Rabbi Norman Schloss
In the late 1800's,two of the greatest Torah giants of the time, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter of Gur and Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik of Brisk, would delve into Torah discussion whenever they met.
In the late 1800's,two of the greatest Torah giants of the time, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter of Gur and Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik of Brisk, would delve into Torah discussion whenever they met. One time, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai posed the following question: In this week's Torah portion of Tetzaveh we read about the menorah which was in the mishkan (Tabernacle) and later in the Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple). The Midrash quotes a strange testimony by one of the Kohanim (priests) who served in the Temple, that he "saw wondrous miracles with the menorah -- when they kindled it for Rosh Hashanah it would remain lit the entire year." The Torah clearly commands that there is a daily mitzvah to light the menorah. If the menorah stayed lit throughout the year, how was the daily mitzvah performed?
To this Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik replied, citing the halacha that one who adds oil to a burning flame on Shabbat transgresses the Shabbat prohibition of lighting a fire. This demonstrates that one is considered to have kindled a flame even if he has only added oil to an existing fire. Similarly, the mitzvah of lighting the menorah could be performed by simply adding more oil to an already existing flame. This must have been the way that the mitzvah was performed in the Beit Hamikdash. Every evening, a little oil was added to the ever-burning flame of the menorah, and in that fashion the daily mitzvah was fulfilled.
Every Jewish person, regardless of their background, has within them what is known in Yiddish as the pintilah yid, the special spark which is inherent to the Jewish people. We are all aware of a large number of totally unaffiliated Jews. Just like the Kohanim with the menorah in the Beit Hamikdash, it is not our job to kindle that spark; rather we must try to nurture the pre-existing flame and cause it to grow. We must add oil to the sparks of our Jewish brothers and sisters, explaining to them the purpose of the wonderful covenant which we all have with the Almighty and sharing with them the beauty of the mitzvot that are a part of our lives and tradition. However, like a flame, if you add oil too quickly or incorrectly you could extinguish it or cause a conflagration, so too care must be taken to educate others -- drop of oil by drop of oil -- to ensure greatness. Each person on his or her own level needs to keep the fire burning.
Rabbi Norman Schloss writes from Atlanta.
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