "Ba'al Teshuvah," and someone who is born
"frum from birth," that is someone who has "returned" to his or her Torah
roots, or, someone who was born into them.
Both terms are inaccurate. For, the word "ba'al" implies the process has
been completed, and the process of returning to Torah is an ongoing and
dynamic one. That is why many prefer to the term, "Chozer b'Teshuvah,"
which implies the person is in the process of returning, no matter how
observant they have already become.
Likewise, no one is ever born "frum from birth," even though they have been
born into a frum, that is, religious home. Being Torah observant is a
matter of learning Torah and performing mitzvos, neither of which are
relevant to a newborn baby. It also implies CHOOSING to learn Torah and
mitzvos, something that certainly isn't relevant until the child is much older.
However, having clarified this point, there is still a very distinct
difference between the two types of Jews, a difference that brings with it
pros and cons.
More than likely, a Jew who has lived in the secular world has partaken of
things that, according to the Torah, are prohibited. Kedushah, the
foundation of Torah, is rarely, if at all, a priority for a non-religious
Jew. And, as Rashi points out at the beginning of Parashas Kedoshim, it is
the need for kedushah that usually builds the fences between that which is
permissible by Torah and that which is not.
Thus, at the moment that a Jew has "woken" up to the relevance of Torah to
his or her life, he or she is like olive oil filled with sediment. It
usually takes some serious teshuvah to "filter" out those sediments, so
that the Chozer b'Teshuvah can "normalize" from a Torah perspective, inside
However, as only Chozer b'Teshuvah will tell you, even after such
purification processes have been performed, and the sediments seems to have
been removed, something always seems to remain behind. Sometimes they
remain as unconscious memories, liable to surface when a specific event
occurs that triggers the memory.
Sometimes, the memory might even be what psychologists call a "live
memory," one that when triggered also draws up emotions from the past as
well. When that happens, a Chozer b'Teshuvah might even find himself
undergoing a psychological and emotional test he thought he left behind
years ago, maybe even decades ago, much to his chagrin.
As one Chozer b'Teshuvah put it, "Even though it had been years since I had
seen the movie, and I had no desire to see it again, or any movie for that
matter, for reasons I can't even explain, I saw a scene from it in my mind
one day while learning Talmud in yeshivah. I had been tired and had spaced
out for a moment, until I realized what was playing in my mind. When I
woke myself from my trance, I was embarrassed slightly, though my chavrusa
(study partner) had no idea what I had been thinking about. I thought to
myself, 'You mean that stuff is still a part of me now, after all these
years of learning and doing teshuvah?' It was one of many such frustrating
Is there no hope for the Chozer b'Teshuvah? Is he or she doomed to be a
product of his or her less-than-desirable past, at least in THIS world?
. . . They shall take for you clear olive oil. (Shemos 27:20)
In the meantime, we can better appreciate why the olive oil used in the
holy Menorah be pure from the start. The light of the Menorah represents
Torah, particularly the Oral Law, the bulk of the learning that goes on in
the yeshivah world. A lack of purity cannot only distract a person from
learning Torah, but it can also distort the Torah they learn.
Thus, it is an amazing blessing to be born into a religious environment
(something that did not happen for me). There is a certain purity,
assuming that the religious family is "normal" by Torah standards, that is
enviable. The "sediment" that the average secular Jew comes back to Torah
with, can be a real burden and challenge to eradicate. Sometimes, for some
"Chozrei b'Teshuvah," it results in a treacherous spiritual tightrope walk
between two very different worlds - the one from which they came and the
one to which they are going.
If the analogy is correct, then this is tantamount to saying that the only
true "fuel" of Torah is the pure-bred Torah Jews. This doesn't mean that
oil with sediments can't burn, or burn just as brightly as non-sedimentary
oil, for in reality it does. However, it does mean that there is something
impure in that light, and Torah light needs to be as pure as possible.
Well, the first thing to know is that this has nothing to do with one's
portion in the World-to-Come, which ultimately is what living by Torah is
all about. In fact, because a Chozer b'Teshuvah had to fight his way back
to Torah, and time-and-time-again decided to do the right thing over the
comfortable thing, he may be earning more reward for his mitzvos than
someone for whom living by Torah is just second nature.
As the rabbis have taught:
According to the effort is the reward. (Pirkei Avos 5:22)
Fighting against decades of secular upbringing to align oneself with Torah
living brings much reward. In fact, precisely because the mark of secular
living remains embedded in a Chozer b'Teshuvah's consciousness, recreating
past struggles, he or she has a continuous opportunity to increase his or
her reward in the World-to-Come, beyond what one is going to receive for
the everyday Torah learning and mitzvos he will have performed.
Fine, but what about the role of a Chozer b'Teshuvah in everyday
life? Must he play a sedimentary role in Jewish life, and be satisfied
with this alone? Or, does the comparison of the returning Jew to the olive
oil of the Menorah have its limitations?
We'll let the Talmud answer those questions:
Completely righteous people cannot stand in the place that Ba'alei Teshuvah
stand. (Brochos 34b)
And, as if that were not enough:
The level of the Fifty Gates of Understanding is the level of knowledge
given to the Ba'al Teshuvah. (Pri Tzaddik, Tu B'Av 6)
This is not bad, considering the Talmud says elsewhere:
Fifty Gates of Understanding were created in the world, and all of them
were given to Moshe except for one. (Rosh Hashanah 21b)
And, it is to the Fifty Gates of Understanding that the light of the
Menorah alludes. How do we resolve THIS one?
"If [one is drawn] to scoffers, he will scoff; but if to the humble, he
will find favor." (Mishlei 3:34)
The Talmud analyzes the order of the Aleph-Bais, and asks:
Why does the face of the Kuf turn away from the Raish? The Holy One (in
Hebrew, this Name begins with the letter Kuf), Blessed is He, says, "I
cannot look at an evil person (rasha)." Why does the "tahg" (crown) of the
Kuf face the Raish? The Holy One, Blessed is He says, "If he will return,
I will tie a crown upon him like Mine." Why does the leg of the Kuf hang
down? If he [the evil person] decides to return and ascend, he can ascend
with it. This supports Raish Lakish, who said, "Why is it written, 'If
[one is drawn] to scoffers, he will scoff; but if to the humble, he will
find favor' (Mishlei 3:34)? [To teach that] they open the door for one who
comes to defile himself. However, for one who comes to purify himself,
they help him." (Shabbos 104a)
This is a very accepted principle in Torah. If a person is into sinning,
then Heaven will give him opportunity to do so, though never actually help
him to perform the sin. In fact, the undoing of many a sinner is the way
they are so successful in spite of their spiritually self-destructive
attitude and actions. They wonder, "If G-d really cared, wouldn't He stop
Says the Talmud, no. Thus, people may eat, drink, and be merry today, but
tomorrow they will pay for it, BIG time.
However, this is not the case for a person walking in the direction of
Torah. For such a person, Heaven not only shows them the door, but helps
them to cross the threshold as well. In other words, one who comes to
purify himself may find himself far more purified than he had previously
been capable of becoming on his own. A miracle!
Interesting is the choice of word the Talmud made. It ought to have said,
"One who comes to return to Torah, they help him." Why did the Talmud
choose the concept of purification to speak about Ba'alei Teshuvah?
Because, as we have said, to become a TRUE Ba'al Teshuvah takes a miracle,
one that Heaven is prepared to perform with pleasure for the Chozer
b'Teshuvah who walks in that direction, according to the level of desire to
walk in the path of Torah. When it comes to Chozrei b'Teshuvah, God is
prepared to help remove the "sediment" that the person cannot remove, and
make them as if they had been pure from the start.
That's right, from the start. Then they can become the "shemen zais zach"
- the pure olive oil Rashi speaks about for the light of the Menorah. And,
as we shall now see, b'ezras Hashem, that is just the beginning of where
they can go from there.
[Moshe said,] "I implored G-d at that time . . ." (Devarim 3:23)
The following has to be one of the most amazing concepts in Torah, at least
on the level of Pshat:
Moshe Rabbeinu was rooted in the 49 gates of understanding, which are the
ways of Torah, and therefore his prayer did not help to nullify the decree
[against him]. Therefore, he began the parshah by saying, "I implored G-d
at that time (Devarim 3:23) . . . And G-d told me, 'It is too much for
you! Do not continue to speak to Me further about this matter!' (Ibid.
26)." [However, he later continued by saying,] "Now, Israel . . ." (Ibid.
4:1), that is, through teshuvah, hinted to by the word "now" (as the Talmud
says in Rosh Hashanah 21b), ["you can achieve what I could not,] which is
the fiftieth gate, [and] you can rectify everything." For, "completely
righteous people cannot stand in the place that Ba'alei Teshuvah stand"
(Brochos 34b). Therefore, ". . . listen to the decrees. . ." (Pri
Tzaddik, VaEschanan 3)
In other words, Moshe was saying to the Jewish people just before he died,
you can achieve what I could not - BECAUSE I was completely righteous: the
50th gate of understanding, which is a function of teshuvah I cannot
do. It is yours if you keep the decrees of Torah, and sincerely desire to
purify yourselves. Then G-d will grant you what He would not, could not
Well, if that is the case, then the tables have been reversed! All of a
sudden, for all the protection growing up religious provides, it denies the
person certain privileges available only to those who turn their ships
around towards the harbor of Torah! Chozrei b'Teshuvah can become the best
"Menorah fuel" around!
Not to worrrrrry.
There are few, if any at all, Moshe Rabbeinu's around. Even those who
possess the privilege of growing up with Torah, and it is a phenomenal
privilege that must never be taken for granted, chances are that there are
still plenty of areas of religious issues requiring some form of teshuvah
or another. That is, even "frum-from-birthers" can also become Chozrei
b'Teshuvah, and eventually, Ba'alei Teshuvah as well.
After all, Moshe Rabbeinu had been talking to a generation that had been
born into the world of Torah, and were so close to G-d that they merited
the miracles that occurred for them each day of their journey. And, let's
not forget who their rebi was throughout all the years either.
Thus, there is great hope for ALL Jews to be that invaluable "shemen zais
zach," those born religious, and those who choose to be so later on in
life. We can all be a great source of Torah light.