November 22, 2019

Weekly Parsha: Emor

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

“Command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually.” – Leviticus 24:2

This week Table for Five features commentaries by students
at Jewish high schools in the Los Angeles area.

Robert Carlson
Milken Community Schools

I am continuously struck by the importance of continuity in Judaism. With every Kiddush recited over a Passover cup of wine, and every Shema recited at bedtime, we declare our dedication to the Jewish tradition. The importance of active continuity is echoed throughout the Torah. In Parashat Emor, (Leviticus 24:2), we read that Moses commands the Israelites to bring olive oil for the ner tamid, the eternal flame, in the Temple. The ner tamid was not lit once and left alone, but rather it was to be rekindled daily in every age. Therefore, the ner tamid requires action by the children of Israel in every generation to keep the flame ignited. 

The obligation of bringing oil for the lamp teaches us that we must take active roles in our Jewish lives. Whether this role be by deepening our Jewish education or observance of commandments, every generation must take the responsibility to rekindle their own ner tamid. Preserving my Sephardic traditions, Ladino language and Jewish rituals are ways that I actively affirm my dedication to the Jewish tradition, bringing oil for the lamp in my own way. 

Singing Ladino songs such as “Un Kavretiko” during Passover and praying in the Turkish-Jewish nusach, liturgy, connects me to my past, but these traditions also embody the strength of my Jewish identity in the present. Ultimately, rekindling the ner tamid links us with our past, and builds a bridge to the next generation, which bears the responsibility of preserving the fire of its own lamp.

Natalie Anne Silberberg
YULA Girls High School

After listing the holidays in Leviticus, and the minutiae of their laws, Moshe is told to ensure the lamp burn continually. 

Why must the candle be lit tamid, continually, and not extinguished? Is there a hidden metaphor since, even with the purest olive oil, this is impossible? 

Perhaps Moshe is subliminally teaching that no matter how bogged down we get with life’s details or challenges, we must always keep our inner light ignited. This ability is the reason Chazal, our great sages, entreat us to be an Ohr Lagoyim, a light unto the nations. The light of the menorah burned continuously while in the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple. That light is continued in the ner tamid, continual light, found today in our synagogues. This should be an inspiration to follow the commandments listed in Parashat Emor. 

This ner tamid with the potential to light others comes from within, like the fire of our souls. Even after the torturous Holocaust, my grandparents continued to fight for their beliefs and taught subsequent generations the importance of the everlasting light of Judaism. Instead of extinguishing their excitement for Torah and Judaism, overcoming their struggles pushed them to educate others. Like the burning candles that remained lit in the Beit HaMikdash, we have the responsibility to remain strong and enlighten others with the brightness of Jewish belief. In light of the recent tragic events in Poway, Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein reminded us what the Lubavitcher Rebbe said beautifully, “A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”

Jonah Rudner
de Toledo High School

Birth, holidays and death. What do these things have in common that is so intrinsic to our culture? All three bring people together. Whether it is the birth of new member of the family, a Passover seder or the death of a loved one, people tend to turn these types of events into communal gatherings. But why do we take individual events like these and turn them into communal gatherings? 

In Parashat Emor, specifically Leviticus 24:2, God asked Moses to command all of the children of Israel to take pure olive oil to him for lighting the lamps continually. God could have asked just one person. Instead, this was tasked to everyone, turning an otherwise individual act into a communal activity. 

Why include everyone? In order to bring them together. There are very few commandments like this, and by creating one, God created an opportunity for bonding as a people.

The strongest nations are those that stand by one another and care for one another. Creating a nation like that is incredibly difficult, but when it works, such nations stick around the longest. By creating a communal bonding activity like lighting the menorah, God started a bonding project that eventually would lead to the type of community that the Jewish people are today — community members who stand by one another and care not just for themselves but for the whole world.

Sheyna Schusterman
Shalhevet High School

In this Torah portion, God commands Moshe to assemble a menorah. Upon completion, the menorah was placed in the Tent of Meeting to burn each day. Aaron had the responsibility of ensuring the menorah was always lit, so that the light would be visible to all. 

God wanted to ensure that the lamp was present for all generations to come. Obviously, physical illumination like the flames of the menorah cannot last for generations. We can interpret the long-lasting light in this section of the parsha as referring to spirituality. The powerful image of the ever-burning flames of the menorah presents a guiding principle that we all can apply to our daily lives. We live in a physical world filled with mundanities and distractions. However, that shouldn’t mean that we don’t fill our lives with meaningful, spiritual experiences as well. Just as God wanted the flames of the menorah to burn for generations, the Torah is an everlasting source of light for the Jewish people, illuminating our path forward no matter the state of the world or our place in it. 

In order for the world to be encompassed by the light of Judaism, we need to spread spirituality to those around us, whether it be friends, neighbors or strangers. Whether spreading Judaism through a love of Torah or chesed acts of lovingkindness, we have the opportunity to ensure that the light of the menorah will truly be radiant for generations.

Yoni Merkin
YULA Boys High School

The command to use pure olive oil to light the menorah continuously seems unnecessary. What is the need to specify the continuous burning of the menorah? 

In tractate Shabbat 22b the Talmud explains that the lighting of the menorah was a testimony to humanity that the presence of HaShem rests in Israel. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains further that this menorah is a message to all the children of Israel that HaShem’s constant active presence is not only in Israel but in our daily lives as well. If we focus only on the holidays or the special customs that we observe in Judaism, we begin to forget that HaShem’s presence always can be found in our lives. 

Although nowadays we don’t have a menorah to remind us of HaShem’s interaction in our lives, the same principle remains: We need to look for HaShem’s presence in all the things we do. 

Additionally, the verse uses the uncommon word lehaalot, to rise up, instead of just saying to kindle when describing the use of the oil. The common explanation for this is to emphasize the use of good wicks and oil for the menorah so that it doesn’t require further fiddling. Rav Kook, however, explains that lehaalot can be seen as a metaphor for our lives. Our bodies are the wick that we must strive to improve spiritually and physically in order to rise up and receive the fire of HaShem’s presence.