This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshat Tetzaveh is dedicated Lilui Nishmas for the first Yahrtziet of My Father: Me’ir ben Shabtai who was niftar on 9 Adar 5777.
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Our Parshat Tetzaveh seems, in a way, an extension of Parshat Terumah where, l’chatchila (the way things oughta be), one’s intent should, must be as pure as the components used in construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and it’s accoutrements. Parshat Tetzaveh is dedicated to the enunciation for the Jewish people of the laws concerning the Kohen’s garb, the oil for illumination and anointment and the Avodah (service) of the Kohanim. This service reflects the purity of the Kehunah as a paradigm to the Jewish people, just as l’chatchila the purity of Jewish people should be a light revealing the ways of Hashem unto the world. Our Parshat Tetzaveh is also the Parsha notable by the absence of any mention of Moshe (whose Yahrtzeit is on 5 Adar) a point discussed at length in previous years.
Shem Mishmuel (by R’ Shmuel Bornstein, z”l, the Sochaczever Rebbe, translated to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, Parshat Tetzaveh, pages 173-175) renders our Parsha’s opening posukim (Sefer Sh’mot, Perek 27, posukim 20-21):
“You shall command the B’nei Yisrael that they should bring to you pure olive oil, beaten for the lamp, to make an everlasting light burn in the Tent of Meeting…”
The Sapirstein Edition of the Chumash with Rashi Commentary renders translation of these posukim substituting the word “clear” for “pure” (Sefer Sh’mot, page 376). The Rashi commentary defines “clear” and notes:
Without sediments, i.e. “He leaves it to ripen at the top of the olive tree, etc.”
It is not enough that the oil not have sediments at the time it is used in the Menorah. It must be oil which never had sediments in it.
In the victorious battle of the Chashmonaim against the Greeks which we commemorate during Chanukah, it was the discovery of such a flask of oil, with the seal of the Kohen Godol, which miraculously burned for eight days.
Shem Mishmuel (ibid, pages 173-175) cites both Yirmiyahu (Perek 11, posuk 16) and Sh’mot Rabbah (Perek 36, posuk 1):
You shall command — “A verdant olive tree, beautiful with good fruit, Hashem called your name.”
Why are Yisrael named just after the olive tree, for are not all other types of trees pleasant and beautiful?
…With regard to the olive tree, while the olives are on the tree, they are picked and brought down from the tree. They are beaten, and once beaten, the are taken to the press and put into a crusher. Then they are crushed again and surrounded by ropes and pressed by huge stones. After all of this, they give forth their oil.
But it seems to me that there could be still another understanding of equating Yisrael with the olive tree and its end product: clear, pure olive oil in addition to that discussed in last year’s vort on Parshat Tetzaveh.
Could this understanding be a more modern-day equation of the “Koor Barzel”, the Iron Crucible of Mitzrayim (Sefer Devarim, Parshat Va’etchanan, Perek 4, posuk 20) — the Iron Crucible: American-style of the early twentieth century?
I’m referring to the era of mass Jewish immigration to the United States, often referred to by the masses of Eastern European Jews who sought refuge from pogroms and persecutions in America as “The Golden Medina.” Upon arrival though, they found that the streets were NOT paved in gold, and while they found life free from bodily harm and persecution, they suffered various forms of discrimination (i.e. compulsory work on Shabbos, quotas, etc) and thus limited availability of work — parnossa and sub-standard wages for those times.
So, what do I mean by the Iron Crucible: American-style, and how might the pure olive oil, beaten for the lamp apply to my Dad?
Jews resorted to push-carts selling all manner of wares in the streets. In the case of my Father’s family, my Grandfather, with my Dad and my sold fruits and vegetables via push-cart to earn a living. And my cousin Bob once related to me some things that his Dad told him about the Burts. The story goes that on the cold wintry days and nights, my Grandfather, my Dad and my Uncle would go house-to-house selling coal for furnaces of the time, with my Dad and uncle in their adolescence, faces grimy from the coal, shlepping heavy sacks of coal down to people’s basements. One such story has my Grandfather at someone’s door frost-bitten delivering coal. Eventually, the family was financially able to open a sizeable grocery store — they had gone in and out of the grocery business a few times before they opened a store “Powelton Food Market” in the early 1950s, as per some of the pictures I showed and spoke of at the Shloshim.
My Dad served in the Army Air Corp, the forerunner to the Air Force as a Gunnery Instructor as such bases as Tindle Field in Florida and in New Foundland where he met a fellow Jew who brought my parents together.
In speaking about my Dad, Me’ir HaKohen ben Shabtai, he came from humble, American-born son of immigrants’ origins and mores. He was always kind, humble, straight up honest in his dealings with others in life while never seeking, never chasing after honor – kavod, or self-aggrandizement. His focus was always on job — diligent work ethic, home and family — my Mother and myself, to the exclusion of almost everything outside of those realms.
One of the attributes of my Dad, of both my Parents which I hold that both the Iron Crucible and the pure, beaten olive oil applies can be found in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, as compiled by Rabbi Soloman Ganzfried, translated to English by Hyman E. Goldin LL.B.
From the early to mid-1950s, my parents owned a small grocery store in North Philadelphia. My Dad never failed to label every product in the store as to its price — lierally line-item pricing of every piece of merchandise in the store. And when he carved or sliced meat for customers’ orders, he was exacting in the accuracy of his weights.
In Volume 2, Chapter 62, “Concerning Commerce”, point 1 explains:
We must take extreme care not to deceive one and other. If anyone deceives his neighbor, whether a seller deceives a buyer, or a buyer deceives the seller, he transgresses a prohibitory law.
Chapter 62, point 1 then cites Sefer Devarim, Perek 25, posuk 14 (as rendered to English in the Artscroll Stone Chumash with commentary, page 699):
“When you make a sale to your fellow or make a purchase at the hand of your fellow, do not aggrieve one another.”
“When you make a sale to your fellow…” …the simple meaning that it is forbidden to cheat anyone in business…”
“Do not aggrieve one another.” This phrase refers to business conduct. Do not act unjustly to one another.
Chapter 62, point 1 in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch cited above concludes:
According to our Sages (citing Shabbos 31a), this is the first question that a mam is asked when brought before the Heavenly Court: “Hast thou been dealing honestly?”
In these days of Mekolets, large chain supermarkets in Israel with automation and bar codes, the frequency of unpriced products misplaced with the incorrect shelf bar codes is of such a degree as to seemingly institutionalize management deception of customers such as to trigger “sticker shock” at the register. These misplacements are brought to attention of store personnel repeatly, infinitum. This frequency seems such that management, not incompetent stock workers, institutionalize apparent deliberate misplacements.
In short, doesn’t it seem that mekolets and large chain supermarket managements institutionalize placing obstacles in the way of the blind, i.e. the customer?
No shenanigans of this sort would occur or be tolerated in my Father’s store.
In public; in the workplace, among his extended family: his parents, siblings, nephews and nieces, grandchildren, cousins — he was always jovial, jocular — always rhyming, i.e. “Yankele, Yankele, don’t you cry, you gonna be a Big Yankele bye and bye.” And you catch on pretty fast when he’d say, “I gotta see a man about a horse.” My Dad was a man of few words, not involving himself in verbal over-analysis of things, of crises or issues.
Although my Dad and my Mother spoke Yiddish when they didn’t want me to know what was being said, or when he would kibbitz with relatves, my Dad seemingly knew little of Observance. For my Bar Mitzvah, we needed transliteration for him for his recitation of the Brachot of his Aliyah b’Torah. Yet, he displayed the character traits, such as in business, which set a Jew as paradigm, before the world, of emulation of Hashem’s Ways.
At home, my Mother was the more verbal one, the more dominant one in family affairs; in the home or in dealing with extended family, family finances, dealing with my chinuch — nurturing, education, upbringing.
But at any family simcha where there was dancing, my Dad OWNED any dance floor that he danced upon. My Dad was graceful, the likes of a Fred Astaire, a Gene Kelly. From the Charleston, to the Jitterbug, to the Twist, to the Kazatzka — he did it all on a dance-floor and always joked and kidded with relatives.
My Dad was also very handy with his hands and was able to make repairs and innovate around the house.
And in his retirement years, as my parents lived in the condo that they had in Century Village, near Fort Lauderdale, Florida, my Dad occupied himself both with helping neighbors organize their living quarters as well as being his building’s representative on the Condo’s residents’ committee.
And at my parents’ final residence: The Bridge Assisted Living facility in Lauderhill, Florida, before their respective passings, everyone was fond of my Dad, who always had kind words, jokes and sayings with everyone.
May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of three and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.