This week's portion begins with the familiar proclamation of Hashem to his loyal servant Moses, "You shall command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination, to kindle the lamp continually" (Exodus 27:20).
This week's portion begins with the familiar proclamation of Hashem to his loyal servant Moses, "You shall command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination, to kindle the lamp continually" (Exodus 27:20). Hashem then proceeds to divulge the methods by which Aaron and his sons will light the holy menorah. Immediately afterwards, Moses at long last is told to appoint his brother and sons official Kohanim (priests) of the sanctified mishkan (Tabernacle), and only then does the Torah delve into the other myriad of responsibilities awarded to the saintly Kohanim. "Why," one asks in sudden heart-stopping anticipation, "was the menorah singled out as the only priestly command to precede the kohanim's appointment?" But fear not, for this question is addressed by the dominating sage of the previous generation, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein.
It is a well-known tradition that the menorah represents our most precious source of wisdom and guidance, the Torah, and just like the menorah was a constant and unerring source of light in the inner sanctions of Hashem's earthly palace, so too the Torah must serve as a valiant torch to guide us through the pitfalls of our existence. It is for this reason that the lighting of the menorah was detached from the other priestly commands -- to tell us that the lessons which are inherent and symbolized in the menorah pertain to every Jew. The menorah teaches us many important methods of learning Hashem's precious Torah, as well as how to spread its wisdom to others.
For instance, the Torah exhorts us that the oil used must come from olives which were "katit", explained by Rashi, the fundamental 11th century commentator, to mean that they must be hand-pressed, rather than squeezed by a machine or olive press. This seemingly minor detail teaches us that in order to truly acquire Torah learning, a person must exert all of his energies and potential and truly strain himself in eager pursuit of Hashem's gift of wisdom to the Jewish people. There are no shortcuts or crash course seminars for attaining a true understanding of the Torah. Secondly, just like a flame is lit by the candle long enough so that the fire will burn by itself, so too a teacher must imbue his student/child with wisdom until they are able to grasp the information and desire further wisdom on their own initiative, the ultimate goal of the teacher.
Finally, the priests were commanded to fill the cups of the menorah every night with five lug (a measurement) of oil, regardless of the length of the night. This simple law also teaches us a crucial point in our methods of instruction. No matter what the intellectual capabilities of the student may be, the teacher must be willing to dedicate an equal amount of time to his education as given to any other pupil. The teacher should not reason that the bright student can figure it out on his own, because through a lack of attention he may turn his intelligence to other pursuits. And the student with difficulties in understanding must never be dismissed as lacking the potential to become something great.
In summary, if one is looking for insight into wisdom and Torah, one should turn to the menorah. As the Talmud capitulates, "One who desires wisdom should turn south (the location of the menorah in the Temple)."
Ranon Cortell, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at Yeshiva Bais Yisrael in Jerusalem.
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