Friday, February 26, 2010

Parshat T'tzaveh - פרשת תצוה

"ואתה תצוה את בני ישראל ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך כתית למאור להעלות נר תמיד - Now you shall command Bnei Yisrael that they shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination, to kindle the lamp continually." (שמות כז:כא)

Rashi writes in his commentary on this Pasuk that the word כתית, crushed, means that the olives should be crushed so that the resulting oil may be used for the Menorah. He then explains that after this oil had been crushed and the first drop removed, the remaining oil would be unfit for this purpose and would be utilised for another task in the Mishkan; namely for use in the מנחות, the meal offerings.

HaRav Chanoch Ehrentreu, author of Kometz Hamincha, writes that if the two oils were of the same quality, of the same colour and essentially of the same stock, why should the second batch be proscribed from use in the Menorah? After all, if the only difference is that the first round of oil was produced by crushing and pressing and the second was made by being ground up, what was really so different about them that they would be assigned different roles?

Rav Ehrentreu answers by examing the functions of the tools in which these oil were to be used. He explains that if we stop to think what the Menorah represents, we may understand why this halacha exists. The light of the Menorah, so we learn, is meant to symbolise the Torah. The Torah is described as being a light in the darkness, dispelling ignorance and a lack of knowledge. The Menorah is the instrument that makes use of the oil we talk about above. The oil itself is described as being pure by necessity. That the oil should be pure seems obvious enough - would you expect all the tools and objects used in God's house to be anything less than of the very highest quality? The reason why the word pure is mentioned will be put in perspective later on. For the moment, we can make do with the basic explanation that just as the Torah is utterly pure, so too must the oil used for the lighting of the Menorah be pure.

The second halacha we learn in the verse above is that the oil is to be crushed. This, as Rashi elaborates, is pertaining to the oil used for the Menorah. Once that very first drop of oil had been extracted though, the oil processing continues. The crushed olives are then ground up so as to get every last bit of juice out of them. Rashi points out that for the first batch of oil, the oil destined for use in the Menorah, there may be no "שמרים" (sediments), in this batch, it is an inevitability that there will be sediments in the oil. In pointing us to the difference between the step of merely crushing the olives and then totally grinding them, Rashi hints to us how we are supposed to "acquire" Torah. Whereas kings may leave their kindgom as an inheritance for their children and while the rich may leave behind a large portion for their descendents, Torah is not something that can simply be acquired through inheritance. Each and every person has to make the effort to learn and to take his own portion, we learn.

Chazal, the sages of Israel, found a hint to this in the verse where the making of the Aron Hakodesh is described. There the word "ועשו", meaning "and you," is used. The usage of this word is not without significance; with all the other tools in the Bet Hamikdash, the word "ועשית", which also means "and you," is used. The difference is that when detailing the Aron Hakodesh, the ark that was to house the Torah within it, the plural version of the word was selected for usage. The reason for this subtle discrepancy, Chazal tender, is because each and every Jew has to take part in the Mitzvah of learning Torah. Other mitzvot are geared towards certain parts of the population, but in this mitzvah, everyone must work.

As such, it makes perfect sense to refer to the Shulchan, the table upon which the meal offerings were issued. Here the more normative form is used, as it says "ועשית שולחן", and you (singluar) shall make the table (שמות כה:כג). Just as a kingdom and wealth may be passed on, so too may physical possessions. Not every person has the need to work to acquire physical objects in his life. The meal offerings upon which were offered, though, were something that were designed to help bring us closer to Hashem. Now if we may make a contrast with the pure oil that was to be used for the Menorah, we can understand why the oil here had to be ground. Whereas there the oil had to be of the finest quality as it was representative of the total purity of Torah, here it was not just acceptable but even part of the process that it should include sediment. The toil by which this oil was produced resulted in part of the olive being left behind in the oil. For us to acquire that purest of things, the Torah, we learn that we have to invest ourselves. Hopefully now we can understand why the two kinds of oil were produced from the same stock, and yet one was banned from use in the other's role.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a Purim Sameach!

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