A Source of Light to the World

Yael Eckstein  |  February 7, 2022

The large, bronze Knesset Menorah located at the edge of Gan Havradim

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

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. This week’s Torah portion is Tetzaveh, which means “contributions,” from Exodus 27:20-30:10.

One of the most common symbols of the spiritual power of the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, is the olive tree. For example, the prophet Zechariah had a vision of two olive trees, one on either side of a seven-branched menorah, just like the one in the Temple. God then told Zechariah that these olive trees were a vision of the Spirit of God, rather than physical might and power. (Read about it in Zechariah 4:3-6.)

In the Christian Bible, too, Paul used the olive tree as a symbol for the Jewish people and their covenant with God (Romans 11:16-18) and to describe how Christians are grafted onto this rich olive tree.

One explanation of this choice of symbol that I always liked was that in the world before electricity, olive oil was the main source of light. Light symbolized spirituality and wisdom, and the Jewish people are called to bring this light into the world. This also makes sense because light was necessary to read and study God’s Word in dark places and dark times.

But I’d like to suggest another reason why olives are specifically symbolic of the Jewish people.

A Source of Light to the World

In this week’s Torah portion, God tells Moses that the lamp in the Tabernacle must be lit with “clear oil of pressed olives.” Now obviously the way to get oil from olives is by pressing. The Hebrew for “pressed” here is katit. However, katit doesn’t really mean pressed. A better translation would be “beaten,” “broken,” or “crushed.”

Just as olives only give their oil — their source of light — after they are crushed and beaten, the Jewish people have been a source of light to the world because of the suffering they have endured over the centuries. The Jewish people have had a long and difficult history. We have been katit — beaten, broken, and crushed. But the suffering we have endured has made us spiritually stronger.

The worst tragedy in our entire history, the Holocaust, happened within the last century, and yet, only a few short years later, the state of Israel was born, setting us on a path to our greatest success as a nation.

Like the olives crushed to produce oil in the Temple, when our enemies try to destroy us, we shine even more light.

Your Turn:

You can help shine Israel’s light to the world by joining with The Fellowship to care for Holocaust survivors who are in need.