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 (Sanctuary).
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 explanation.
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 executed.
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).