“You shall command the children of Israel, that they take for you pure pressed olive oil, for lighting, to make a light shine out continuously; in the tent of meeting, outside the dividing curtain which is over the Testimony…” (27:20-21)
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsh looks at the Menorah as a parallel to the human mind and its enlightenment. For all of our efforts, we must always realize that we stand apart from Torah, unable to penetrate the curtain that covers it. We can learn from Torah, but we cannot claim to be its master.
Two people can “learn” the Torah and yet be doing entirely different things. One can either sit down, set aside one’s preconceptions and attempt to learn; or on the other hand, one can try to rewrite the Torah to conform to his or her own ideas of right and wrong. Rabbi Hirsch tells us that only the former is appropriate – for as one of my teachers said, “you can make the Torah come out like The Iliad if you try hard enough!” Only a person capable of setting aside his or her own “agenda” is going to emerge with insight from the Torah itself.
A young man once came to Rabbi Israel Salanter, the father of the modern “Mussar” (Jewish ethics) movement, and proudly said that he had learned the entire Talmud. “Good!” replied Rabbi Salanter – “now what did the Talmud teach you?”
Text Copyright © 1995 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.