Parshat Tetzave opens with the mitzvah to kindle the ner tamid, the everlasting flame.
The act of lighting candles has great significance in Judaism. We light candles to bring in Shabbat and holidays as well as to end Shabbat. We light Chanuka candles to remember the rededication of the Beit Hamikdash. Memorial candles are lit to remember those who passed away during shiva, yahrzeit and on the eve of the holidays when Yizkor is recited.
How are we compared to candles?
The Midrash, Shmot Rabba 36:3 explains: In Mishlei (Proverbs) 6:23 we read: “Ki ner mitzvah v’Torah ohr”, “For the commandment is a candle and Torah is light”, meaning that whoever performs a mitzvah has kindled a candle before God and revives his soul as it says in Mislei 20:27, “Ner HaShem nishmat adam”, “The soul of man is the candle of God.”
Shmot Rabba continues, “For the commandment is a candle and Torah is light” teaches us that man’s heart frequently prompts him to perform a mitzvah, but the evil inclination inside of him says: Why should you perform a good deed at the expense of your pocket? Before you give to others, give to your children. But the good inclination says to him: Give for a mitzvah as it says: “For the commandment is a candle.” Just as the light of a candle remains undimmed, though myriads of wicks and flames may be lit from it, he who gives for a worthy cause does not make a hole in his pocket.
Nechama Leibowitz points out that the light of the candle differs from all other material benefits in the world which if man shares with his fellow, his portion decreases and his fellow’s increases. The light of the candle, on the other hand, supplies light to others without diminishing its own light in any way. If a good deed has been performed- though it might have involved a loss of time and money- the doer has not really lost. His neighbors and friends whether they benefit directly from the good deed or bask in its light- all of them light their candle from his, effecting a general increase in light.
Just as candles spread light, we must strive to give of ourselves and help others as much as we can, serving as an “ohr lagoyim”, a light unto the nations.