Tetzaveh – Ex. 27:20-30:10 (March 6/7)

As the Torah Turns

Rabbi Lader’s Weekly D’var Torah

Tetzaveh – Ex. 27:20-30:10 (March 6/7)

This week’s Torah portion is Tetzaveh – Ex. 27:20-30:10.  It is a continuation of the instructions for the building of the Mishkan, the wildnerness sanctuary, and begins with a task: “Command the people of Israel to bring to you pure oil of pressed olives for ther light, to keep a lamp burning continually (a ner tamid).” (27:20)  The light in these instructions is the light of the 7-branched menorah; the lampstand that stood in the area before the Holy of Holies, lightning up that area.  Aaron and his sons are instructed to regularly keep that light burning from evening to morning.  What we know as the Ner Tamid  approximates to the time of the Second Temple, when at least one to three of the lights were kept burning constantly.  When the Second Temple was destroyed and the 7-branched Menorah carried off to Rome (famously depicted in the Arch of Titus), a separate light was lit in synagogues to maintain as far as possible the Torah command.  That light has come to represent the Eternal Presence of God, a spiritual light emanating as if from the Temple of old. Rabbi Neal Borovitz sheds a larger (and more intimate) light on the Ner Tamid for us:  “The Tabernacle described in the Torah  was a moveable sanctuary. It did not rest on holy space; instead its presence transformed the earth beneath it into a holy place. Similarly, the history of diaspora Jewry is an account of sanctuaries that have been built and abandoned, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of choice. Yet the miracle of Jewish life has been our capacity to rekindle the ner tamid in new places, thereby keeping the light of Jewish teachings, Jewish celebrations and Jewish commemorations burning bright through both the bright sunlight and the dark clouds of our history. Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, editor of The Torah: A Modern Commentary, published by the Reform movement in 1981, quotes the following from the Itture Torah, an anthology of centuries of mostly Chassidic teachings and commentary: 

“Every Jew must light the ner tamid in his own heart, not only in the Tabernacle or Tent, that is, in a synagogue or school.  They must light it “outside the curtain” (27:21): in the streets and in the market place, in profane as well as sacred places and activities, in all matters relating to both each of us, as individuals, and to all of us as a human community.  An allegory: The Hebrew word Ner is spelled with the letters Nun and Resh, and can be seen as an acrostic for Nefesh Ruach – a soul with spirit.  This is the lamp we must light regularly.” 

It is important to note that the light does not just burn on by itself (even the lightbulbs need to be replaced!). It is up to each of us to regularly tend to Jewish spirits of our souls – through learning, through prayer, through acts of loving kindness and making a positive difference in our communities.   “Each of us has a spark inside, a warm and special glow,It’s a quiet flame that never dies, The Ner Tamid in every Jewish soul…… Always there in each of us,Shining from within.” (ECL, 1995) 

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