“And Aaron shall burn thereon incense of sweet spices; every morning, when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn it.” – Exodus 30:7, JPS 1917 Tanach
In like manner that the menorah was lit every evening, the incense were burnt every morning in the Sanctuary. The light may be understood to represent the wisdom of G-d. “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law” (Psalm 119:18, JPS). The smoke of the incense is symbolic of prayers. We should keep a light burning in our heart, in the evenings; all throughout the night, staying focused on G-d; and, in the morning, ideally to rise early, in order to offer up our prayers to Him.
“And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto Me.”
– Exodus 29:1, JPS 1917 Tanach
During Moshe’s forty days on Mount Sinai, the pattern of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was shown to him, complete with all the details necessary to construct a Mishkan on earth, where H’Shem’s Presence – the Shechinah – would dwell. Also, the commandments and details in regard to the Kohein Gadol (High Priest), and the kohein (priests) were given.
Aaron was chosen as the first Kohein Gadol; however, Moshe served unofficially in that position, during the seven-day inauguration, when he brought the offerings. His role was given to him by H’Shem, who said to Moses: “This is the thing [word] that thou shalt do to them [the kohein] to set them apart as kodesh [holy];” i.e., to sanctify them for service to H’Shem.
The verse continues with the offerings, necessary for the inauguration. Also, the commandment is given for the kohein to cleanse themselves in a mikveh. Also mentioned are the garments that Moses will place upon the Kohein Gadol, before anointing him with oil. These garments, referred to previously, are described as “holy garments for Aaron thy brother, for splendour and glory” (Exodus 28:2, JPS).
“Let Thy priests [kohanim] be clothed with righteousness” (Psalm 132:9, JPS 1917 Tanach ). Righteousness is likened to clothes, because righteous thought, speech, and acts clothe the soul; they have everlasting value, whereby our righteousness will be rewarded in Olam Haba.
“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil [crushed] for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually. In the tent of meeting, [outside] the veil which is before the testimony.” – Exodus 27:20, JPS 1917 Tanach
Behind the veil (parochet), rested the Ark of the Covenant within the Holy of Holies (Kadosh Kadoshim). Outside of the veil, within the less holy area, called the Kadosh, were the Menorah, Showbread Table, and, the Mizbeach (incense altar), where incense was burned. Although these three were mentioned in detail, earlier in the Torah, the Menorah is mentioned, specifically, in the beginning of this parashas, with specific regard towards its function.
Of noteworthy mention is the specific command for all of Israel to bring the specific kind of olive oil reserved for use in the Menorah. In other words, all of Israel contributed to the olive oil that burned “from evening until morning.” It lit up the darkness, conveying in effect the light of G-d, that symbolically illuminates for us in times of darkness and uncertainty.
According to the sages, when discussing the significance of the phrase, “emet v’emuna (true and faithful),” in the evening prayer, the word, emuna, represents G-d’s faithfulness to us during the exile, inasmuch that it is a reminder that we will be redeemed. So, the nighttime, when this prayer is said, represents exile. Therefore, the light of the menorah, throughout the night, may also be understood as symbolic of G-d’s faithfulness towards us, during the current exile.
“And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten [crushed] for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.” – Exodus 27:20, JPS 1917 Tanach
H’Shem instructs Moshe to command B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) to provide the olive oil that will be used for the seven-candled Menorah, residing in the Holy Place of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), outside of the paroches (curtain) that served as a veil, dividing the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies) where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, from the Kadosh [Holy], where the Menorah, Showbread Table and Incense Mizbeach (Altar) were placed.
The light of the Menorah represents the light (ohr) that existed at the beginning of Creation; yet, this light was hidden after the sin of Adam, and reserved for the righteous in the Kingdom. Even so, there is a light that shines in the darkness of our lives, despite all of the years of oppression. “I will bear the indignation of H’Shem, because I have sinned against Him; until He plead my cause, and execute judgment for me; He will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold His righteousness” (Micah 7:9).
We are likened to the olives that are crushed, until a drop of pure olive oil is produced, representing the transformation of our brokenness into a purity of heart that only occurs after surviving the many nisyanos (challenges) in our lives. Perhaps, this is why the people themselves were commanded by Moshe to bring the purest olive oil for the light of the Menorah that burns continually, i.e., to emphasize our plight in the world that would reveal the light that shines in the darkness on a continual basis – the ner tamid. For “H’Shem shall be unto thee an everlasting light” (Isaiah 60:19, JPS).
“Bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp to burn continually.” – Exodus 27:20
The light in our lives, that kindles our understanding is a gift from H’Shem, without any shadow; yet, the intuition we receive from Him is often clouded by our own perception of reality; in other words, rather than remaining pure, the vision becomes obscured. In all likelihood, the main culprit that casts a shadow upon the glimpses of wisdom that vanish, before we can procure knowledge from those flashes of insight, is the accruement of aveiros (transgressions) that create a dullness – a lacklustre – upon our hearts and minds.
Perhaps, this may be one reason that Moshe said of the final generation before Moshiach that “H’Shem will circumcise your hearts” (Deuteronomy 30:6), in the days leading towards the Final Redemption. In order to bring the unadulterated light into our lives, our hearts must be purified from the taint of the world, that has left a near indelible impression upon our thinking, viewpoints, and perspective in life. Our minds have been corroded by the zeitgeist (spirit of the time) that has pervaded every aspect of our being. Yet, we will be shown the light in due time, as we walk upon the derech (path) towards righteousness.