The Torah in this week’s Parsha tells us to bring, “clear olive oil, crushed for illumination.” Reb Menachem Mendel of Riminov explains regarding a similar passuk in Parshas Tetzaveh, that just as the olive is crushed to release its oil, we endure travails in order to bring out our inner sublimity, potential and strength, our true Jewish selves; and in so doing, we illuminate the world through a clearer relationship with Hashem. The Riminover explains that we endure crushing pains, not for the sake of crushing us to oblivion, Chas v’Shalom, but for the sake of extracting our greatness, teaching us about our potential, and providing us with the ability to illuminate the world around us.
The following two stories, while true for non-Jews, are all the more true for Jews given the uniqueness of our Godly souls:
While working as a counselor in a crime infested Brooklyn neighborhood, I had the privilege of counseling a patient who worked as a nurse for a local hospital. This woman, afflicted with paranoid schizophrenia, suffered from the most horrific hallucinations from morning to evening without respite. As she recounted her day and the gruesome hallucinations she experienced, I asked if she was able to perform her duties as a nurse. She told me that as terrible as the hallucinations were, she wasn’t going to let them stop her from living life to the fullest. I sat across from her in awe over the strength and endurance of the human spirit.
Gabriel Scibdrud was a good friend while I was studying at the University of Montana. Gabe was an all-star athlete and an accomplished violinist. Then, in an accident, his spinal cord was severed. Immediately after the injury, the surgeon told him that he’d be fortunate to be a paraplegic and not a quadriplegic. Stubborn and determined, six weeks after the accident, Gabe forced himself to stand. The exertion of standing caused him to faint. The next day he stood again. The day after that he took his first step. Life continues to be difficult for Gabe, yet he forges ahead. He never regained the full dexterity and strength he had before the accident, but Gabe has been for me, and many others, a shining example of the power of determination and the resilience of the human spirit. Although Gabe went, and still goes, through crushing times, he makes sure that the crushing is for illumination.
Reb Shayal’e of Kerister and Reb Tzvi Hirsh Riminover both lost children as infants, still, they continued to perform the many acts of kindness and tzidkus, righteousness, they are known for – Clear olive oil, crushed for illumination. Reb Areleh Belzer and the Klausenberger Rebbe lost their entire families in the war, but they turned their losses into reasons to hold onto the torch of Torah and Yiddishkeit and pass that torch onto others – Clear olive oil, crushed for illumination.
Reb Levi Yitzkok Horowitz, the Bostoner Rebbe, zt”l, asked a young woman what motivated her to become frum. She responded, “My first motivation was my grandfather’s dying wish, ‘remember me and remember Shabbos.’ In response to my grandfather’s wish I began lighting Shabbos candles. My second motivation was that my father, without fail, blew out the candles every week after the onset of Shabbos.” The Rebbe said, “I understand why your grandfather’s words, ‘remember me and remember Shabbos,’ motivated you to return to Yiddishkeit. But how did your father blowing out the Shabbos candles each week motivate your return?” She said, “By blowing out the candles on that week’s Shabbos, my father made it all the more imperative that I light candles for the next week’s Shabbos. And this happened week after week until I became fully Shomer Shabbos.” Crushed not for the sake of crushing, but for lighting, for illuminating, for making the world brighter. Each of us has an obligation to turn our crushing circumstances, whatever they may be – different for each of us – into illumination for our fellow Jews.
Have an illuminating lichtigen Shabbos,