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Moses is waiting

And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually. [Exodus 27:20]
There’s no opening in the Five Books of Moses such as that in the Torah portion of Tetzaveh, in which Moses is told to “command” the Children of Israel. Throughout the Torah, the formula is that G-d talks to Moses and the latter relays the divine word to the Jews. Here Moses doesn’t do that. Instead, the servant seems to give the orders.
The context is the lighting of the Menorah, or candelabra, in the Mishkan. It is to be done eternally, understood as every evening. What is placed in the seven cups must be pure olive oil, literally the first drop of every olive picked from the top of the tree, exposed to the greatest amount of sun.
Now for the questions: First, we haven’t had a Menorah in nearly 2,000 years, so how can we call this commandment eternal? Second, what makes this commandment unique in that Moses rather than G-d is issuing the command?
Abraham Ben Meir Ibn Ezra starts us off by explaining the command of lighting the Menorah. The 12th Century sage, who came from what today is Navarre, Spain, says the eternal element of the commandment does not pertain to the priests, responsible for cleaning, filling and lighting the candelabra daily. It is with the Jewish people as a whole. Their job is to supply the oil to keep that flame going.
For hundreds of years, that flame was sustained in the first and second temples. But for the last nearly 2,000 years, the flame is that of Torah and its commandments.
“For a candle is a mitzvah, and the Torah is light.” [Proverbs 6:23]
The mitzvah is a tool, a receptacle. But the Torah is the light that makes the tool work. An unlit candle is useless in the dark. A flame that flickers even for seconds can show you the way.
It is the responsibility of the Jewish people, whether poor or rich, simpletons or scholars, to bring the oil that will sustain the flame of Torah. They, and not the priests, must provide the means to educate another generation regardless of the cost. Like the oil, the Torah must be pure — meant not for riches or status. Jewish education must be affordable for all, all the time. Our fate depends on this.
Not coincidentally, it is the Zohar, translated as “brilliant light,” that links Moses to the lighting of the candelabra. This Aramaic tract, seen as containing the great secrets of the world, says Israel will undergo four exiles. Each exile will end through the merit of a righteous person.
The first exile will end through the merit of the patriarch Abraham. Issac will take care of the second exile, and Jacob the third. We are now in the fourth exile, that of Rome, which has lasted nearly 2,000 years and counting. The final exile will end through the merit of Moses.
The implication of this is enormous. If Moses can end the exile, why doesn’t he do so? Remember how he argued with G-d to liberate the Children of Israel from Egypt immediately?
But we are no longer slaves in Egypt, prevented from serving G-d. That’s what Moses fought for — the redemption of our forefathers so that they and we could stand at Mount Sinai and receive the Torah. Mission accomplished, and today we have the Torah and its commandments as well as the oral law that explains it all. Still, we are not fulfilling our divine obligation. Some of us have dismissed Judaism as irrelevant, many others are busy with careers and the material world.
“And that’s why the exile has been extended,” the Zohar, quoted by the Or Hachayim, says. “Because as long as we do not engage in Torah and mitzvot, Moses does not want to redeem a people who are idle from Torah.”
That’s why G-d tells Moses to command the Jews. G-d has given Moses the authority to end the exile and usher in the final redemption. But with great power comes great responsibility. Moses must make certain that the Jews learn Torah and keep the commandments. That will enable him to overcome any reservations and approve the redemption in which we will serve G-d with all our hearts. Because what’s the point of being redeemed if we do exactly what we had done when we were in servitude?
As the Ibn Ezra indicates the lamp of Torah must be supported by everybody. Money is a valuable tool but cannot stop the poor from learning Torah and performing the commandments. Many a head of yeshiva has fought with its board of directors to allow a poor student to enroll on a full scholarship rather than save a seat for a rich kid who could pay full tuition. Many a charity has been faced with the question of whether to supply the most kosher of matzot for Passover or the highest quality olive oil for Hanukkah when any cheap brand can do. The real question: Is money meant to be spent for Torah, or accumulated for a rainy day?
To fulfill Moses’ criteria for ending the exile, we must search our souls. Is our goal charity, or is it pleasure? Do we take our cues from the rich, or are we guided by the righteous? Do we want to understand Jewish history, or is the present the most important moment of our life?
Moses is waiting.
About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.
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