Needless to say, Midrash Tanchuma does not shy away from the tough questions. In our parsha the Midrash’s question is quite provocative: If God’s light fills the Mishkan (Tabernacle) because God resides there, what need is there for a Menorah?
Rest assured, the Midrash provides many answers to this question. We mentioned one last week – that God yearns for our light because God’s light in the Mishkan is related to Messianic times.
In this week’s portion, the Midrash reveals another answer in a rather difficult parable:
Does God “need” our light?
In the introduction to the parable (which is no less of a conundrum) , God specifies the exact role for the light of the Menorah.
לֹא שֶׁאֲנִי צָרִיךְ לַנֵּר אֶלָּא וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ בִּשְׁבִילְךָ, שֶׁאַתָּה רוֹאֶה לְהֵיכָן אַתָּה נִכְנָס וְיוֹצֵא,
“It’s not that I need the candle light, rather it’s in order that you (Moshe) may see how to enter and how to leave.”
Perhaps the Midrash is saying that if you are seeking out the presence of God, there is no spotlight from heaven showing you the path. Rather you have to generate your own light in order “to enter.“ You have to take the initiative. You have to be searching for the truth. This seems to be borne out in the journey of many Ba’ale Teshuva (Jews taking on an observant lifestyle). The most inspiring Torah lecture only works if you’re already seeking answers.
Perhaps in the Mishkan as well, God required us to light a Menorah in order for us to find spirituality. This would mean that, Ironically, God – the source of all light – ‘desires’ our light.
The parable itself expands and illuminates this idea:
מָשָׁל לְמָה הַדָּבָר דּוֹמֶה? לְפִקֵּחַ וְסוּמָא שֶׁהָיוּ מְהַלְּכִין בַּדֶּרֶךְ, הָיָה הַפִּקֵּחַ סוֹמֵךְ אֶת הַסּוֹמָא. לָעֶרֶב אָמַר הַפִּקֵּחַ לַסּוּמָא: צֵא וְהַדְלֵק לָנוּ הַנֵּר. אָמַר לוֹ: עַד עַכְשָׁיו אַתָּה מַנְהִיגֵנִי בָּאֹפֶל, וַאֲפִלּוּ עַצְמִי אֵינִי רוֹאֶה, וְאַתָּה אוֹמֵר לִי הַדְלֵק לִי הַנֵּר.
“This may be compared to a sighted man and a blind man traveling on a road together. The sighted man led the blind man all day. That evening the sighted man said to the blind man: ‘Go, light a lamp for us.’ The other replied: ‘All day you led me through fog, because I could not see, and now you tell me to light the lamp for you?’”
A relationship based on gratitude
The Midrash says that whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all like that blind person holding on to God for dear life. After all, God is sustaining our very existence. We don’t know what’s up ahead or around the bend.
The interesting twist in the story is that after being on the receiving end all day, the blind man has a chance to reciprocate by lighting a lamp for the sighted man. But rather than seizing the opportunity to show his gratitude, the blind man instead focused on why his help was not necessary. True the sighted man could have lit the lamp himself but he wanted to help the blind person feel like he too had something to contribute – to transform it into a reciprocal relationship.
The same is true with our lighting of the Menorah in the Mishkan. God doesn’t need the light, but by asking us to light the Menorah God is offering us a chance to show our gratitude for sustaining us through the fog and uncertainties of life. This, of course, is the critical basis of any relationship between Man and God. Realizing that although God sustains us, we don’t want to simply be takers, we want to be givers as well. The same is true in the relationship between friends or a husband and wife.
How much does God love the seeker of spirituality?
The Midrash demonstrates God’s great love for those who ‘light the Menorah’ and seek out a relationship with God.
אָמַר רַבִּי מֵאִיר, אָמַר הַקָּ”בָּה: חָבִיב עָלַי נֵרוֹת שֶׁאַהֲרֹן מַדְלִיק, מִן הַמְּאוֹרוֹת שֶׁקָּבַעְתִּי בַּשָּׁמַיִם
“Rabbi Meir said: that God loves the candles that Aaron lights more than the (great) lights that God fixed in the heavens.”
The sun and the moon sustain the planet. It seems that on a spiritual plane, the Menorah does the same.
Seeing Purim in a new light
The Jews in Shushan forgot that God was sustaining them while living under the rule of a mercurial king in Persia. A king who sent out an edict that every man should “rule the roost” in their home. Perhaps that brought a smile to the subjects of the empire – and the Jews were no exception. Not so the next edict about annihilating the one nation (among an empire comprising 127 different nationalities) who were accused of having ‘different laws than everyone else.’
When Mordechai asked them not to attend a banquet at which the king would show off plundered artifacts from the Bet Hamikdash, they did not comply. Unfortunately they needed a reminder, on the scale of potential genocide, to restore their understanding of the proper relationship between the blind man and the sighted man.