Parshat Tetzaveh 5776: Teshuvah and the Oil of Illumination

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshat Tetzaveh is being sponsored by Yossie and Elisheva Schulman and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for continued refuah shlaima for Yishaya Shalom ben Malka Gittel. To the Schulman family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Tetzaveh 5776: Teshuvah and the Oil of Illumination

by Moshe Burt

Our Parshat Tetzaveh seems, in a way, an extension of Parshat Terumah where, l’chatchila (the way things oughta be), one’s intent should 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, 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.

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 is 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. So too, with Yisrael — idolaters come and beat them from place to place and oppress them; they bind them with chains and surround them to besiege them. After that [Yisrael] do teshuvah and Hashem answers them…

Shem Mishmuel then comments (ibid, pages 173-175):

This midrash, while very graphic in its comparison of Yisrael to the olive, is very hard to understand. For it implies that Yisrael’s nature is such that they repent only if attacked and abused. Once trouble befalls them, they become convinced that they need to return to Hashem, and when they eventually do so, He will answer them with salvation…. It seems very unlikely that Chazal would describe Klal Yisrael in quite this way. What is the deeper meaning of this midrash?

It is obvious that teshuvah which is prompted by duress is of a very low standard. Real and sincere repentence should be independent of outside considerations, motivated by one’s own distress at failure in religious life.

The teshuvah of Yisrael is likened to the olive and the procedure by which its oil is obtained. This is its praise — that it fulfills the purpose for which it was created by being subjected to these harsh procedures [as described above]. As an olive, it is relatively useless — a mixture of oil and material which will eventually be discarded. Its nature and function are revealed by extracting the oil from the waste.

This is the intended comparison to Klal Yisrael. At root, they are good, but sometimes destructive ideas and actions creep into their lives. These must be expunged by certain outside influences. Through this, they can return to their pristine state, discarding the “waste” elements in their lives.

…It teaches us that the purpose… is to peel away the layers of dross from Yisrael and to reveal their true nature…. Then the real personality of Yisrael can shine through, without the need for attack or punishment.

It seems to this author that there could be another understanding of equating Yisrael with the olive tree and its end product: clear, pure olive oil. This author’s possible understanding is in the context of the “Koor Barzel”, the Iron Crucible of Mitzrayim (Sefer Devarim, Parshat Va’etchanan, Perek 4, posuk 20) as described in Parshat Hashevua Va’eira. Just as the nation which emerged from Egypt had to have suffered and endured the subservience of Egypt in order to be forged into a nation epitomizing emulation of the ways of our Creator, it seems that through our history, B’nei Yisrael is in a perpetual state of being a work-in-progress, a nation with its imperfections, yet a nation of the next levels from where the nations have stopped. As such, the “Koor Barzel” of the Egyptian enslavement, as well as the suffering and the oppression of the destruction of the Batei Mikdashim and resulting Galut, the modern-day reestablishment of Jewish Sovereignty in Eretz Yisrael, with the many and glaring imperfections of secular governance, to this day should serve to eventually forge amongst B’nei Yisrael a rock-solid belief in Hashem, as well as spirituality and morality based in the ways of Hashem and to serve as a paradigm of both these ways and as light of Hashem unto the nations.

We can act to manifest this paradigm in our times. Just as it seems obvious that the Jews of Shushan put aside personal and familial issues for the sake of unity and Jewish survival based on collective teshuvah, we too can collectively step up in unity and teshuvah with the game on the line. With heart, creativeness, fire-in-the-belly and pitching in, we are capable of compelling change from governance which loathes both Jewish values and the Land of Israel, to governance which embraces them.

Like in the time of Mordechai and Esther and the Jews of the city of Shushan, I believe that embracing our Jewish values, just as the Kohanim donned their Bigdei Kehunah, and crushed olives until their oil was perfectly clear and pure, is the message this year of our Parsha Tetzaveh.

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 at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the other 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 1 1/2 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 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!!!

Good Shabbos!

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.

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