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The Divine Imperative

In Parshat Titzaveh, the Torah seamlessly continues to outline for Moshe and the children of Israel the necessary requirements for furnishing and operating the Tabernacle in the desert. Its opening verse, however, prompted a serious religious question for some among the rabbinic sages.

“As for you (Moshe), you shall command the Israelites, that they bring you clear oil of beaten olives for light, to kindle a lamp perpetually.” (Exodus 27:20)

How could it be that God, the Creator of light and darkness, might possibly need the works of His creatures to provide light? One midrash came to a profound conclusion through a creative reading of a verse from the book of Job: “Summon and I would answer You, when You long (tikhsof) for the work of your hands.” (Job 14:15) In context, this verse is a sardonic complaint from Job to God over his loyalty to God despite the pathetic state of his being. (See Greenstein, Job, p. 62) The following midrash, however, turns this verse on its head, and transforms it into both an affirmation of the children of Israel’s desire to service God accompanied with a surprising answer to the above question. (Such is the power of midrashic interpretation!):

‘As for you (Moshe), you shall command the Israelites’ Regarding this verse, Scripture states in a verse from the book of Job: ‘Summon and I would answer You, when You long (tikhsof) for the work of your hands.’ (Job 14:15). The congregation of Israel said before the Holy One Blessed be He: ‘Master of the World, summon and I will answer you. All that You (God) decree, I will fulfill, but regarding ‘when you long (tikhsof) for the work of your hands’ (Job 14:15), do You (God) really desire to do labor?’ [Reading the verse this way, led the author of this midrash to reject the absurd conclusion that God might not like the act of creating. Consequently, the author of the midrash decided to read the verse differently:] ‘Tikhsof’ must be understood to mean ‘yearn’… leading us to read the verse from Job this way: ‘You (God) desire the assistance of those who are the work of Your hands, [namely, you desire human assistance]’… For though You (God) are a light to the whole world, still, You command us ‘to kindle a lamp perpetually’. We, through Your light see light and You (God), and command us to light lamps [to fulfill Your will.] (adapted from Midrash Tanhuma Titzaveh 2)

The message of this midrash is that God desires that we see ourselves as His partners. This obviously applies not just in the realm of ritual but also in the maintenance and care for the world and its creatures, both human and otherwise. God wants us to know that He very much needs us in this role.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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