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. (27:20)
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 approval.
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