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This week’s Torah portion begins with God saying to Moses,“You yourself will command the children of Israel to take pure, pressed olive oil for illumination, to kindle the lamp continually” (Exodus 27:20). Only a few precepts in the Torah are introduced by the word tetzaveh, or “command,” rather than the more commonly used words tomar, “to say,” or tedabber, “to speak.” What does this difference mean? And how is it possible to fulfill this mitzvah of kindling today when we don’t have a Temple?
Ultimately, the Torah uses the expression of “command” rather than “say” or “speak” to make clear that this mitzvahmust be kept “now and for all time” (Sifre, Naso). By using the verb tetzaveh, the Torah communicates to us that the commandment to keep the lamp burning is an everlasting statute even though the Temple has been destroyed. Unlike all the other commandments connected to the Temple service, this particular one still remains in effect according to our sages’ interpretation.
How is it possible today to kindle the menorah when the Temple no longer exists? Commenting on this question, Midrash HaGadol states: Though the Temple was destroyed and its lamps, we no longer kindle; we have congregations and houses of study, our “miniature temples” in which we carry on the kindling of the lights.
In order to understand how we can kindle the light of Temple menorah in our houses of worship and study, we must understand what the light of this candelabrum represents.
Menorah light represents the light of God’s presence.
In the Old Testament, a priest would come into the sanctuary every morning and approach the menorah to prepare the lamps for relighting. Invariably, he would find one light still burning, while the other six had been extinguished. This was the Ner Maaravi, the western lamp.
Though an equal amount of oil – enough to last throughout the night – was always placed in each of the seven lamps, the western lamp supernaturally burned on until midday when its flame was used to light the menorah anew. The western lamp symbolized the eternal presence of God in Israel’s midst. God also spoke to Moses from the burning bush, led Israel as a pillar of fire by night, and spoke amidst the flames of Mount Sinai. It makes sense that the light of the menorah would be a reminder of God dwelling among His people.
Menorah light represents the light of Torah and God’s commandments, or mitzvot.
Elaborating on this point, Shemot Rabba 36:3 states,
See how the words of Torah give light to men when they are engaged with them. But whoever is not engaged with them is ignorant and they will stumble . . . because he walked without a lamp. So it is with an ignorant person who knows no words of Torah. He comes upon a transgression and stumbles . . . Whereas those who occupy themselves with Torah give light everywhere! This may be compared to the one who is standing in the dark. He saw a rock and did not stumble; he saw a gutter and did not fall. Why? Because he had a lamp with him, as it is said, “Your words are a lamp unto my feet” (Psalm 119:105).
The light of the menorah served as a reminder to all who saw that “a mitzvah (commandment) is a lamp and the Torah is a light” (Proverbs 6:23). Like the light of the menorah in the Holy Temple, God’s commands illuminate our lives and keep us from stumbling.
Menorah light represents the light of the Messiah.
As both the Midrash and Brit Chadasha state:
Said the blessed Holy One to Moses, “Say to the children of Israel, “In this world you were in need of the light of the Temple as well as the other lamps that are lit from its light. But in the world-to-come, in virtue that lamp, I will bring you King Messiah who is likened to a lamp, as it is said’” (Psalm 132:17).
“There will I cause a horn to sprout for David, I will arrange a lamp for my anointed.” Tanchuma, Tezavveh 8
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
The light of the menorah culminates in the greatest light of all–the eternal light of the Messiah that would illuminate and give life to the world. When the light of God’s Presence, the light of Torah, and the light of Messiah shine in and through our houses of prayer and study, we are fulfilling the mitzvah to “cause a lamp to burn continually.”
How can you keep your lamp burning continually? How might God be speaking to you about His Presence, commands, or your relationship with Messiah Yeshua? This week, I encourage you to ask Him what it looks like for you to kindle menorah light in your daily living. I pray that as He connects you to the deep roots of Torah wisdom that you’d see the love of Yeshua in a new light.