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 (Exodus 27:20-21).”
It has to be pure. Not just any oil can be used for the kindling of the Menorah. As Rashi explains, “it must be pure without dregs or sediment … only from the first oil which emerges from the olive.” The deeper meaning seems obvious – we must strive for purity in our service of God. If we choose to kindle the fire of spirituality within ourselves, we must find the personalistic oil of purity. We must reach into ourselves and find that holiness which remains intact and untarnished, despite our many life mistakes and missteps. We each possess this oil, but like the Chanukah story, this oil of holiness is often buried beneath layers of rubble and impurity – but it’s there. If I can summon the courage to search for it, I can burn bright.
There is a second lesson to be learned from this simple commandment.
Rashi comments: to keep the lamp burning constantly: Heb. לְהַעִלֹת, lit., to cause to rise. [The kohen] shall light it until the flame rises by itself (Shabbos 21a).
The Kohen must ignite the wick, but all it needs is a spark, and after that, “the flame rises by itself.” The creation of light does not require a burning torch or blazing fire; it just requires a spark. What is true for the Menorah is true to personal luminescence as well. Each of us is on a quest for holiness. We want to find God, and we want to find our true selves. We seek deeper connections to our people, we yearn to discover our strengths, and we want to know we have made a difference in even some small way. But we often become paralyzed when looking to make the first move toward the actualization of these aforementioned goals. What should I do? What should I take on? So many options and possibilities. How do I know what the right move is? Rashi comes to teach us – all I need is a spark. Just do something. Find something positive to propel your life forward. Find something meaningful to create extra holiness. Choose something you are going to start or improve, or choose one area of immense struggle and create a plan to tackle it. These are the sparks of life, and they can generate so much future light. All you need is one tiny spark to get the fire burning.
Purim is a day of sparks. We ignite a spark of Torah by reading the Megillah. We ignite a spark of compassion and kindness by giving Matanos L’Evyonim (gifts to the poor). We ignite the spark of reconciliation by giving Mishloach Manos (gifts of food to one another). These sparks light the way toward Pesach, the celebration of national and personal freedom from that which enslaves us.
It is a spark which provided light in the Bais HaMikdash, and it is a spark of positive, dynamic activity which can provide light in our lives. May we find the courage to ignite the spark and bask in the raging flame of accomplishment and growth.
“Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”
This Shabbos we remember. We remember what Amaleyk did to us thousands of years ago and we remember their hatred which has followed us through the millennia.
“You shall remember what Amaleyk did to you on the way, when you went out of Egypt, how he happened upon you on the way and cut off all the stragglers at your rear, when you were faint and weary, and he did not fear God. [Therefore,] it will be, when the Lord your God grants you respite from all your enemies around [you] in the land which the Lord, your God, gives to you as an inheritance to possess, that you shall obliterate the remembrance of Amaleyk from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget (Devorim 25:17-19).”
Amaleyk was the first nation to wage war against us. There was no disputed territory or perceived slight, their attack was motivated by pure and unadulterated hatred. This hatred which defies comprehension has reared its ugly head throughout the generations. From our first encounter with this war-mongering nation to this very day, we must contend with enemies who seek our annihilation and destruction. We read this section on the Shabbos before Purim as the Talmud relates that Haman the archenemy of the Jewish people (in the Megillah) was a descendant of Amaleyk. What is it that we are supposed to remember? Is God telling us to remember that there are individuals and nations who hate us? Is the Torah reminding us to never forget that anti-Semitism exists? I do not believe we need a Biblical directive to remind us of this reality. We have struggled with it for thousands of years and we have seen a resurgence of this vitriol and hatred. Furthermore, on a textual level, if the Torah tells us to “remember”, why must it state, “you shall not forget”?
The Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) explains that in order to appreciate the obligation to remember we must examine the initial episode. The Torah does not merely tell us that Amaleyk attacked; rather we are told how they attacked. “How he happened upon you…and cut off all the stragglers at your rear…(Devorim 25: 18).” Amaleyk did not launch a frontal assault; they chose to attack the weakest link, those who could not keep up with the rest of the camp. Apparently, there was a group who fell behind. Perhaps, it was the elderly, the sick or the very young? Perhaps, it was those who had no one to look after them? They were the first to feel the brunt of Amaleyk’s hatred. The Rebbe explains that this piece of information is intended to be a form of stinging rebuke. How could we have allowed people to be left behind? How could we have moved forward when there were still stragglers who couldn’t keep up? How could we have allowed precious Jewish souls to fall between the cracks? The Torah tells us why this happened, “v’ata ayef v’yagey’a (you were faint and weary).” We were too tired. We were too busy with our own lives and our own needs to be worried about those who couldn’t keep up. And so, we kept moving at a pace that suited us and assumed that the stragglers would somehow catch up.
“Zachor es asher asa lecha Amaleyk (Remember what Amaleyk did to you)” – Amaleyk saw that we did not look after those who couldn’t keep up and took advantage of this vulnerability. We must remember that there was a time when we were not sensitive enough to the other, when we did not look out for the needs of the stragglers. “Lo tishkach”- Don’t forget our lapse in proper conduct, don’t forget about the other.
We don’t need to be reminded that there are nations that despise us and yearn for our destruction. We need to be reminded to never again leave anyone behind. We must become sensitive to the needs of those who may not be able to keep up with the camp. We must be attentive to the needs of our elderly and make sure that our communities are empathic and embracing. We must care for the handicapped making sure that they are part our greater kehilla. We must make sure to extend a helping, loving and nurturing hand to those who suffer from physical and emotional illness. We must make sure that no Jew is ever left behind, no matter how slowly he or she needs to travel.
On Purim we will share packages of food with one another, Mishloach Manos. I recently heard someone bemoaning the fact that upon arriving home on Purim day they have difficulty getting in their front door because of all the baskets and food parcels left for them. If you have that problem, how fortunate you are. But there are many who are forgotten, overlooked and left behind. This Purim use your Mishloach Manos as a tool of inclusivity and love. Think about those who aren’t as socially connected and popular. Think about those who are struggling and alone. Use this mitzvah to help bring someone back into the camp.
It is on this Shabbos before Purim that we pledge to ourselves and to one another that no matter how vicious our external enemies may be – our national camp will always be a place of love, acceptance and refuge for all.
“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.