THE MENORA INTERRUPTION

  • Rav Yaakov Beasley

INTRODUCTION TO PARASHAT HASHAVUA

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In memory of Yakov Yehuda ben Pinchas Wallach
and Miriam Wallach bat Tzvi Donner

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PARASHAT TETZAVEH

 

THE MENORA INTERRUPTION

 

By Rabbi Yaakov Beasley

 

 

A.        THE ORDER OF THE PARASHA

 

Our parasha, Parashat Tetzaveh, continues discussing the building of the Mishkan – the receptacle of the Divine presence on Earth.  It describes the people who are chosen to serve in it, the materials and manufacture of the special clothing that they are to wear while they work in the Mishkan, and it describes the dedication ceremony that must be performed to sanctify the kohanim and the Mishkan itself when the Jewish people complete their creative endeavors. 

 

On the surface, the description of the Mishkan’s construction appears neat and clear.  All of the construction details of physical objects appear in last week’s parasha, Parashat Teruma; all the human aspects, including clothing, are defined here in Parashat Tetzaveh.  Only two details are inconsistent with this organization:  the description of the incense was inexplicably left out of the blueprint outlined in Parashat Teruma and appears at the end of our parasha almost as an afterthought,[1] and our parasha begins by outlining the need for the Jewish people to bring pure olive oil to light the menorah: 

 

You shall command Bnei Yisrael that they bring for you pure beaten olive oil for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continuously.

In the Mishkan of the congregation, without the veil that is before the testimony, Aharon and his sons shall order it, from evening to morning before Hashem.

It shall be a statute forever unto their generations on behalf of Bnei Yisrael.  (Shemot 27:20-21)

 

B.        QUESTIONING ITS PLACEMENT

 

The Abrabanel asks immediately why this command was inserted here.  Surely, he argues, the proper place would have been after all the details of the Mishkan’s construction, including the proper placement of the Menorah and the other vessels.  In addition, Aharon and his children had not yet been consecrated to become kohanim; what point was there in commanding them regarding the details of the service associated with the menorah’s kindling?

 

The Ibn Ezra attempts to explain this section’s placement as beginning a series of sections that deal with the Mishkan’s attendants and accessories.  Just as the menorah could only be lit with pure olive oil and no other foreign oil, the sons of Aharon were similarly designated to serve, to the exclusion of all others, and these sons were to be distinguished by their clothing.  Just as the oil had to be specially prepared, the future kohanim had to be especially prepared and instructed by Moshe Rabbeinu during the “Seven Days of Consecration.” 

 

Despite the Ibn Ezra’s clever parallelisms between the oil and the sons of Aharon, his answer does not explain why the interruption occurs here, when other accessories are not dealt with until later.  Rashi, in attempting to explain the repetition of our section again in Parashat Emor, suggests that in our section, Hashem tells Moshe what he will eventually say to the Jewish People later.  The Ramban finds Rashi’s answer forced and attempts to offer his own explanation for the need to mention the oil at the beginning of Tetzaveh:

 

And [Rashi’s approach] is not correct in my eyes, for it already stated (Shemot 40:25), “And the lights went up before Hashem as Hashem HAD commanded Moshe,” implying that both the commandment and its fulfillment had already occurred.  Instead, [the section about the oil is repeated in Parashat Emor because] the original oil had been donated by the princes, and when it ran out, Hashem wished to emphasize that just as the first lighting involved only the purest olive oil, so all subsequent oils that were to be brought by the congregation.  (Commentary to Vayikra 24:2)

 

Despite explaining the need to repeat the section later, the Ramban ultimately does not address the question of why the discussion on lighting the menorah with the purest olive oil first appears here.

 

C.        THE SYMBOLISM OF THE LIGHT

 

Given the difficulties in finding a logical and simple explanation for the commandment’s appearance here, the commentators do not view the commandment as one more mundane detail regarding the Mishkan that was apparently misplaced, but rather as a commandment that contains some sublime, symbolic value that justifies its precedence among the accessories.  According to the Sefer Ha-Chinukh, the effect of the lighting of the menorah was to engender the prerequisite sense of reverence and awe among the Jewish people:

 

Hashem commanded us that a lamp should be alight in the Mikdash in order to enhance its glory in the eyes of its beholders, for this is the way that people enhance their own homes with illuminations.  The idea underlying this is to inculcate awe and humility.  We have already stated (see Commandment #16) that [repeated] good actions form the inner character of a person.  This is all based on our fundamental principle that the precepts that have been ordained by Hashem are attuned to the capacities of those called upon to observe them

 

Illuminating the Mikdash, argues the Sefer Ha-Chinukh, increases the people’s sense of awe towards it. 

 

Many midrashim view the symbolism of the menorah differently.  The first of the Divine creations was light, to which all living things are drawn, and the opposite of which serves as a symbol of doom and destruction.  Sefer Mishlei compares the Torah to light – “For Your commandment is a lamp, and the Torah light” (Mishlei 6).  The fourteenth century French philosopher-poet Rabbi Yediyah ben Avraham Bedersi writes as follows in his didactic poem, Bechinot Olam:

 

The Torah and humanity together comprise the Lamp of Hashem on earth.  The Torah is the flame, separating form the spark of Him that dwells in the heavens.  Man, that is made of dual components of body and soul, is the torch that draws light from it.  His back is the twining wick and his soul the pure olive oil.  Through their intertwining and fusion [the Torah and the flame], the whole house becomes filled with light.

 

Drawing upon the above symbolism, the nineteenth century commentator the Malbim explains that the Torah emphasizes that this parasha, unlike the previous one, is directed towards the people as a whole, and therefore eliminates Moshe’s name entirely:

 

The Mishkan embodies the idea of the all-embracing unity of the Jewish people.  The Mishkan and its services were intended as an abode for the light of the Divine presence.  Therefore, the commandment went forth to the entire populace to bring to Moshe pure olive oil to purify their souls to be ready for the Light.  They, through Moshe, who brought the Torah and the Divine Light from the heavens down to earth, would kindle the lamp which embodied the soul of the Jewish people, and cause an eternal light to ascend.  This light came from the Torah, which was placed in the aron ha-brit, and should be arranged constantly before Hashem. 

 

The understanding of the menorah representing the meeting place between Hashem and the Jewish people finds its expression most clearly in the Talmud:

 

Does Hashem need our light [of the menorah]?

Rather, it is a testimony to all the inhabitants of the earth that the Divine Presence dwells in Israel … for the Western lamp burned constantly. (Shabbat 22b)

 



[1] See the commentaries of the Ramban, the Ibn Ezra, and the Seforno to Shemot 30:1; further development of their ideas can be found in the Virtual Beit Medrash at www.vbm-torah.org/parsha.60/20tetzav.htm  and www.vbm-torah.org/parsha.60/20tetzav.htm.