The Torah ordains that the olive oil used to light the eternal menorah -
candelabra - must be of the purest and best available. There is obvious
logic to this requirement. Impure oil will cause the flames to stutter and
flicker. Impure oil also may exude an unpleasant odor and make the task of
the daily cleaning of the oil lamps difficult and inefficient. Yet I feel
that the basic underlying reason for this requirement of purity of the oil
lies in the value that the Torah advances in the performance of all positive
things in life - the necessity to do things correctly, enthusiastically and
In’ halachic’ parlance this is called ‘kavanah’ - the intent to perform the
commandment and deed properly and in the best possible way. That is the
story of the pure container of oil that is the core of the miraculous story
of Chanuka. The Hasmoneans could have used regular, even impure oil and
still not have violated any strong ‘halachic’ stricture. Yet the idea of’
kavanah’, of doing the matter in the best way possible, introduces an
element of special dedication and holiness into what otherwise would be an
event of rote and habit. This is what drives the spirit of holiness and
eternity that accompanies the performance of ‘mitzvoth.’ So the requirement
of the Torah for the purest possible oil to fuel the holy and eternal
menorah - candelabra – is readily understandable when the concept of’
kavanah’ is factored into the value system of the Torah.
The light of the menorah has never been dimmed over the long history of the
Jewish people. Though the menorah itself has long ago disappeared from the
view of the Jewish public - it was no longer present even in Second Temple
times - the idea of its light and influence has continued to be present in
Jewish life. The flame is not a tangible item - it is, in reality, an item
of spirit more than of substance.
It provides light and warmth and psychological support in very difficult
times and circumstances. Yet, its influence and support is somehow directly
connected to the investment into actually kindling it. That is the import of
the words of the rabbis in Avot that according to the effort invested so is
the accomplishment and reward.
All things spiritual are dependent upon the effort invested in creating that
sense of spirit - the purer the oil, the brighter and firmer the flame. This
simple yet profound message forms the heart of this week's ‘parsha.’ It also
forms the heart of all values and commandments that the Torah ordains for us.
The ‘parsha’ of ‘Tetave’ speaks to all of us in a direct and personal
fashion. It encompasses all of the goals of Judaism and is, in itself the
light of spirituality that lights our souls and lives.
Rabbi Berel Wein