“How Pure is Your Oil?" (Parshat Tetzaveh)
Updated: Feb 28
This week’s Torah portion is Parashat Tetzaveh, which spans from Exodus 27:20-30:10. Tetzaveh means “you shall command” and covers a myriad of topics including the manner in which the Menorah was to be lit inside of the Mishkan, the selection of Aharon as Kohen Gadol and his sons as kohanim, the instructions of the bigdei kehunah (or, the clothing of the kohanim), the mitzvot that Moshe had to perform for seven days to prepare the Mishkan, the procedures to make the copper altar holy, the command to bring the Korban tamid every morning and afternoon, and finally the instructions surrounding the construction of the Mizbeach HaKetoret (or, the gold incense altar) and the offering of the daily spices. Though there is much to be explored in this parasha, as you can tell, I felt compelled to focus on just the first two verses dealing with the mitzvot of the Menorah.
Now, before we get to the Torah text, I want to briefly discuss an Enlightenment that occurred in times past. From approximately the 1770s to the 1880s, primarily in Germany, there were many within European Jewry that participated in what is referred to as the Haskalah (the Jewish Enlightenment). Haskalah comes from the Hebrew word Sekhel (i.e., intellect) and it was spear-headed by certain Jews, called Maskilim, that believed that Judaism could be integrated with the Enlightenment ideals of Europe’s leading philosophers. One of the most notable leaders of this movement was Moses Mendelsohn, who believed that the Jewish people could avoid the pressures of anti-Semitism by prioritizing secular education over Torah studies, by leaving behind Yiddish for the German language, and by assimilating most aspects of Jewish life and religion into European culture. The issue here is not the education, per say, but the prioritization of the one above the other. In other words, Mendelsohn wanted "the voice to be the voice of Jacob and yet the hands be the hands of Esav." Though Mendelsohn did much to fight anti-Semitic legislation in Europe, his efforts ultimately led to Jewish people abandoning many aspects of Jewish culture, education, language, and beliefs in the name of rationalism, intellectualism, and reason, thus distancing these “Enlightened” Jews from traditional Judaism. This Haskalah laid the groundwork for the Reform movement and created the conditions for secular Zionism, anti-Messianism, and anti-Judaism within Judaism itself. Not everyone in Europe approved of this proposed integration of the Jewish people into European (read, German) society, as they believed the Jewish people to be inherently corrupt, which thus caused an escalation in persecutions that ultimately climaxed in the Shoah of WWII. Now, this is not to speak to Mendelsohn’s character, G-d forbid, but it is merely to show the negative effects of this false sense of Enlightenment. We must understand the difference between a light and the Light. Therefore, as we discuss this week’s Torah parasha, it is vital that we distinguish between this false type of Enlightenment presented by people like Moses Mendelsohn, as “even the satan masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinth. 11:14), and the true type of Enlightenment presented to us in our Torah by Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses, our Teacher).
Our parasha begins with these words:
וְאַתָּ֞ה תְּצַוֶּ֣ה ׀ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֨וּ אֵלֶ֜יךָ שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד׃
And you shall command the children of Yisra᾽el, that they take for you [Moshe] pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually.
בְּאֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵד֩ מִח֨וּץ לַפָּרֹ֜כֶת אֲשֶׁ֣ר עַל־הָעֵדֻ֗ת יַעֲרֹךְ֩ אֹת֨וֹ אַהֲרֹ֧ן וּבָנָ֛יו מֵעֶ֥רֶב עַד־בֹּ֖קֶר לִפְנֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֑ה חֻקַּ֤ת עוֹלָם֙ לְדֹ֣רֹתָ֔ם מֵאֵ֖ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל
In the Tent of Meeting outside the veil, which is before the Testimony, Aharon and his sons shall order it from evening to morning before the Lord: it shall be a statute for ever to their generations on behalf of the children of Yisra᾽el.
Now, there are seven questions that we have to ask regarding this verse (one for each branch of the Menorah):
1) What is the Shemen Zayit Zak (pure olive oil) that Moshe had to command B’nei Yisrael to take?
2) If Aharon is to light the Menorah, as we read about verse 21, why bring the oil to Moshe?
3) What does it mean to be “crushed for lighting” (כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר)?
4) What does it mean to cause “a lamp to go up continually” (le’ha’alot ner tamid)?
5) Why does it say tamid here, while in verse 21 it says (מֵעֶ֥רֶב עַד־בֹּ֖קֶר) from evening to morning?
6) Why is Moshe’s name omitted – not just from this verse – but the entirety of this parasha (which, by the way, happens only once in the entirety of the Torah, apart from Sefer D’varim, which was spoken as his own words)?
7) If “we have neither a Kohen at his service, nor a Levite on his platform, nor an Israelite at his station,” as we declare on Yom Kippur, how can Aharon and his sons order it from evening to morning before HaShem as a Chukat Olam (eternal statute) on behalf of B’nei Yisrael?
If we can answer these seven questions, I truly believe that we can uncover a clearly defined path towards true En-Light-enment and to the final Ge’ulah (or, redemption) – to distinguish between a light and the Light.
So, lets discuss the first question:
1) What is the Shemen Zayit Zak (pure olive oil) that Moshe had to command B’nei Yisrael to take?
This is the same “oil for lighting” (שֶׁ֖מֶן לַמָּאֹ֑ר) mentioned in Ex. 25:6. Rashi states that this oil is to be בְּלִי שְׁמָרִים “without sediment.” He goes on to explains that, to meet these requirements, the olives cannot be ground up by a millstone, as this would introduce sediment to the oil. Further, only the very first drop of oil squeezed from each olive may be used. Lower quality oils could be used for other purposes, such as the Mincha offering, but the oil for the Menorah had to be completely clear of any sediment. If there was any sediment present, no matter the quantity, the oil was immediately nullified for use in the Menorah.
Considering the holiness of the Menorah, which dwelt inside of the Mishkan outside the Peroket, it is easy to understand the reasoning for such strict standards of purity. However, the Alter of Kelm, 19th-Century Lithuanian Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv Broida, proposed an alternative method for the production of the oil. He stated that the olives could be crushed in the normal fashion and the sediment filtered out afterwards. Wouldn’t this process be simpler than extracting the very first drop from thousands of tiny individual olives?! Easier? Maybe, but the Torah prohibits even the temporary presence of sediment.
According to the Alter of Kelm, the oil is a symbol for the mind (the Sekhel, or the intellect) and he says that this demonstrates that, in the matters of the mind, the impression made by the sediment can never be completely removed. He writes, and I quote:
“One who desires that his mind shine forth with a clear light (to have a true Haskalah, true Enlightenment) must distance the sediment of the indulgences of this world from the oil of the intellect to the greatest extent possible. Behold, I have seen in the nature of a kerosene lamp, that if even a small amount of dirt is found in the kerosene, the flame immediately changes, since the dirt darkens the clear light that would shine forth from more refined fuel. Even a small amount of dirt will darken the flame. The light of the mind, which is a portion of the world of the spirit, is greatly darkened by even the small amount of the sediment of Olam HaZeh, of worldly materialism.”
In the case of Moses Mendelsohn and the Maskilim, the sediment of European philosophy darkened the flame of Judaism in those countries. Today, many are darkening the flame, or the impact of Messianic Judaism, by entertaining the philosophies of Esav, the theologies of Christianity, Hebrew Roots, and anti-Jewish organizations claiming to represent Messianic Judaism, and every other high-minded thing exalting itself above the knowledge of G-d. And all the more, as per the Alter of Kelm, we darken our flames individually by exalting our personal, worldly indulgences over the study of Torah and the mission that has been given to us by our Messiah Yeshua. Even temporarily allowing these sediments, or influences, to enter into our “oil” is enough to change the essence of our light forever.
But wait…isn’t the oil a symbol for the Spirit of G-d? Of course, as we learn from Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair in Mishnah Sotah 9:15, “The study of Torah leads to…the Holy Spirit.” That is, the study of Torah altars the Sekhel, or the intellect, which then brings about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which manifests itself via clarity of the mind. Think about it like this. Man’s soul is likened to a lamp, as in Proverbs 20:27: נֵר יי נִשְׁמַת אָדָם “the spirit of man is the lamp of the L-rd.” By engaging in the study of Torah and the renewals of Yeshua, we fill our mind with Shemen Zayit Zak, olive oil free of sediment, and we receive the clarity of mind imparted by the Holy Spirit necessary for producing a clear light, which serves as a metaphor for the proper fulfillment of the commandments. The more light we pour out through our mitzvot, the more we will experience true Enlightenment within our own soul (as in the word v’yikechu, or “and you shall take,” because whenever you give light, you always take it as well). However, as Rabbi Shapira rightly notes in the Rivkah Remnant, “the remnant that comes out of Christianity must unify itself with the Messianic Jewish world to obtain the authentic lamp (or Torah, which is also called Ner) and produce the authentic oil of salvation, expressed through its works or mitzvot [with the power of Yeshua]. The purpose of the remnant’s Torah observance is for the benefit of the groom, not for themselves.” Grafted-in both in your identity and in your intellect. So, even though clarity of mind, clarity of vision, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the receiving of true Enlightenment all result from ridding oneself of the sources of sediment in the pursuit of Torah within the proper framework – in unity with the Messianic Jewish world – this is not the primary goal. Rather, the oil is produced and brought for the benefit of the groom, which means to the merit of Israel and for uncovering of the true identity of the Messiah and the hastening of His return, which actually leads us to our second question:
2) If Aharon is to light the Menorah, as we read about verse 21, why is the congregation of Israel to bring the oil to Moshe?
Moshe is a representation of both the nation of Israel and Mashiach ben David. Here, HaShem commands Moshe אליךוְאַתָּ֞ה תְּצַוֶּ֣ה ׀ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֨וּ, as in You, Moshe, are to personally command the congregation of Israel (which includes the remnant from the nations that have been grafted-in to the House of Israel) to bring the oil to him, or more accurately “for him.”
First though, why include the word v’atah, when Tetzaveh would have been entirely sufficient? We know he is speaking to Moshe, so v’atah seems superfluous. This is to emphasize that it is “you,” or Moshe, or (in this case) “Messianic Judaism [that] has the mandate to not only teach Torah to the nations, but to go one step further and teach the remnant from the nations how to fulfill the mitzvot in pursuit of Mashiach,” as we learn from Rabbi Shapira in the Rivkah Remnant. The word Tetzaveh not only means “you will command,” but “you will connect.” It is the duty of Messianic Judaism to connect the remnant together with Moshe and Aharon in this task of kindling the Menorah. Further, the sages teach us that Tetzaveh, or Tzav as used in Lev. 24:2, implies great financial burden for the performance of a mitzvah. Imagine having to produce this type of high-quality oil on a day-by-day basis, alongside the daily offerings. The cost adds up. The cost to teaching the nations Torah is great, and the cost of taking upon yourself the process of producing pure, untainted oil is great. However, Yeshua calls us to count the cost, endure the burden (or the Ohl, the yoke), and to follow Him Yom Yom, daily. With that in mind, we must consider the words of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, who said: “calculate the cost of a mitzvah against its reward; and the reward of a sin against its cost.” A big hint: the reward for this task and the cost for neglecting it are both immeasurably great.
So, why the phrase ויקחו אליך? Why not, “take for Me”? Isn’t the oil being collected for HaShem? Chizkuni offers an insightful explanation:
"They will bring to you," in order that you [Moshe] will be able to see inside the Tabernacle when you enter it and when you wish to leave it. The point G-d is making is that it is not He for Whom the lamps of the candlestick have to be lit. The best proof for this is that the candlestick stood in the Sanctuary, not in the Holy of Holies from which it was separated by a heavy curtain, the latter being in absolute darkness. Not only that, but at the beginning of the chapters dealing with the Tabernacle, G-d had said: “they shall donate a contribution for Me,” whereas here this contribution was to be for Moses.
Why was the nation to bring the oil to Moshe? Because it was for Moshe. It is not enough to “return to Torah” with the intent to produce oil. The oil we produce has to be Shemen Zayit Zak, as in it has to be an oil that is produced from a pure untainted source (i.e., Judaism as taught by qualified Messianic Jewish leaders) and it has to be brought for the benefit of Moshe, for the merit of the House of Israel toward the revelation of Mashiach ben David. G-d doesn’t need our light, because He is the Light. Vayikra Rabbah 13:3 states: “the mitzvot were given for no other reason than to refine Israel.” HaShem doesn’t need our mitzvot, it is for the benefit of Israel and Mashiach. This oil was to be brought continuously before Moshe, so that he can see inside the Mishkan, or in other words see inside the Kingdom that we are building, seeing that our good works are, in fact, good and glorify our Father in Heaven, crying out “Baruch HaBa!” This is one of the greatest forms of true Enlightenment that one can experience: to understand that it’s not about you. Yes, your role is vital, and yes, the reward is great, but there is a bigger picture at play here.
The Maskilim of the Haskalah lost sight of the bigger picture. They made their journey about them, which is why it was so easy to unload major doctrinal positions and abandon standard practices out of self-preservation. Ironically, their mentality only invited further persecution, culminating in the Shoah. This is not to say they “asked for it,” G-d forbid, or to insinuate that those that produce the pure oil for Moshe will live life completely undisturbed. Both groups experience a sort of “crushing;” however, only one of these groups will experience the reward. This is the subject of our next question:
3) What does it mean to be “crushed for lighting” (כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר)?
On the P’shat, this refers to the process of taking one of the olives from the tree – whether the highest and ripest, or the middle and bottom, and then gently crushing them under a mortar. The very first drop, which is the high-quality oil, flows pretty much by itself and is used for the Menorah. The leftovers would then be ground in the millstone, which was then used in the Mincha offerings. There is a great lesson that can be learned from this two-step process: the location of acquiring the olives and the way they are processed for use. Our sages pay little attention to the location of the olive on the tree, rather to the process in which the oil is obtained. It doesn’t matter how high or low you believe yourself to be on the tree. Whether you are as great as Moshe Rabbeinu or Mashiach (which appears to be impossible) or as low as the woodcutters and the water drawers, and whether you are as great as Rav Shaul of Tarsus or as low as a Galilean fisherman, what is important is that you produce that pure, high-quality oil whenever you are pressed – that you are you at your greatest potential. This is what we learned in the Midrash:
“Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi asked, why is Israel compared to an olive? Just as an olive is first bitter, then sweet, so Israel suffers in the present but great good is stored up for them in the time to come. And just as the olive only yields its oil by being crushed – as it is written, ‘clear olive oil, crushed for the light’ – so Israel fulfills [its full potential in] the Torah only when it is pressed by suffering.”
Why are we beaten? L’Maor, for the Light – to reach our full potential. This is what Rav Shaul taught in 2 Tim. 3:12, “all who desire to live a godly life in Messiah Yeshua will be persecuted.” The Maskilim of times past withdrew from the Torah at the sight of persecution. However, our sages and the shlichim of Yeshua teach us to do the exact opposite. We must endure and embrace the crushing, the pressing, the suffering, and the refinement by continuing to “bring the pure, olive oil” for Moshe. True Enlightenment not only understands that our journey is not about us, but that the journey is a costly one. The reward for a batch of oil is another batch of oil and, to add insult to injury, the adversary then draws near in order to accuse, mock, slander, and crush amid the process. Why would anyone in their right mind willingly subject themselves to such abuse? L’Maor. For the sake of the Light, for the sake of Israel, for the sake of Mashiach, for the sake of His Torah, and – yes – for your own sake! We have a hope of a great good that has been stored up for those that partake in this journey. Question four:
4) What does it mean to cause “a lamp to go up continually” (le’ha’alot ner tamid)?
On the P’shat, the neir ma’aravi (the western light, which according to the sages of the Talmud, is the middle candle that tilted west towards the Holy of Holies) was to be burned regularly day and night. Ideally, the lamps were never to go out. In the same way, the principles derived from the oil and the light of the Menorah should be with us constantly, leading us to be ever vigilant against sediment and filled with alacrity to present the pure, olive oil for the benefit of Moshe. If we are not consistent in this task, we will lack the oil necessary to keep the eternal flame lit and find ourselves among the unwise virgins that “took no oil with them” in preparation for the groom. Further, Rashi quotes BT Shabbat 21a, stating that the lamp must be kindled in such a way that "the flame ascends of itself." In other words, the Kohen had to make sure that the flame was strong and stable enough to remain lit whenever he walked away. It's not enough to light the candle. We must make sure that it will last. Question five:
5) Why does it say tamid here in verse 20, while in verse 21 it says (מֵעֶ֥רֶב עַד־בֹּ֖קֶר) from evening to morning?
The difference between tamid (which Ibn Ezra says means night) and me’erev ad boker (from evening to morning) could probably be best understood via Isaiah 60:1:
ק֥וּמִי א֖וֹרִי כִּ֣י בָ֣א אוֹרֵ֑ךְ וּכְב֥וֹד יְהֹוָ֖ה עָלַ֥יִךְ זָרָֽח׃
“Arise, shine, for your light has come! The glory of HaShem has risen on you.”
Kumi Ori is the resurrection light that comes upon someone when they receive the revelation of Yeshua and begin their journey towards the House of Israel and the Final Ge’ulah. This is the stage of taking the pure olive oil. This is the light that is on the level of tamid, as it is connected to Moshe Rabbeinu (i.e., who is both Israel and Mashiach ben David). Ki va Orech is the light that comes toward you as you pursue holiness and godliness in the pattern of and in partnership with Mashiach ben Yosef and his representatives, as represented by Aharon and the kohanim who work to order the lamps. This light, which is more connected to the day-to-day tasks, the work of the Kingdom, is on the level of me’erev ad boker. Being connected to both lights is vital for u’kavod HaShem ah’la’yik zarach – or for the Shekinah to be induced into you, as per Metzudat David. If you want true Enlightenment, clarity of mind and mission, you have to take the pure, olive oil before and for Moshe tamid (continually) and partner with Aharon and his sons to complete the service me’erev ad boker– day in and day out among this physical world. It’s not an easy task, as it takes complete and total self-nullification, which brings us to our sixth question:
6) Why is Moshe’s name omitted – not just from this verse – but the entirety of this parasha?
Because he nullified himself on the journey. Almost all commentaries are in agreement that Moshe’s name was omitted from this parasha because of one of two reasons: 1) because he rejected the kehunah out of deference to his brother at the burning bush and he is therefore omitted in this parasha since it deals with the installment of the kehunah, 2) because in the next parasha, Ki Tissa, Moshe cried out following the incident of the golden calf, petitioning Him: “Now, if you would, please forgive their sin. If not, You can blot me out from the book that you have written” (Exodus 32:32). This, then, would be the parasha that this was done, as a tzaddik’s words are heard and answered, so Moshe is only referred to as “Hey, you!” or v’atah.
Now, according to the first interpretation, the omission served as an allusion to Moshe’s lack of jealousy and willingness to be completely self-nullified to the point of omitting his name from the Torah while his brother was installed as Kohen HaGadol (cause, I mean, someone had to do it). This is just a great mussar – to rejoice in the success of our brothers and sisters and not make the journey about you. For instance, Israel was entrusted with the Torah and its oral interpretation (cause, I mean, someone had to do it), so the remnant from the nations should rejoice that the Torah we learn has been kept and guarded and be willing to nullify ourselves as we come under wise, proven Messianic Jewish teachers. According to the second interpretation, the Lubavitcher Rebbe focuses on the positive aspect of the omission following Ki Tissa, not as a punishment or the irreversible words of the tzaddik, but as a reflection of Moshe’s lofty spiritual status. Because Moshe stood his ground before HaShem and fought for forgiveness for his people, even at the cost of his own life, so HaShem honored Moshe with the direct second person v’atah – you. The Maskilim of the Haskalah stood their ground against their people and fought for acceptance among foreign governments and gentile nations, even at the cost of their own lives, and yet their efforts produced nothing more than dim movements that continue to drift further and further away from the Light of G-d. However, if we embark on bringing about a true Enlightenment, a true Haskalah, in the pattern that we have drawn from the Torah portion, then we too can ascend to the level that is beyond any name carried in this lifetime and attain to the level of Atah, which the Zohar explains is the name of the Shechinah. This is what Rav Shaul means when he wrote in Galatians 5:24-25: “Now those who belong to Messiah have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Ruach, let us also walk by the Ruach.” That is, by nullifying our own will in order to make his will as our will, then we attain to the level of atah – becoming Spirit-led. Finally, let us answer the last question:
7) How can Aharon and his sons order it from evening to morning before HaShem as an eternal Chuk (statute) on behalf of B’nei Yisrael?
In the second verse of this parasha, Aharon and his sons are given the honor and the duty to order the lamps of the Menorah using the oil that was taken to and for Moshe. What does it mean to order (יַעֲרֹךְ֩) the lamps? Ibn Ezra explains that “it means that the priest shall estimate the amount of oil that will be sufficient for the lamps to give light from evening till morning. In other words, ya’arokh (shall set) means shall estimate.” There are two important points that need to be covered:
1) Fueled with the pure, olive oil taken to and for Moshe, Aharon and the priests were capable of ordering the lamps from evening until morning, so that all Israel would know that the Divine Presence was among them. Moshe represents the merit, the self-nullification, and the willingness to die for the nation of Israel inherent in Mashiach, which then comes to fuel Aharon (i.e., Mashiach ben Yosef, represented at this time through His representatives) to order and tend to the lamps, to perform the work of maintaining the Light of Torah, and to “light the fire” of Divine Inspiration in the souls of the people around them out of pure love for their fellow. This must be done before HaShem out of complete faith, as indicated by the word chuk (an irrational command observed because it is the decree of a King), on behalf of B’nei Yisrael.
2) Why is it important to know that Aharon would estimate the “amount of oil that will be sufficient for the lamps,” as per Ibn Ezra? In the winter, the nights are longer and require more oil than the summer months. Therefore, the Talmud states that the quantity of the oil is to be set to a standard that is fit for the longer nights in the year, a half a log of oil, so that even though that larger amount of oil would not be needed for the summer months, the quantity is not decreased. According to the Kol Ram, there is a lesson here: “In Torah literature, olive oil represents Torah wisdom, and Torah wisdom should be taught equally to all, without discrimination.”
Now, we are full circle. If Messianic Jewish teachers discriminate in who they educate, then the pure, olive oil cannot be taken by the remnant to and for Moshe. If Moshe does not have the fuel, the lamp cannot be lit and Moshe will not be able to “see” inside the Mishkan. Additionally, since the Menorah is a symbol for Israel that the Shekinah is with them and among them, this light will appear to flicker and cause Israel to despair of hope, thus further delaying the redemption. We all have vital roles to play at this hour. The remnant from the nations must understand the strict standards of purity required of their oil, be willing to be crushed to produce it, and be vigilant to keep out sediment, being filled with Zerizut to take it before and for Moshe. Messianic Jewish teachers must be willing to do the work of educating indiscriminately as a means to their own fullness, the fullness of the House of Israel, the fullness of Mashiach, and the fullness of the remnant from the nations. If we are not careful, then Messianic Judaism will sizzle out as quickly as the Haskalah did, and we will produce nothing more than new obstacles to the Final Redemption. However, if we succeed in the task that has been laid out before us in Parashat Tetzaveh, then maybe a new light will finally shine on Zion – may we all soon merit its radiance. Amen and Amen, Ken Yehi Ratzon.