Tetzaveh: A Light Unto the Nations

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion of Tetzaveh, we find a discussion of the olive oil needed for the ner tamid [constant light] lit by the Kohanim [priests] in the Mishkan [Tabernacle]. The Medrish Rabba (Tetzaveh, parsha 36, paragraph 2) discusses why the Mishkan needed the light, as it was the place of G-D’s Presence, and He emanates His own light unto the nations, and certainly does not require it for Himself.
The Medrish says: “Not that I need them, rather you should light up for me just as I give light for you. Why? In order to raise you above all the nations so that they will say ‘the Jews are giving light to The One who gives light to everyone.’ One can compare this to a person who can see and a blind person walking down the road. The person who can see says to the blind man, ‘Come and I will support you on your way.’ The blind man continues to walk [with the help of the other person.] When they get to the house the seeing person says to the blind one, ‘turn on the light for me so I can see in order so that you don’t have to feel indebted to me for escorting you. This is why I tell you to turn on the light.’ So to the seeing person represents G-D as it says in Chronicles (Divrei Hayamim 2 16:9): ‘For Hashem’s eyes roam throughout the land.’ The blind man represents the Jews as it says in Isaiah (59:10) ‘We grope the wall like the blind; and like the eyeless we grope; we stumble at noon as in the dark of night.’ By the sin of the golden calf G-D [still] provided them with light and lead them as it says in Shemos (13:21): ‘Hashem went before them by day.’ When they were going to build the Mishkan [Hashem] called on Moshe and told him to take clear olive oil [for light]. The Jews said (Psalms 18:29): ‘For it is You Who will light my lamp, Hashem, my G-D, illuminates my darkness. And you ask us to set up a light before you?’ G-D responded: ‘In order to elevate you that you give light to me just as I gave light to you.’”

The RaDa”L (note 10) elaborates that Hashem, out of His pure mercy, led the Jews through the desert with the Clouds of Honor during the day and the Pillar of Fire at night – even while they transgressed with the sin of the golden calf. The Yedai Moshe explains why Hashem nevertheless wanted the Jewish people to light up the mishkan, the House of His Divine Presence, with the ner tamid: “in order so that they will not be deniers of good. Even if Hashem did not need the light, nevertheless Hashem’s intentions were to teach man to night be ingrates.”

One question that comes to mind is how could the Jews have become ingrates in the Wilderness? They were on such high levels of belief in Hashem, and it was obvious that they owed their lives to Him; He saved them from the clutches of the Egyptians, and gave them food, drink, fresh clothes, and comfort. Then G-D gave them the Torah, the ultimate guidebook to living life to the fullest; they should have been overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude! How could they have lost it? Furthermore, one would think that by giving back to Hashem, it would reduce their feeling of gratitude, like a bartering system. He gives to them, and vice versa. There should not have been any feelings of indebtedness at all if they were just trading with each other. So why would the light of the mishkan enhance their feeling of gratitude towards Hashem?!

The Mahar”I Ben Lev (in the Yafe Toar) asks two other questions on the medrish: (1) Why would this act elevate their states in the eyes of all the other nations? On the contrary, they would think that the Jews are fools for giving light to the One Who Lights up the World. (2) What was the comparison to the parable? In the parable the seeing man didn’t want the blind man to feel indebted, which is not true here.

The Mahar”I Ben Lev answers that Hashem did not want the Jews to be ungrateful, rather they should acknowledge the good done to them, and for that reason Hashem “requested payment for what He did.” For this reason He commanded them to light up the candles, as a symbol of their gratitude, just as He shed light upon them. Through this they came to be viewed in high esteem by the rest of the world, for they saw that the Jews were not ingrates. To explain the parable, the Mahar”I Ben Lev says that the seeing man was paid back by the blind man by the turning on of the light in the house, in order to show that the blind man accepted the nice thing the seeing man did for him. The blind man does not owe anything else to the seeing man, because he already paid him by expressing his gratitude for the kindness the seeing man did for him. (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

The blind man is expressing his gratitude towards his friend by listening to his request to turn on the light for him. We see from this medrish an incredible lesson in expressing gratitude. There is no doubt that the Jews felt incredibly indebted to Hashem for all He did for them, and felt a tremendous amount of gratitude for the His kindness and mercy. However, Hashem was teaching them that, without giving back, without actively showing one’s gratitude, it is impossible to completely cover a debt. It is also possible that if one does not take action to show his gratitude he might even start to lose his feeling of appreciation, possibly because he feels entitled to what is coming to him for free. This is why Hashem commanded the Jews to light the ner tamid in the mishkan, even though He had no use for it.
Showing gratitude is of such fundamental importance that this is what elevates the Jews in the eyes of the world and, G-D forbid we would not show proper gratitude, it would create a tremendous chilul Hashem [profaning of G-D’s Holy name] in the world.

I would like to express might deep heartfelt gratitude towards Hashem for giving me the ability and allowing me to spread Torah worldwide. A sincere thank you also to all my students, supporters and followers for helping and encouraging me to continue with this magnificent endeavor of spreading the ingenuity of Torah throughout the world.

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