Friday, February 15, 2008

Tetzaveh 5632 First Ma'amar

וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר לְהַֽעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִֽיד׃/You shall command the children of Israel and they shall bring to you pure, crushed olive oil for light, to raise up the lamp’s flame regularly.” What was the point of the mitzvah of lighting the menorah? God certainly did not need the light. The Midrash explains that just as God lit the way for us in the desert, He gave us the opportunity to make light for Him as well so that the nations would make the connection and recognize God. This Midrash itself needs explanation. Since God does not need the light, why would anyone think that by lighting the menorah we are making light for God?

The Sfas Emes explains that the Midrash is not speaking of the physical light of the menorah. Rather, the light of the menorah represents the spiritual light that is in every part of the Creation. In Tehillim we find, “... מָה רַֽב־טוּבְךָ אֲשֶׁר־צָפַנְתָּ לִּירֵאֶיךָ/How abundant is Your goodness that You have stored away for those who fear You …” The Sfas Emes explains that God “stored away” His goodness – His light – within the physical Creation. Making light for God, then, means revealing God’s light that is already here. This can be understood from the end of the first pasuk in the parsha, “... לְהַֽעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִֽיד/… to raise up the lamp’s flame always.” The word “always” can be seen as modifying the lamp’s flame, as well. The flame, representing God’s light is always within everything. It is our job to “raise it up.” The Chidushei HaRim, in fact, says that on Shabbos there is an automatic elevation of the entire Creation and, to an extent, the hidden Godly light is revealed.

What specific techniques can we use to elevate ourselves and by extension, the Creation towards God? What can we do to “make light for God?” The answer can be found in a Midrash Tanchuma on our parsha. The Midrash explains a pasuk in Shir HaShirim, “... רֹאשֵׁךְ עָלַיִךְ כַּכַּרְמֶל/Your head upon you is like Carmel …” The word רֹאשֵׁךְ/your head, has the same root as the word רָשׁ/poor. Based on this connection, the Midrash says that the poor of Israel are equal to Eliyahu who ascended the Carmel. Notwithstanding the play on words, what compelled Chazal to associate the head with the poor of Israel? The Sfas Emes explains that just as the poor are dependent on others for their needs, so too, we are dependent on God – the “head.” When we internalize our own “poorness,” – that everything that we are, do and own is from God – then we connect to the “head” which is the source of life, God Himself. The words in our first pasuk, “כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר/crushed for light” suggest this. By realizing that we are nothing in and of ourselves and submitting to God, we remove any ego barriers that prevent God’s light from shining into the world through us.

The continuation of this Midrash sheds light on what else we can do to reveal God’s light. The end of the pasuk in Shir HaShirim states, “... מֶלֶךְ אָסוּר בָּֽרְהָטִֽים/… the king is bound in the tresses.” The word רְהָט/tress also means to run. According to the Midrash, the king is God who is bound by an oath because of the two times that Avraham Avinu ran to serve Him when the angels came to visit. The Torah tells us that Avraham Avinu ran to greet them. Then, he ran to prepare food for them.

We learn from Avraham Avinu that we can connect to God by doing something to serve Him that we would not normally do and that we may even think is beyond us. This is clearly what Avraham Avinu did. He was ill when the angels came to visit him. It was the third day after his circumcision. Yet, he jumped at the opportunity to host guests and serve them – something which was surely out of the ordinary. The Sfas Emes calls this, “הִתְלַהַבוּת שֶׁלֹא בְּהַדְרָגָה/non-progressive enthusiasm” – like jumping, skipping steps to do something that we would ordinarily consider beyond our current level.

The Midrash Tanchuma explains further, “... מֶלֶךְ אָסוּר בָּֽרְהָטִֽים/… the king is bound in the tresses,” as referring to Moshe Rabbeinu who was bound and could not enter the land of Israel. Since Moshe Rabbeinu was considered a king, God told him that the nation of Israel will fulfill his decrees – the commandments – revealing God’s light. As we’ve learned from the mitzvah of lighting the menorah, the way to succeed at this is by removing our ego barriers so that we can submit to our Source. This is why out of all the mitzvos, only the mitzvah of lighting the menorah starts with the words, “וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה/And you shall command.”

The Midrash therefore gives us two ways in which we can reveal God’s light, as it were, in ourselves and by extension in His creations; first, by nullifying our own ego before God and secondly, through a willingness to go beyond ourselves to serve Him. May we merit it!

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