“V’Ata Titzaveh es Bnai Yisroel, V’Yikchu Elecha Shemen Zayis Zach Kasis La’Maor L’Haalos Ner Tamid ….
You shall command the Children of Israel and have them bring you clear olive oil, [made from olives that were] crushed for lighting, to keep the lamp burning constantly. In the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain, which is before the Testimony, Aharon and his sons shall arrange it [for the lamp to burn] from evening to morning before God. This is an everlasting statute for their generations of the Children of Israel.” (Exodus 27:20-21)
God commands Moshe to issue the call for pure, virgin olive oil to be used for the daily kindling of the Menorah. But why here? Moshe had already asked the people (in last week’s Parsha) to contribute the various materials necessary for the construction, fabrication and maintenance of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Furthermore, why is the discussion about the oil inserted between the construction of the Mishkan and its utensils and the appointment of Aharon and his sons?
Rabbi Moshe Alshech (born in Turkey in 1507, and died 1593 in Tzefat, Israel) explains that Moshe was distressed. Moshe had seen the incredible generosity of the people. He asked them to contribute precious metals, fine fabric and jewels and they did so with a complete heart and a generous spirit. In fact, that they were so generous that Moshe had to end the collection. Moshe saw Betzalel and Ohaliav, the head craftsmen who, together with their volunteers, built and constructed the various utensils and structure of the Mishkan. He saw Aharon who was chosen by God to be the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and he saw his nephews who had been chosen to serve alongside their illustrious father. Moshe saw all of this and grew despondent. What is my role? Where is my share in this holy work? Moshe felt left out, marginalized and unimportant. It was in this moment of despondence and sadness that God appeared to Moshe and told him, “You are vital to the people, you are the foundation of the entire nation, for you are the enabler of their growth.”
Where did this incredible national generosity come from? The people witnessed Moshe’s selflessness; they saw all he sacrificed for God and nation. The people said, “If Moshe could give up the trappings of a normal life and devote himself wholly to serve God, we can give of our gold, silver and jewels.” When Aharon was asked to assume the role of the High Priest he hesitated but quickly realized he had no choice. He knew he had to assume this mantle. “If Moshe has assumed so much responsibility, I must do my part as well.”
This is the meaning of the opening verse of this week’s Parsha. God is communicating an all-important message to His beloved servant.
“V’Ata, (and you Moshe)” – You must understand and appreciate how important you are.
“V’Yikchu Eylecha Shemen Zayis Zach, (and have them bring you clear olive oil)” – Oil represents potential; it is the fuel capable of creating great illumination. Tell the people to come before you with their oil of potential.
“L’Haalos Ner Tamid, (to light a lamp continually)” – Moshe, you are the flame; you are the one who ignites the oil of the people. You are the catalyst for their growth; you are the one who inspires them to be more and to actualize their potential.
“V’Ata Hakrev Eylecha Es Aharon Achica V’es Banav, (and you, bring near to yourself Aaron your brother, and his sons with him…)” – Moshe, your brother is unsure of himself, build him up. Bring him close and inspire him. Whisper in his ear that you believe in him. Remind him, that if you can assume your responsibilities, he can assume his. Ignite his oil and allow him to find his greatness.
It is in these simple verses that God lifts Moshe from the depths of despondence and reminds him that enabling others to find their personal greatness is the true pinnacle of human accomplishment.
We often assume that the path to life-greatness is paved with personal accomplishments. That the metric of our success is how much we can each do, accrue and accomplish as an individual. But this is only partially true. We must grow, we must accomplish, and we must achieve. However, we must remember that a life solely devoted to personal self-actualization is incomplete. Life cannot be exclusively dedicated to one’s personal growth and achievement. We must all strive to be an enabler and facilitator of the growth of others. We must look to see what we can do to inspire and uplift those around us. Sometimes, a kind word, a compliment, a few minutes (or hours) of our time, a few words of inspiration can be what it takes to motivate our fellow Jew to move forward in his/her life journey. If we can find the strength to be attentive to the difficulties and struggles of the other, we can give them the strength to overcome their hurdles and become more.
With our family, our friends and our community, our job is to become Moshe Rabbeinu enablers of growth. We must each strive to be the flame that ignites the soulful, potential-rich oil of all those around us.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur.
And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst (Exodus 25:8)
The Mishkan (Tabernacle) was a national endeavor. It was not a project undertaken and underwritten solely by the wealthy, it was a result of the collective effort and generosity of the entire Jewish people. It was this inclusivity that allowed this structure to become the House of God. It was not the precious gold and silver, nor was it the incredible workmanship that made this Mishkan into the domicile of the Divine; it was the collective energy, it was the national cohesion created by undertaking this sacred task as one people with one heart which allowed the Divine to rest in this special place. The strength of our people is found in our unity. The strength of Am Yisroel is most present and pronounced when we look out for one another and find ways to build bonds and bridges of understanding and empathy.
This month of February is North American Inclusion Month (NAIM), a month where must take a step back and make sure that our communities are inclusive and embracing of all people with all types of challenges and differences. This month offers us the opportunity to create a Mishkan of inclusion and acceptance within our midst.
I would like to share with you a powerful experience I had just a few months ago. I was invited by Menucha (an incredible organization in Baltimore which is dedicated to helping children with special needs and their families) to be a scholar in residence for their annual Shabbaton. This Shabbos was for the parents and their special needs child. I was tasked with providing some Torah and inspiration for the Shabbaton attendees. There are some experiences which forever change your life and the way you see the world; this was one of them. I had the opportunity to meet these special children. And when I use the world “special” I am not using it as a euphemism for “challenged,” I mean truly special. I saw children who exuded the purest and holiest of love. I saw children who looked at the world and other people though a lens of unadulterated goodness and simcha. I met children who were limited physically and cognitively but possessed an unlimited capacity for warmth, care, empathy and the truest happiness I have ever seen. And I met their parents. These parents are a special breed. I saw for just a couple of hours the care, attention and love these parents provide. I saw a brand of fierce parental commitment that I have never witnessed beforehand. I love my own children very much, but there was something different here. There was a bond that I cannot explain, there was a connection that I cannot put into words. To the onlooker it may have looked as if it was a one-sided relationship: the parent giving and the child receiving. But it was clear that these parents felt the love emoted by their children and the unique and synergistic bond between parent and child grew stronger every moment. I felt that I was at a convention of the righteous. I met the volunteers, a group of young women and men from our community who display patience, compassion and empathy beyond their years. In a time when we struggle to keep our children engaged, I realized that we must push our youth to get more involved in chessed and helping others to cement their bond to our people and Torah. I have never witnessed love, commitment and acceptance as I felt over that Shabbos. I thank Rabbi Aryeh Richter, Executive Director of Menucha for all his incredible work and for inviting me for Shabbos. I want to thank the children and parents of Menucha. I want to thank the parents for teaching me what it truly means to be a parent. Thank you for showing me what is truly means to love a child, not because of what you think they can or will accomplish but because of who they are. I want to thank the children of Menucha. Thank you for allowing me into your world of purity and holiness. Thank you for allowing me to bask in your simple and pure goodness. Thank you for wishing me “ah gut Shabbos” with such meaning and for your beautiful smiles that could light up the darkest of places. Thank you for making me part of your extended family for that one, magnificent Shabbos. Thank you for allowing me to reside in your Mishkan. I came to inspire and had the privilege to leave truly inspired.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur.
“And these are the ordinances that you shall set before them. Should you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall work [for] six years, and in the seventh [year], he shall go out to freedom without charge.” (Exodus 21:1-2)
The Torah teaches us the details of the Hebrew servant, the Eved Ivri. Rashi explains, there are two ways in which a Jew becomes a servant. If he steals and is unable to pay back, the Beis Din (Jewish court) can sell the thief and use the proceeds to repay the victim. Or, mipnei dochko, if he is destitute. If a person has no money, no means of financial support, he can choose to sell himself into servitude. Why is this the first mitzvah God gives us in the aftermath of Sinaitic revelation?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe provides an incredible insight. The act of theft represents a moral failure. It is a trespass against my fellow human being. To take something from someone else, to deprive someone of something they have worked for is a blatant disregard for the dignity of the other. But theft is not only a crime against man, it is also a crime against God. Each person is given a divinely ordained amount of material wealth. We are each given what we need in order to accomplish our sacred mission in this world. When a person steals, he is making a dramatic statement: “God hasn’t given me enough. I will take that which belongs to the other, thereby enriching myself.” The act of theft violates the will of God, not only because theft is biblically forbidden, but because it is an indictment of God for having given something to someone else and not to me. Furthermore, the thief feels that he will retain that which he has stolen, even though this act was against the will of God. As such, the thief has transgressed against God and his fellow man. So, what should we do with him? Logic would dictate that we cast him aside, make a pariah and remove him from society. Yet, we do just the opposite. We give him a job and a place to live. His lifestyle must mirror that of his master. Whatever the master provides for his own family, he must provide for the servant. We say to this thief, “We will not give up on you. You have made some mistakes, but we still believe you can turn it around. It’s not too late. Use this time to rebuild and rehabilitate, use this time to introspect and reflect. Use this time to figure out what has gone so wrong and then find the courage to fix it.”
The Rebbe adds in one more piece. The laws of the Eved Ivri, are not just about the other – they are about us. Each of us messes up. We each make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes land us in significant trouble and life difficulty. We have stolen our potential and squandered it in a variety of fruitless initiatives and bad choices. It is easy to give up. But then we remind ourselves, the thief is sold and rehabilitates himself – we can do the same. But there is an important point to remember. Sheysh shanim ya’avod, u’ba’shviis yetzei l’chofshi, (for six years you must work, on the seventh you can go free). It can take a long time to turn ourselves and our lives around. It can take a long time to rehabilitate and rejuvenate. But if we are willing to put in the work, the 7th year will come. We can change, we can improve, we can become better. God chooses to place the law of Eved Ivri first, for it creates the foundational understanding for how we view the other and how we view ourselves.
The laws of the Eved Ivri, the Hebrew servant, teach us these two valuable lessons: never stop believing in the other, never stop believing in yourself. No matter how badly another messes up, he is never beyond salvation. No matter how severe our mistakes may be, if we work hard, we can rehabilitate and rejuvenate.