Parasha / E-Letter

Parashat Tezaveh: Pure for Illumination

0 Comments 22 February 2018

In her dvar Torah to Parashat Tezaveh, Rabbi Mira Raz explores the surprising lesson about suffering and destruction the Torah teaches us through its commandments relating to the lighting of the menorah.

Ancient olive press. By David Shankbone (attribution required) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

By Rabbi Mira Raz

In the previous parasha, the instructions were given to build the mishkan (” holy temple”), whereas in Parashat Tezaveh we have the details of how to make the priesthood attire. Firstly we have a detailed explanation of the clothing of Aharon the Great Priest: The vest with its squares and chains, the priestly breastplate, the jacket, the show plate, the priestly turban and the girdle, and finally Aharon’s sons’ priest clothing.

When we study all these items as symbols, we receive interesting and fascinating insights into the meaning of human existence.

Today, this is actually the relevance of studying these parashot, because limiting study to factual attempts to understand the written material constrains the learner to solely observing historical and anthropological viewpoints. But learning that dives into the symbolic depths of the matters at hand, gives us the most universal personal and spiritual ideas and connections, so that their meaning doesn’t fade but actually grows stronger in these confusing and crazy days in this land and worldwide.

The Parasha opens up with the commandment to light up the menorah. The verses that connect between the building of the mishkan and the priesthood attire hint at the fact that the whole of the mishkan and its details aren’t but a means to light up the world: the light of consciousness of values that will in the end bring personal and general peace. And this is the wording of the Torah:

“And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall bring to you pure pressed olive oil for illumination, for the kindling of light, eternally… ” -Exodus 27:20

“And they shall take to you”- Exodus 28:20

The first paragraph of the parasha concerns the illumination of the menorah by lighting a wick that was inside the pure pressed olive oil in every one of the seven candle spots. The role of the priests, after the first lighting, was to make sure the light doesn’t get put out by adding oil continuously. This is how we received Ner Tamid, “the eternal light”. The oil of the menorah has to be not just “olive oil,” but “pure.” This is the definition of the first oil that is extracted from the olives in a “cold press,” meaning when you press or smash the olives. The rest of the oil that is produced goes to a different use related to sacrifices of plants, and in no way is to be used for the Menorah. Rashi adds “Pure for lighting and nonpure for sacrifices.”

Let us go beyond the pshat (“the simple reading”). What does the word “to you” add for us? Read the sentence without the word and you will see a very clear sentence without it! Is it unnecessary? In the traditional understanding we do not have spare words in the Torah. Quite to the contrary in it is a “treasure” that is waiting to be redeemed. A thought- when you go outside there will be light upon a place that was dark. In other words we will understand something we were unaware of before.

Rabbi CH.D. Orr says:

“‘In these words ‘ ‘And they will take to you olive oil’ there is a superstructure (principle) for all the mitzvoth and every good deed that the human being does. For example: If a person does a favor for another, s/he also does something good for themselves; this does not illuminate the other but him/herself. ‘And you shalt command’- the decree is upon you, your intention for doing good should not be for any reasoning or other goal, other than your own improvement, and all you have done will be ‘pure olive oil’ , meaning- clean of all intervention of personal request or self deception.”

“Pure for illumination”: These two words are a spiritual law around the world. In many cultures you will find folk sayings that are identical in meaning to “pure for illumination.” The root of the word “Pure” is כ.ת.ת which according to Even Shoshan dictionary means: smashed, wiped out, broken, and destroyed.  We can say, expanding this, that in life every person has his or her own “breaking”- the human experiences that deteriorate us, smash us, and sometimes break us down. They can press us and sometimes destroy certain traits in us. For example, when a person loses their joy in life they have probably had a serious “purification.”

But the Torah doesn’t say, it commands: “Pure for Illumination!” It should not be that heartbreak is allowed to bring depression, detachment and inaction, “purity” of smashing and heartbreak must make for “an illumination”- to light the way” (from the book Hashva LeTova of the Alexander Hassidim)

In today’s language the Torah tells us it is appropriate that any suffering should become a reason for change in a positive direction. The crushing gives us oil, a substance from which light is created. Usually when a human is suffering he or she longs for the past and is remorseful about the change, but the truth is that if it was so good how did it become so bad? There is a reason for this that needs to be understood. And when the unconscious becomes conscious it is as if we have emerged from darkness into light, from dire straits into a new space, and in this new space a new reality is built that is substantially better.

Even if it hurts and the pain regarding what was lost remains, it becomes more bearable in light of the new reality. The Admor Rabbi M MeVarika said about the “Purity for illumination “:

“From here there is a hint, that it is permitted to make someone sad or bother them, to press them, if the point is to light up the right path for them. But ‘Not for sacrifices’ (menahot) if the objective was to humiliate him and to bring him to an inferior state (nehitut).” (This is a word play in the original Hebrew.)

Check with your older relatives and you will find that in their language there is a similar folk-term with a similar meaning. This is a primal human need that is forgotten amongst those who want complete control over their lives and are angry when it is taken from them, or when personal suffering is thought of as unjust according to any logic on this earth.. The individual of faith understands this but experiences meaning in suffering, if such is their fate, and rejects the idea of meaningless suffering. The believing person looks for meaning from the belief that anything that happens in the material, ephemeral world has a meaningful connection to the eternal spiritual world, that is beyond the number of years allotted to life in a human body on this planet.

These days Israeli society is going through a most serious crushing, pressing process: the expulsion of refugees and governmental corruption.

“In the Land of Israel the Jewish people were born…”

This is how our declaration of Independence opens. The Land of Israel is our eternal home. Israel is a modern organization characterized, like every welfare state, by a commitment to protection of its citizens without distinction of race, religion or gender.

As the text of the Declaration of Independence continues and says that in the Land of Israel our people:

“Created world cultural treasures for humanity and bequeathed to the world the eternal Book of Books…”

“And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” 0Exodus 22:20

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not taunt him. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.” Leviticus 19: 33-34

The heart breaks. The State of Israel is committing treason to the values of the Land of Israel.

I pray that we will know how to extricate light from this crushing press.

Rabbi Mira Raz is a member of Rabbis for Human Rights

Special thank you to Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann and Ofek Ravid for translation

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