“Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning.” — Exodus 27:20
The Torah portion for this week is Tetzaveh, which means “command” or “connect,” from Exodus 27:20–30:10, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 43:10–27.
Some things once you give them away are gone, like birthday presents or charitable contributions. Other things we give away, yet we haven’t lost anything at all, like a smile or kind words. However, sometimes when we give to others, we not only haven’t lost anything – we actually gain something in return!
This week’s Torah portion begins with a command from God to Moses: “Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives . . .” The name of the portion is taken from the word “command,” in Hebrew tetzaveh. However, the Jewish sages teach that tetzaveh has another definition as well. It can also mean “connect,” and this word is the key to understanding the entire selection.
When we define the word tetzaveh as “connect” the beginning of this portion reads, “Connect the Israelites . . .” The sages explain that this was God’s deeper message to Moses: His role was to connect the people to God. Moses was to enlighten them and bring them closer to the light of God.
The verse continues: “ . . . to bring you clear oil of pressed olives.” This meant that when Moses connected the people to the light of God, the result would be that they would bring much light to Moses. How does this work? The verse says that the people were to bring Moses olive oil, the fuel of the menorah, the holy lamp in the Temple. When Moses connected or “lit” up the people, they would cause his flame to burn brighter as well.
While last week’s Torah portion was all about the physical construction of the Tabernacle, this week’s selection deals with the role of the priests, their garments, and their inauguration into service. Yet the name of the portion defines the essence of their service. While the priests were the spiritual leaders of the nation, their job was not to command – it wasn’t to boss people around or abuse their authority. Their role was to connect the people – to inspire them and bring them closer to God.
While we all yearn for a more godly world, the message of tetzaveh teaches us the right way to move the world in that direction. We can try to command people – to coerce them into believing what we believe and into behaving how we behave. But that’s been tried and doesn’t really work. The other way is through connecting people – through inspiring them and sharing our light with them. Not only is that method more effective, it is also far more rewarding.
So what can you give that you can’t lose and that gives back more in return? God! Connect someone to the light of God, and you will glow ever brighter, too.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President