You light up my life

You light up my life

Rabbi Michael Werbow
Rabbi Michael Werbow

Tetzaveh, Exodus 27:20-30:10

When one sits down to study Torah, there is much uncertainty as to where he will find meaning.  When a person takes the opportunity to study the weekly parshah, she opens herself up to the great possibilities that learning Torah provides.

So, it is no wonder that I am often surprised by what I find in the Torah each week.  When I go into my preparations with no preconceived ideas of what I want to find, I am open to many possibilities.

As I prepared for writing this d’var Torah, I have to admit, I did have one specific source of inspiration.  I found myself being directed toward the second verse of the parshah.  Why?  Because my 8-year-old daughter, Maya, is practicing this verse to read as a part of the youth minyan on Shabbat morning.

As a new Torah reader (she just read a verse for the first time two weeks ago), Maya was assigned one verse to read.  She is learning trope (the tools used to chant the Torah), but for this assignment she just needs to read the verse.  Chanting it would be a plus, but it is not expected.

So, what did I find when I looked at the verse she was reading?  Exodus 27:21, along with the verse before it, start the parshah in a strange way.  These two verses speak of the menorah that is to be lit with pure olive oil.  They also establish this light to burn continuously and throughout the generations.  

What is strange is the positioning of these two verses.  Immediately following these verses, the Torah begins a detailed description of the garments that Aaron, the kohen (high priest), is to wear when performing the sacrificial rites.  These two verses about the menorah, ending the previous chapter, seem out of place when connected to a chapter describing Aaron’s uniform.  

Two texts from the midrashic work, Shemot Rabbah, help to clarify the connection.  In one source, we learn of the connection between light and Torah.  Proverbs 6:23 is brought to tell us, “The commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light.”  The Hebrew for “teaching” is Torah.  Torah, is the instruction manual we have as a people.  It is a guide for our lives and we gain great meaning by learning what it contains.  Torah is the source of light in our lives.  

The second midrash teaches, “He who does not occupy himself with the Torah and does not know it, stumbles.” To prove this point, the midrash cites Proverbs 4:19, “The way of the wicked is as darkness; they know not at what they stumble.”   

So again we ask, “What does this have to do with the ritual garb worn by the kohanim?  Perhaps it is that even robed in the correct ritual finery, the Torah must guide the kohanim in their actions.  Being dressed up in the right clothes only fulfilled one part of their role.  They also needed to behave in a particular way.  Yes, they needed to perform the rituals correctly, but they also needed to live their lives in a manner that brought light into the world.  They needed to use the instruction of the Torah as a light by which they could walk without stumbling and with which they could guide the people to a life of ethics and morality.

The verse Maya is reading speaks of the light of the menorah burning evening and morning for all generations.  The Torah burns as our light without pausing.  The sparks of the Torah light our days and our nights. We are guided on our ways with the light that generations have passed along from one to the next.    

Open up the Torah and see where it leads you.

(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)