18 Feb 2016

Tetsave 5776: Lux in Arcana

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Tetsave 5776: Lux in Arcana

“We can easily forgive a child who is
afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

― Plato

“May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring


I write this week from Rome. Margalit and I made the trip with the children for three days during the half-term to see both the ancient ruins and monuments as well as the city and the people. It was personally meaningful to see the remains of columns and buildings built by emperors whom I had first heard of from my ancestors in the Talmud: Antoninus, Neron, Vespasianus, Titus, all key players in the Jewish story.

Titus, of course, was the builder of the famous triumphal arch in celebration of the Roman defeat of Jerusalem which still stands today; and while Jerusalem has seen a great revival since, it still in more than one sense, has yet to fully recover.

Perhaps the most famous detail of the Arch of Titus is that it depicts the Menora being carried out of Jerusalem by Roman soldiers. While surely there must have been many other articles that would have been removed from the Bet haMikdash, the Menora, long before the Star of David, was the symbol of the Jewish people. With that Menora Titus’ arch of triumph depicts the glory of Israel being carried back into slavery by the might of the Roman Empire. Perhaps even more poignantly it also depicts the great light of Israel being tragically extinguished.

Perashat Tetsave speaks of the Menora as Aharon the Kohen Gadol is commanded to tend to its light.

And you shall command the children of Israel, that they bring to you pure olive oil pressed for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.

In the tent of meeting…Aaron and his sons shall set it in order, to burn from evening to morning before G-d; it shall be a statute for ever throughout their generations on the behalf of the children of Israel. (27:20-21)

The Talmud[1] rhetorically questions the purpose of the Menora in the Holy Temple: ‘Does He really need its light?!…After all, For 40 years in the desert we traveled only by His light!’ Rather, answers the Talmud, ‘It is testimony that His presence dwells within Israel’.

The lights of the Menora, therefore, are not to illuminate in the visual sense, but the steady, constant light is to signal the Shekhina — the Divine Presence that manifests from the relationship between G-d and Israel.

It is fitting that light represents G-d’s presence among us. Light, after all, is the mode in which He first expressed Himself in creation.

And G-d said ‘Be light!’ and light was. (Gen., 1:3)

This primal light, G-d’s first expression, is not in the sense of the light that we know visually[2]. It is light in that it ‘illuminates’ our knowledge as a carrier of information.

With the light created by the Holy One on the first day one could see from one end of world to the other. (Hagiga, 12b)

This primal light that G-d created does not translate entities through analogue (in the case of visual light, electromagnetic waves) but rather facilitates an actual interface between entities. ‘Seeing from one end of the world to the other’ is the ability to know something by sensing it along with all of its interrelationships. With the primal light we can experience what things are rather than what they seem to be.

Though this primal light connects us to the Holy One and His world we are taught that it was hidden and protected by G-d.

‘G-d saw the light was good and G-d separated the light from the darkness’. (Gen., 1:4) When the Holy One saw the future generations…and their corruption, He stood up and concealed the light, as is written, ‘Their light is withheld from the wicked’[3]…(Hagiga, ibid.)

In a sense, this withholding of light is G-d’s own modesty. In seeing that people would not value truth, existence and the relationships that express them, He concealed it from those who would cheapen it allowing for people to instead perceive reality from a fragmented and self-centred frame of reference.

Although it was hidden it was not destroyed. Indeed, as the Talmud’s discussion on the matter continues we are taught that the light was sown into the universe so that the righteous could then reap it.

For whom was it hidden away? For the righteous in a future to come…

Light is sown for tsadikim (righteous ones)[4]

The primal light was withdrawn so that those who truly cared for it would endeavour in their lives to uncover it wherever and whenever they could. They do this knowing that to unveil this light they touch reality and share directly with G-d. But how is it revealed? By building relationship with Him and with others based on mutuality.

The Menora is the national monument that represents this presence of G-d, this Shekhina.
Shekhina, like the light and beauty that emerges from our other loving relationships, is the emergent presence that manifests when we build a relationship with Him in mutuality rather than just partnership.

The difference between partnership and mutuality is that in partnership there may be cooperation but driving it is a personal need which leaves the individuals involved essentially separate. In mutuality, the two become part of a new holistic system of being in which both build and enhance the other, where one’s joy and excitement is the fulfilment of the other. At the base of partnership is selfishness, at the base of mutuality is love. Shekhina exists only in love.

This love was the hallmark of Aharon the Kohen Gadol. His heart is celebrated in Torah and by the Hakhamim for its truth and faithfulness.

…And ]G-d[ said ]to Moshe[: Your brother Aharon is coming out towards you, and he will see you and be happy in his heart.

Said Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai: ‘The heart who was happy to see the rise to greatness of Moshe his brother is the heart that will wear the Urim veTumim (The breastplate bearing the names of the tribes of Israel). As it is written: You shall place the Hoshen Mishpat and the Urim and the Tumim upon the heart of Aharon[6].

Aharon went beyond tolerating the diversity of Creation, he celebrated and loved it.

Be of the students of Aharon…love peace[7], pursue peace, love the creations.[8]

The word for ‘peace’ in Hebrew is Shalom, which comes from the root שלם meaning whole, complete. Peace derives from this word for it expresses the holistic calm that occurs when the diverse details of creation have found their place and connection with each other. In such a circumstance the great Light of creation shines through. Indeed, Aharon was anointed Kohen Gadol because of his celebration and love for this holism and the Light that it uncovered.

How good and pleasant it is for brothers to sit together, as the good oil drips down the beard — the beard of Aharon.[9]

The light of the Menora in the Mikdash, which shines as an expression of our mutual bond with G-d through which His presence rests with us, is lit by the person who saw light in every being and who dedicated his life to uncovering it.

The ancient Romans carried our Menora away but as our Hakhamim teach us, nothing representative of such love could have ever been taken had not already extinguished its light ourselves.

The light of the first day lies secretly hidden in everything that is. It waits for those faithful hearts to uncover it but hides from those who would cynically laugh at its beauty. When we merit revealing it, and see the world through it, its splendour is unmistakable.


[1] Shabbat, 22b

[2] As per the approach of R. Yaakob. Cf., however, Hagiga 12a, opinion of Hakhamim.

[3] Job, 38:15

[4] Psalms, 22:11

[5] Ex., 4:14

[6] Shir haShirim Rabba, 1:1


[8] Abot, 1:12

[9] Psalms, 133:1

Law and Lore

About the Prayers

Amida – Prerequisites[1]

There are five things that (legally)  restrict one from being able to stand in  prayer before  G-d.

  1. Clean hands. One must wash one’s hands before prayer. If one had no access to water, the hands should be wiped clean with a cloth.
  2. Clothing. One must at least conceal the chest and private areas before prayer.
  3. Cleanliness of place. One may not pray in a place where there is spoilage or where there is a smell that comes from spoilage. Similarly one may not pray in a bathroom.
  4. Distractions. One may not pray if one is in need of using the toilet. If one prayed in this state the prayer is invalid.

5. Intent. One must focus one’s mind for prayer. Prayer without proper focus is not considered prayer. All thoughts should be cleared from one’s mind and sense as though one is standing before the Shekhina (g-d’s presence). Therefore, it is proper to pause before praying in order to properly focus the mind. Therefore, one may not pray when drunk. Nor may one stand in prayer out of circumstances that would distract the mind such as: frivolity, conversation, argument and anger.

[1] Brief selections. For full treatment see Rambam, Hilkhot Tephila, Chapter 4.

Parasha Perspectives

VIII  Tetzaveh

45e         Continual lamp, ner tamid  (27:20-21)

45f          Selection of Kohanim and list of garments of holiness for Aharon  (28:1-5)

46a         The cape, ephod  (28:6-12)

46b         Chains of gold, sharsherot zahav, joins the cape and breastplate  (28:13-14)

46c         Breastplate of judgment, choshen mishpat  (28:15-30)

46d         Long robe of the cape, me’il ha’ephod  (28:31-35)

46e        Hat, mitznafet, golden head plate, tzitz zahav and regular Kohanim’s garments                     (28:36-43)

46f          Sanctification of priesthood, maleh yadam, and altar, mizbeyach (29:1-37)

46g         The continual offering, olat tamid (29:38-46)

47           Altar for the burning of incense, mizbeyach ketoret (30:1-10)
Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS