Saving Grace

“All kinds of wood from all kinds of trees may be used to build the fire on the altar, except for the wood of the olive tree and the vine, because olive oil and wine are used in the sacrificial service. Hence, the fruit have saved the trees.” (Pesikta Zutra, Lev. 4b).

Although the Talmud gives additional reasons for not using these two woods, Rabbi Norman Lamm uses this midrashic text to teach a beautiful lesson. First, there is the tenderness of reckoning the wine and oil so beneficial as to preserve their source from the fire of the altar.

One more step allows us to apply that rationale to human fidelities. In life oftentimes the parent is saved by the child, the teacher by the student, the adviser by the one to whom she has proffered advice. All human beings have to hope eventually that those who follow will “save” them — preserve their memory, recall their mitzvot, cherish their lessons.

One might not suppose that the types of wood used in the sacrificial service would yield such a crucial lesson about life. Beneath the surface of the most mundane text there is gold to mine.

Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow his teachings at

About the Author
Named the most influential Rabbi in America by Newsweek Magazine and one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world by the Jerusalem Post, David Wolpe is the Rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, California.