Posts Tagged 'Ner Tamid'

Afraid of the Dark

Like many other people in the Tri-State area my family has had a tough week with Hurricane Sandy. We are thankful that we are all healthy and that we did not have any significant damage from the storm. Recently we got our power back and were able to return to our home and just in time for the most recent snow storm. There are many people who are displaced or living in the cold without power. And there are some who have sustained serious damages to their homes. In the moment it was hard to reflect on the experience.

This past Shabbat I went to California and got out of the grips of Sandy. While I hated leaving my family I had to go for work. I participated in a wonderful Shabbaton with a group of Assistant Camp directors. During my trip back I had the pleasure of trading stories about our children with Aaron Cantor the Associate Director for Camp Seneca Lake. There is one sweet story that he shared with me that helped me process part of my experience of Sandy.

As he explained, this past year he took his 5 year-old daughter Lily to synagogue for Yom Kipper services. When they were there Aaron pointed out the Ner Tamid in front of the ark. He explained to her that there is always a light on near the Torah.  Lily replied, “Is the Torah scared of the dark, is it a night-light?”

What a great story? I have been taught that the synagogue is a small temple, so this ever-burning light is there just as a fire burned in the Tabernacle. As we read:

And you shall command the children of Israel, that they bring you pure oil olive beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always. In the tabernacle of the congregation without the veil, which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall order it from evening to morning before the Lord: it shall be a statute for ever unto their generations on the behalf of the children of Israel.( Exodus 27:20-21)

But what is the value of having this ever-burning light? Lily’s story taught me a great lesson. Lily has an amazing sense of empathy. The Torah needed a night-light, because we all need a night-light. We are all afraid of the dark and not just little kids. The idea is that the community should always have a night-light whether in the Tabernacle of a synagogue.

Sandy has taught me a number of things. Sandy reminded me the value of having friends and a community. We need to invest in those relationships in the good times so that they are in place for the hard times. We need to support community institutions with our time, talent, wisdom, and money. I am also reminded that despite the advancement of technology in our civilization, we still live and die at the whim of nature. Control is just an illusion.  And Lily’s story taught be that being in the dark, whether without power, information, friends, or community, is just plain scary. So yes, we all need a night-light. In many respects, empathy is the light of the Torah itself.


Pure in Process

In Tetzave, this week’s Torah portion, we read:

You shall further command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you shemen zakh, pure oil, crushed olives for illumination, to light the lamp continually. (Exodus 27:20)

What is shemen zakh,  this so-called pure oil? Citing a Gemara in Menachot, Rashi explains that there are three processes in making oil. First the olives are crushed or cracked, then pounded, and then milled. This special oil that the Torah requires for use in the Menorah is only the first drop resulting from the initial process. By limiting the collection to the initial process you can be sure that the oil was free of any particles from the seed that was broken in the subsequent processes. This commandment, coming from Moses, seems to set a high demand on the clarity of the oil. But this process of producing this shemen zakh,  seems rather wasteful. You are just taking a drop from each olive and that is all. You might argue that the importance of its use in the Menorah might justify the appearance of being wasteful. Or you might say the exact opposite: since this oil is being used for the highest purpose we should avoid any appearance of waste. In fact, nothing is wasted, the olives are not thrown away; the olives go through another process and the oil is used in the meal offerings.

However, there is a deeper meaning. Even if the olives are not wasted, why is the oil produced this way? The shemen zakh is the holiest and most pure because you only take what you need without compromising the seed. At the moment when this oil is collected there is a potential that the olive would not go through the next process. You could take this olive and plant it. The olive tree that would come of that seed and its fruit would be hekdesh, sanctified and unusable outside of the Mikdash. There is a possibility, in the production of shemen zakh, having a continual supply of fuel for the Menorah. This would be a real ner tamid, perpetual fire. This process, in theory, is a trade-off of short-term losses in time and effort for long-term gains in renewable fuel ensuring continuity. The so-called pure oil is not only uncontaminated in content, but also, potentially, in process.

After the Horban, any law relevant to the Mikdash, Temple, must seem irrelevant to our contemporary lives. Ha”ZaL, Sages of blessed memory, gracefully moved the rites of the Menorah as we celebrate them in Hanukah out of the Mikdash and into our homes and shuls.  It stands to reason, that if the Torah commanded that the light of the Menorah must come from such a pure process, we should also work towards finding renewable energy resources for lighting our homes and shuls. At the least we need to do our part in conserving and not wasting the resources that we have. By limiting our dependency on oil we can help ease our dependency on the oil states from the comforts of our homes and synagogues.

This is not only a compelling model for environmental and political concerns, but also for how we deal with each other on an interpersonal level. If we press too hard on the people around us and do not spend the time to cultivate the very foundations of those relationships, we will wear through our friends and loved ones. Over time those relationships will suffer. The ner tamid will only stay lit if we renew our commitment to the purest process in all of our dealings.

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