Tetzaveh 5779


The unnecessary lights[1]

ואתה תצוה את-בני ישראל ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך כתית למאור להעלות נר תמיד: באהל מעוד מחוץ לפרכת וגו’ חקת עולם לדרתם מאת בני ישראל
You shall command the Children of Israel, that they should take to you highly purified, crushed oil for illumination, to ignite a constant flame. [It will be] in the Tent of Meeting, outside the Paroches curtain…an everlasting decree for their generations, from the Children of Israel[2]

The parsha begins with the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah in the Temple. This command seems highly out of place. It would have belonged nicely after the Mishkan was erected in its place, and not to be sandwiched between the parsha of the Temple vessels and the parsha of the Kohanic garments. Why was it placed here? As well, there’s a different parsha later[3] in the Torah dedicated to the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah. These verses in our parsha would have belonged better there. Finally, the end of the verse appears unnecessary. It could have simply ended by saying that the Menorah is an everlasting decree for their generations. What do the words, “from the Children of Israel”, add to our understanding?

An answer could be based on a proper understanding of offerings in the first place. The gemarra points out[4] that many offerings in the Torah are referred to as a satisfying aroma for Hashem[5]. A person might, G-d forbid, think that Hashem needs us to bring offerings. They could think that it’s some sort of nourishment for the Almighty. However, these are patently false. Hashem tells us (rhetorically), “if I were hungry…”[6], and “do I eat the flesh of bulls?”[7]. Offerings are also not a sort of bribe to appease an angry deity[8]. Offerings do nothing for Hashem. Rather, they are for our own benefit. They are opportunities for us to fulfill Hashem’s will, and to provide atonement for our transgressions[9]. This back-and-forth in the gemarra shows that despite sounding absurd, it’s a realistic misunderstanding that Hashem needs our offerings[10]. Therefore, there are various verses[11] and teachings which come to negate this mistake. While the commentators[12] give various explanations behind the true purpose of offerings, at the end of the day it is simply a decree beyond our understanding[13].

This mistake is possible to make with the Temple offerings. However, with regards to lighting the Menorah in the Temple, it’s impossible to think that Hashem benefits from its light. The gemarra asks[14] rhetorically: Does He even need its light? Behold, He lit the way for the Jews for forty years with His pillar of fire[15]! That is, the Jewish people saw with their own eyes that Hashem didn’t need them to light the Menorah for Him. He is the source of all light, and He lit the way for them in the wilderness. There’s therefore no need for any theological correction, unlike the offerings. The Jewish people had complete clarity that the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah was a decree beyond our understanding.

However, this clarity was only during the years that the Jews were in the wilderness[16]. Once the Jews entered the land of Israel, and the pillar of fire ceased, life was back to normal. To avoid any potential errors in understanding, the Torah specifically states that the lighting of the Menorah is an eternal decree for their generations. Meaning, even future generations should realize that Hashem doesn’t need the light of the Menorah, and the reason why we light it is beyond our understanding. This also explains the seemingly redundant ending of the verse: “from the Children of Israel”. What this means is any benefit that comes from the lighting of the Children of Israel, is equally unnecessary for Hashem. It’s all the same decree, whose reasoning is beyond our understanding.

This also explains why the Torah placed the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah in the awkward spot right before the Kohanic garments are described. This week’s parsha deals with the command for Moshe to inaugurate his brother Aharon and his descendants as Kohanim for the Temple. They are to have their own special garments for their service as they bring offerings for individuals and the community. To avoid any mistakes that what Aharon and his descendants do in the Temple is for Hashem’s personal benefit, the parsha starts with the mitzvah to light the Menorah. This mitzvah, as explained, is impossible to misunderstand; it’s very clearly a decree. It’s command is placed at the beginning of the parsha to show that everything else with regards to the Temple, including the garments and service of the Kohanim, are to be viewed the same way.

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Be’er Yosef to Exodus 27:20-21

[2] Exodus loc. cit.

[3] Leviticus 24:1-12

[4] Menachos 110a

[5] Leviticus 1:9, 17, 2:2, among others

[6] Psalms 50:12

[7] Ibid verse 13

[8] See Rashi to Menachos loc. cit.

[9] Ibid

[10] See Moreh Nevuchim 3:32

[11] Others include I Samuel 15:22, Isaiah 1:11, Psalms 50:8

[12] Inter alia, Rambam, Ramban, Ba’al HaHakeidah

[13] Mishneh Torah Hilchos Me’ilah 8:8

[14] Shabbos 22b; Menachos 86b

[15] Exodus 13:22 and Numbers 14:14

[16] Parenthetically, see the Be’er Yosef’s footnote which points out that this approach answers Tosafos’ question (ad. loc. s.v. וכי לאורה) on the gemarra