INTRODUCTION TO PARASHAT HASHAVUA
Kindling of the Menora
By Rav Zvi Shimon
Last week's parasha, parashat Teruma, dealt with the commandments to
build the Mishkan - the Tabernacle, and its vessels. This week's parasha,
parashat Tetzaveh, focuses essentially on the making of the special attire worn
by the kohanim in the during the Temple service. However, interestingly, the
parasha actually begins with the commandment of kindling of the menora in the
"And you shall command the children of Israel to bring you clear oil of
beaten olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always. Aaron and his
sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain which is
before the Testimony, [to burn] from evening to morning before the Lord. It
shall be a due from the Israelites for all time, throughout the ages"
(Don Isaac Abrabanel, Spain, 1437-1508)
of the other commentators query as to the placement of this commandment of the
kindling of the menora:
"Why does the commandment to kindle the menora appear here? This
commandment should have come only after the completion of the construction of
the Mishkan and the consecration of the kohanim?"
The Mishkan has not yet been built, the kohanim who are responsible for
the kindling of the menora have not yet been consecrated and the menora itself
has yet to be constructed. What is the logic in commanding if it is still
impossible to perform the commandment? Furthermore, why doesn't the command to
kindle the menora appear at the beginning of the book of Leviticus which deals
with the different functions of the kohanim including the offering of the
The Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham ben Ezra, Spain, 1092-1167), in his long
commentary to the book of Exodus (the Ibn Ezra wrote two commentaries on the
book of Exodus, one long and one short), relates to the order of the latter half
of the book of Exodus. He explains that the Torah first introduces the
commandments relating to the Mishkan and its various components, and then
continues with the commandments relating to the kohanim and their tasks in the
Mishkan. The first priestly responsibility mentioned is the kindling of the
menora. Following this, the Torah details the different attire of the kohanim.
According to the Ibn Ezra, the kindling of the menora belongs to the second
section, relating to the kohanim and their attire, and not to the preceding
commandments relating to the construction of the Mishkan.
This explanation, however, is problematic. Even if we are to accept that
the commandment to kindle the menora belongs to the sections which deals with
the kohanim and their attire, the Ibn Ezra does not explain why the commandment
to kindle the lamp appears before the commandments relating to the making of the
special clothing of the kohanim. The clothing of the kohanim is surely a
prerequisite to the performance of their tasks in the Mishkan!
The Chizkuni (Rabbi Chizkiya ben Manoach, France, mid-thirteenth century)
has a different understanding of the commandment of kindling the menora.
"After [the Torah] completes its description of the commandments
relating to the Mishkan, it specifies the method by which light will be supplied
for the Mishkan."
Implicit in the Chizkuni's explanation is the notion that the kindling of
the menora belongs to the previous parasha, to the commandments relating to the
Mishkan and not, as posited by the Ibn Ezra, to the section relating to the
kohanim. However, the Chizkuni does not elaborate on this point. Why does
kindling the menora belong to the section dealing with the construction of the
Mishkan? It would seem to be a form of 'avoda,' a function, and not part of the
actual construction of the Mishkan. How does the kindling of the menora differ
from the offering of sacrifices which appears in the book of Leviticus, only
after the construction of the Mishkan?
To answer this question we must analyze the nature and purpose of the
kindling of the menora in the Mishkan. Our sages offer the following
"Bring YOU" (27:20) - "Rabbi Samuel son of Nachmani said, to you and not
to Me, for I am not in need of light... but for you [Moses] and for your brother
[Aaron] for when you enter [the Mishkan], ...likewise the table was on the north
side [of the Mishkan] and the menora in the south Rabbi Zerika said in the name
of Rabbi Elazar, I am not in need of food nor light, but Aaron and his sons will
eat from the table. (Midrash Hagadol, 14th century Yemenite collection of
homiletical interpretations of our sages compiled by Rabbi David Haedni)
This interpretation focuses on the clause "instruct the Israelites to
bring YOU clear oil" (27:20). The light of the menora, like the table in the
Mishkan, is not for God's usage. God obviously has no need for our light, nor
for our food. God is the source of the light, the source of all that exists. The
purpose of the kindling of the menora is to provide light for Moses and the
kohanim when they enter the Mishkan. The menora basically functions as a light
bulb which illuminates a room. This is also the position adopted by the Ibn Ezra
(see long commentary 27:20 "La-ma'or") and the Chizkuni:
"to bring you" (27:20) - "FOR YOU [Moses], so that you can see where you
enter and where you exit." (Chizkuni 27:20)
The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, Egypt, 1138-1204) (see Guide to the
Perplexed, part 3, chapter 45), and the Sefer Ha-chinukh (Lists and elaborates
the 613 commandments, anonymous author, Spain, 13th century) offer a different
explanation for the commandment to kindle the menora in the Mishkan:
"At the root of the precept lies the fact that the Eternal Lord
commanded us that a lamp should burn in the Sanctuary, to magnify the glory and
splendor of the Temple in the eyes of those who behold it. For such is the way of people, to
attain distinction in their houses with burning lights.
And the entire reason for the
magnification [of splendor] in it is that a man's heart should become infused,
when he sees it, with reverent awe and humility" (Sefer Ha-chinukh commandment
The light of the menora is, simply speaking, a special effect to impress
onlookers and to arouse their awe and appreciation of the sanctity of the
By contrast, our sages invest the light of the Mishkan with far greater
significance than a simple light illuminating the Mishkan, whether for the
kohanim working within or for the onlookers from without. The light of the
menora is not ordinary physical light; it has metaphysical import. The light of
the Mishkan symbolizes the 'shekhina,' the Divine presence:
"which is before the Testimony" (27:21) - "It [the light
of the menora] is a testimony to
mankind that the 'shekhina' (the Divine presence) rests in Israel" (Babylonian
Talmud, Tractate Menachot, 86b).
This midrash focuses on the clause which designates the location of the
menora, "in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain which is before the
Testimony." The 'Testimony' refers to the two Tablets brought down by Moses from
Mount Sinai on which were etched the ten commandments (see 31:18). However, the
midrash interprets the word 'testimony' as referring to the light of the menora.
The light is proof that God "dwells" in the Mishkan.
A different midrash of our sages, cited in the Midrash Rabba, (a
compilation of homiletical interpretations of our sages) suggests that the light
of the menora symbolizes the wisdom of the Torah. Compare the following two
midrashim. What is the difference in their understanding of the of Torah?
"Just see how the words of the Torah give forth light to a man when he
studies them; but he who does not occupy himself with the Torah and does not
know it, stumbles. It can be
compared to one who stands in a dark place; as soon as he starts walking, he
stumbles against a stone; he then strikes a gutter, falls into it, and knocks
his face on the ground - and all because he has no lamp in his hand. It is the same with the ordinary
individual who has no Torah in him; he strikes against sin, stumbles, and dies,
while the Holy Spirit exclaims: 'He shall die for lack of instruction' (Prov.
5:23); and 'instruction' means the Torah.
He dies, because he knows not the Torah and goes and sins, as it says,
'The Way of the wicked is as darkness; they know not at what they stumble' (ib.
19). But those who study the Torah
give forth light wherever they may be.
It is like on standing in the dark with a lamp in his hand; when he sees
a stone, he does not stumble, neither does he fall over a gutter because he has
a lamp in his hand, as it says, 'Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light
unto my path' (Ps. 119:105), and also, 'And if thou runnest, thou shalt not
stumble' (Prov. 4:12)."
"'The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord' (ib. 20:27). God said: 'Let My lamp be in thy hand
and thy lamp in My hand.' What is
the lamp of God? The Torah, as it says, 'For the commandment is a lamp, and the
teaching is light' (ib. 6:23). Why is the commandment 'a lamp'? Because if one performs a commandment
it is as if he had kindled a light before God and as if he had revived his own
soul, - also called a light, for it says, 'The spirit of man is the lamp of the
Lord (ib. 20:27).' (Shemot Rabba
The heart of the Mishkan is the ark which holds the two tablets of stone
given to Moses on Mount Sinai (see 25:16). The Mishkan is thus not only the
house of God, it also houses the Torah. The light of the menora symbolizes the
light of the Torah. According to the first midrash cited, the purpose of the
Torah is to serve as a light to the people, instructing them in the ways they
should behave, and helping them evade the many pitfalls which reality presents.
Those without knowledge of Torah are likened to one walking in the dark with no
light, unaware of, and unequipped to deal with the obstacles he meets. Those who
do not know Torah are not equipped to deal with the moral challenges which they
will meet, and are thus likely to falter and sin. The Torah is depicted here as
a tool which guides man, and helps him escape from sin and moral disintegration.
The second midrash, by contrast, doesn't see the Torah in pragmatic
terms, as a signpost guiding man through the moral hazards of existence. Rather,
it views the Torah from an existential perspective. The Torah and the
commandments help man discover his true self and fulfill his latent potential.
It is through the keeping of the commandments that man reaches his most elevated
stature. Through Torah, man bonds with God and with his fellow man, and thus
reaches a greater fulfillment of his human potential.
To summarize, the explanation that the purpose of the light of the menora
was to illuminate the Mishkan for Moses and the Kohanim agrees with the general
understanding of the Ibn Ezra (ibid.), who asserts that the commandment to light
the menora belongs to the section dealing with the Kohanim, namely parashat
Tetzaveh. The menora's function is to allow Moses and the kohanim to perform
their tasks in the Mishkan. The three other explanations of the function of the
light of the menora, either to impress onlookers from outside (Rambam and Sefer
Ha-chinukh) or a symbol of the Divine presence, or of the wisdom of the Torah
(Midrash Rabba) agree fundamentally with the understanding of the Chizkuni
(ibid.), that the commandment of the kindling of the menora pertains to the
section of the Mishkan, namely parashat Teruma. The lighting of the menora is
not categorized as an example of one of the tasks of the kohanim, but is rather
an integral part of the Mishkan itself.
Let us now return to our original question as to the peculiar location of
the commandment of the kindling of the menora. According to the first two
reasons given for the lighting of the menora, the light takes on secondary
importance. It serves certain functions but is not a central component of the
Mishkan. However, the last two explanations given view the light of the menora
as the heart and essence of the Mishkan. If the light represents the Divine
presence or the wisdom of the Torah, then it is not only part of the Mishkan,
but is actually its ultimate goal. The purpose of the Mishkan is to serve as the
spiritual center of the people. It is the house of God which people visit in
order to encounter the Divine. If the light represents the Divine presence then
its absence leaves the Mishkan devoid of any substance. Likewise, the Mishkan is
also the center of Torah, the hub from which the teachings of God spread forth.
Without the light of Torah, the Mishkan fails to fulfill its aim of spreading
the knowledge of the will of God. As such, the kindling of the Menora must be
viewed as the ultimate completion of the construction of the Mishkan. It is not
a task, a function of the Mishkan; it is its very essence. With this
understanding it is clear why "the service of the lights" appears where it does.
It closes the section dealing with the laws of building the Mishkan highlighting
the Mishkan's ultimate function as the house of God and the center of Torah.
II The Permanent Light
The Rashbam (Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, France, 1080-1160), citing our sages,
points to the unusual language of the commandment of kindling the menora:
"And you shall COMMAND" - above (25:2) the Torah uses the phraseology:
"SPEAK to the children of Israel that they bring me an offering" since it is a
momentary commandment for the purpose of the [construction of the] Mishkan, but
here [the kindling of the menora] where the commandment to provide oil for the
menora is everlasting [for all generations] the Torah uses a different
phraseology, "And you shall COMMAND," the word 'command' implying an eternal
There are two emphases in the commandment to kindle the menora:
the permanence of the commandment
the role of the people of Israel in its performance
Scripture states that "It shall be a due from the Israelites for all
time, throughout the ages" (27:21).
It is an eternal obligation upon the people of Israel to provide oil for the
kindling of the menora. The Torah repeats the role of the people of Israel in
this commandment, once in verse 20 and again at the end of verse 21, in order to
stress that the responsibility for providing the raw material for the lighting
of the menora rests with the people of Israel.
If the lighting of the menora is an eternal obligation, how is it to be
performed now, that to our dismay, the Temple no longer exists? Is the destiny
of the commandment to light the menora similar to all other commandments related
to the Temple? Is it to be put in abeyance until the Temple will be rebuilt? A
fabulous midrash brought in the Midrash Ha-gadol relates to this very question:
"'for all time' (27:21) - Even though as a result of our sins we no
longer have a Temple, we nevertheless have synagogues and 'batei midrash'
(places of Torah study)."
The mitzva of kindling the menora endures in our prayers in the synagogue
and our study of Torah in the Beit Midrash. It is in our prayers that we
acknowledge the presence of the Divine and through our study of Torah that we
continue spreading the light and wisdom of the Torah. Our obligation to
illuminate the world with the awareness of the God and the teaching of His will
continues in the two key and pivotal institutions of the Jewish community. The
functions of the Mishkan as a house of God, of the Divine presence, where man
meets God, and as a center of Torah, are continued by the synagogue and the Beit
Midrash. It is through our devotion to these institutions and their functions as
centers of prayer and study we fulfill our eternal obligation of kindling the