This week’s portion of the Torah begins with the words, “You shall charge the sons of Israel, that they bring you clear oil of beaten olives for the light, to make a lamp burn continually.” In the Hebrew version the word תמיד (tamid) is used and the question is what is the meaning of this word in this particular context. Commentators of the Torah disagreed on the actual meaning. Rashi explained that it is a candle that should be shed light throughout the night hours but there is no need for it to be lit during the day. His understanding of the word ‘tamid’ is of something that repeats itself over and over again but it does not require continuity of the light of the candle. That is, the candle needs to shed its light each and every night going forward. This also seems to be a plausible explanation as the passage continues with, “Aaron and his sons shall keep it in order from evening to morning”. If the lamp was to be lit continuously one would expect it to say “from evening to evening”. Admittedly not all Torah commentators agree with this and some explain the word ‘tamid’ as we would today, ‘continuously’ or ‘with no interruption’. That is the lamp will shed its light from evening to morning and from morning to evening and so on and so forth.
NFTY Teens to plead with their legislators about preventing gun violence.
But why would are we required to have a lam that burns continuously? The Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, Maimonides, suggests that the Menorah was placed to glorify and honor the Temple, because a Temple that has candles that light continuously and has the ornamental curtain that divides it, makes a great impression on the soul. Maybe the words of rabbi Shimshon Raphel Hirsch come to our aid here who said that it is the duty of the teacher of the Torah to make himself redundant and he should not make his student dependent upon him. He was comparing here between the light of the lamp and light of the Torah, saying that a teacher kindles the light of knowledge but needs to do so just as much that is necessary so that the student can shine light on her own.
These days we see eternal lights on in synagogues worldwide, some on continuously others only when it is dark. Maybe there is an advantage to what Rashi suggested of not having the flame on continuously, especially in this day and age where electricity is the source of power to such lamps. It seems that nowadays the eternal flame is just simply an artifact of the synagogue and does not function in the way it was intended to. Its function is to dispel the darkness from our lives, shed bright light where it is most needed, brightening our souls, so that we can see when it is pitch black around us.
This darkness may manifest itself when time after time some people are unwilling to open their eyes and see how youngsters in the United States of America are massacred by someone laying their filthy hands on an automatic weapon; when the heads of the National Rifle Association (NRA) shed off their responsibility to the slaying of innocent lives for unnecessary right or evil persons to bear arms. They need someone there to light the lamp, an eternal flame, that will get rid of the idea that it makes sense to allow evil seekers of laying their hands of such weapons. I am so proud by the young leadership of NIFTY who came out loud and clear, and around the country, fighting for that to change. Now, after yet another horrible and murderous crime in Florida we see a grassroots movement seeking to put an end to this reckless handling of this affair by the politicians. An eternal lamp should be lit so that selling or arms to those wishing to do bad is abolished from that great nation.
Here in Israel we have experienced an ugly attack by a member of Knesset on another member calling him a snitch and a rat when he was called to the police to testify. We need to be loud and clear about this – each and every one of us, including that MK, must say the truth, all the truth and nothing but the truth when so called to testify. When we see wrong we must speak up. It is unthinkable to have an MK call to do otherwise. It is also important to stress that such testimonies must be truthful, not wishful thinking or with an aim to gain, a description of facts not commentary. Testifying in a way that sheds more light not the kind that increases the darkness upon the world.
It is not an easy time here in Israel when the police, yet again, supposedly find evidence against a Prime Minister, for receiving bribe and breaching fiduciary duties. We must light the eternal candle on such deeds too. The PM also serves under the law. With that said we may not forget that he, like any other citizen, is presumed innocent until found guilty and not the other way round. He therefore should enjoy all the rights under the law that he is entitled to. The bright light of the eternal lamp must flood everything with its exposing light so that we can see what is wrong in our society and so that we can fix it. In order for us to do so we must keep the light burning at least during the night time when it is dark, and especially amongst those who darken the days. We so do because it is “a perpetual statute throughout their generations for the sons of Israel.”
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for a Happy Purim.
Reuven Marko, 23 February 2018, 9 Adar, 5778