Parshat Tezaveh: Character Illumination

There’s a well-known Hebrew phrase used when giving directions to a person wandering towards a destination: Yashar, Yashar Vetishal Shamah. It means, “Go straight, straight and then ask.” While this is functional, it is not always satisfying because we like to have an idea of where we are going and how we are going to get there before we start the journey. This explains why the opening verse of Parshat Tezaveh is:

וְאַתָּ֞ה תְּצַוֶּ֣ה אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֨וּ אֵלֶ֜יךָ שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד׃
You shall instruct the Israelites to bring clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly.

At first glance, this verse seems to be out of place. The previous Parsha provides directions for the architecture and construction of the Mishkan-Tabernacle. The upcoming verses and Parsha instruct the designing of the Priestly Garments. So why have a single verse commanding the bringing of clear oil from beaten olives for the Menorah here? We find other places in the Torah in Exodus and Leviticus that advance directions for how to execute the Mitzvoth performed in the Tabernacle. So why does the Torah insert this commandment here?!

The Abarbanel, Rabbi Isaac ben Judah Abarbanel (1437–1508), explains that this verse shows the Priests why the wearing of the Priestly Garments is so important. It is only while wearing the vestments that they are permitted to do the Priestly services beginning with the lighting of the Menorah each day.

The Malbim, Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser (March 7, 1809 – September 18, 1879), opines a beautiful interpretation as well. He likens our character and personality to the beaten pure oil used in the Menorah. The message is that in order to shine and illuminate the world around us we must endeavor to improve and refine our character attributes. Only then will we achieve and provide light throughout the world.

Embedded in this verse are two great life lessons:

  • As we journey through life it is optimal and often necessary to know which way we are headed.
  • No matter what we pursue and seek out, our efforts will always be best received when we do so with sensitivity, compassion, friendship, and all the goodness our character can exude.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Epstein