Parshas Tetzaveh: The Light of Torah

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Tetzaveh, the Torah continues to instruct us regarding the construction of the Mishkan.  The bigdei kehunah (priestly garments) that are to be made are outlined in great detail, as is the command to build the Mizbayach ha’zahav (the golden altar used for daily incense offerings). 

The parsha begins with the command to take clear olive oil, crushed for illumination, to light a ner tamid, a continual lamp, in the Mishkan.  This oil was used by the Kohanim (priests) to light the Menorah, which burned from evening till morning – with enough oil used nightly, so that the lamps of the Menorah would burn through the long winter nights of the month of Teves (see Shemos 27:20-21 w/ Rashi to v.21).   

While we no longer have a Mishkan or Beis Ha’Mikdash, where the Kohanim light the Menorah daily, we must create the inner light of the Mishkan, the Menorah, and the light of Torah, within ourselves. 

Rav Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “Every equation is reversible.  If the Beis HaMikdash is a home, then the home must be a Beis HaMikdash… To build a home means to build a sanctuary: that every home should have an Aaron (holy ark), a Shulchan (table), a Menorah, and be accommodating as far as HKB”H is considered” (The Rav Thinking Aloud, p.xv-xvi). 

Every home – nay, every person! – must make himself into an Aaron: a receptacle that houses Torah, where the Shechina (Divine Presence) will rest, just as the Shechina rested, ki’vi’yachol (as if it were possible) between the two keruvim (cherubs) atop the Aaron in the Mishkan.

Every home – nay, every person! – must make a table for himself.  A makom (place) where food is served alongside divrei Torah (words of Torah), and family sits alongside guests.  The table must be large enough in size and spirit to accommodate all those in need, as we elevate the base of wood to the heights of heaven.

And every home – nay, every person! – must make for himself a golden Menorah.  He must ensure that the flame of excitement for Torah, passion for mitzvos, love of fellow man, and faith in G-d burns ever brighter within his home, and within his very own self. לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר, תָּמִיד – so that always and continually, our flame burns before Hashem. 

We may no longer have the Menorah in the Mishkan or Mikdash, but we have our neshamos (souls) which serve in its stead.  As the verse tells us: נר ה׳ נשמת אדם – the candle of G-d is the soul of man (Mishlei 20:27).

After 9/11, Henny (Rebbetzin Henny Machlis a’h, d.2015, J’lem) declared, “We have to do more kiruv (bringing Jews closer to Judaism and Hashem).  We’re not doing enough.  Any suffering that happens in the world is Hashem talking to Am Yisrael (the Jewish nation).  There was a great catastrophe, and Hashem wants us to wake up for teshuvah (repentance).”

She devised a plan.  On Fridays, Henny, accompanied by her 17 year old twin daughters, and two Chabad girls from the neighborhood, would stand outside a secular high school in their Jerusalem neighborhood, handing out tea-light candles with a toffee, encouraging the girls to light Shabos candles.  Henny would talk to the girls, telling them that lighting Shabos candles would bring blessing to them and their families.  Henny would encourage them to tell their mothers that only good would come from lighting Shabos candles.  Often she got into long conversations with the girls.

Occasionally, the school principal would accost them, but Henny would calmly say, “We’re not doing anything.  We’re just giving out candles.”  On those occasions, the principal would inevitably order them to move their campaign farther down the sidewalk. 

Having moved her operation down the way, on Friday afternoons, Henny would set up a table with treats outside her door, and with her trademark smile, hand out treats and candles.  Sometimes she got her son or son-in-law to put tefillin on the boys.  As someone remarked, “It was as if she had nothing else to do on Friday afternoons  (keeping in mind that the Machlis’ had hundreds of guests for the Shabos meals, every week!) except run this kiruv operation.”    

Henny used to carry tea-light candles in her purse.  She would give them to any Jewish woman whom she felt she could influence to light Shabos candles. (Emunah with Love and Chicken Soup, p.326-327)

We must ensure that the flame is lit within ourselves, and strive to light the flame, warmth, passion, love and excitement for Torah and mitzvos in those around us as well.

With Haman’s downfall and the salvation that the Jews merited in the time of Mordechai and Esther, the Megillah tells us: לַיְּהוּדִים, הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה, וְשָׂשֹׂן, וִיקָר, the Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor (Esther 8:16).  The Sages teach that אוֹרָה, light is (the light of) Torah (Megillah 16b). 

The path to illumination is to ensure that even in the long dark nights of life, represented in the long dark winter nights of Teves, the Menorah has enough oil to keep the flame burning through the darkness.  It is the flame of the neshama and the light of Torah that sustains us from time to time and generation to generation. 

ליהודים היתה אורה ושמחה וששן ויקר – כן תהיה לנו!  The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor – so may it be to us!  בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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