TETZAVEH (Exodus, 27:20-30:10) — “Heartburn — Full Time!”

Every synagogue has one. 

Look in the front of any shul and you will see it hanging there.  The Ner Tamid — Eternal Flame.  While all the other lights may be extinguished at the end of the day, there is one small light that illuminates the Sanctuary.  It is usually a small chandelier-like fixture, suspended from a chain in front of the Holy Ark where the Torahs are kept. 

This custom is, I assume, based upon the first verse in this week’s Torah Portion: 

“You shall command the Children of Israel to take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination to kindle the lamp continually.” (Exodus 27:20)  (An alternate translation of the end of the verse is “…to kindle the Eternal Flame.”) 

The “Eternal Flame” being discussed was not a chandelier like they have in synagogues.  It is a reference to the Golden Menorah: 

“In the Tent of Meeting … Aaron and his sons will arrange it from evening till morning…”  (Ibid, verse 21) 

Rashi explains that the Menorah did not have to be constantly lit.  As long as Aaron or one of his descendants the Priests kindled the lamp every evening and it burned through the night, the Torah considers it to have been lit continually.  (Other commentaries maintain that at least one of the lamps of the Menorah remained burning for 24 hours.)

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Torah study is a full-time job: 

This Book of the Torah is not to leave your mouth.  You shall contemplate it day and night, in order to observe, to do, all that is written in it.  (Joshua, 1:8) 

The Talmud (Menachos 99b) cites various interpretations of this verse. 

Rabbi Yishmael’s nephew asked him whether someone who knows the entire Torah is permitted to study non-Torah topics.  His response:  “The verse says ‘…  You shall contemplate it day and night…’  If you can find a time that is neither day nor night, go ahead!” 

Rabbi Yochanan, quoting Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, said that if one recites the Shema every morning and every evening, he has fulfilled the requirement of “This Book of the Torah is not to leave your mouth.  You shall contemplate it day and night.” 

Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rothenberg, the first Rebbe of Ger, was bothered by a question.  G-d told Joshua that the Torah is NEVER to leave one’s mouth.   Our in-depth involvement in Torah is supposed to be “…day and night.”   How, asks Rabbi Rothenberg, do we define a few moments of prayer in the morning and then again in the evening as a fulfillment of that verse?  A quick 2-minute Shema twice a day, spending the rest of the day engaged in trivial pursuits, and we call that “contemplating it day and night”?  Who are we trying to fool? 

The Rebbe says that we can see the answer from the beginning of this week’s Torah Portion. 

“… kindle the lamp continually.… Aaron and his sons will arrange it from evening till morning…” 

This verse presents the same problem.  The priest takes a few moments to ignite a wick, and yet the Torah says “… kindle the lamp continually…” 

“CONTINUALLY?!!”  You spent a minute lighting candles and then went about your business!  How do you call that lighting continually? 

Obviously, explains the Gerrer Rebbe, when you put a match to a candle that proceeds to burn all day, it is considered as if you are continuing to perform the Mitzvah of lighting throughout the day.  In a similar vein, if a person takes a few moments to engage in genuine inspiration, that too can be considered to be “contemplating it day and night.”

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The trick is getting the fire to BURN.  Anyone can quickly recite a few Hebrew words and write that off as fulfilling the Mitzvah.  But if he doesn’t ignite his soul with the fear of heaven, it’s like trying to light a candle in the middle of a hurricane.  The match head will flare up, and then quickly fizzle out. 

A person is supposed to start off his day with a heartfelt declaration that G-d is our Master, and that we are required to channel all our efforts toward serving Him.  We are supposed to accept the Kingdom of Heaven upon ourselves.  We fulfill the Mitzvah of loving Him, “…with all your heart, all your soul, and all your possessions.” (Deuteronomy, 6:5)  We repeat that declaration in the evening. 

If we would but take a few moments each day to fully absorb and contemplate the goodness of G-d, His kindness, His generosity, and His sanctity, we would find our hearts burning with a sublime holiness that would warm ourselves and everyone around us all day long. 

Have a good, illuminating, and heart-warming Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

 “Hide and Seek”  (2010) 

… when a righteous man like Moses says something, G-d listens.  Moses “cursed” himself, albeit conditionally … Even that request could not go totally unanswered … 

Read more

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 “Heartburn — Full Time!” (2008) 

…Torah study is a full-time job: 

This Book of the Torah is not to leave your mouth.  You shall contemplate it day and night, in order to observe, to do, all that is written in it.  (Joshua, 1:8) 

… Rabbi Yochanan … said that if one recites the Shema every morning and every evening, he has fulfilled the requirement of “This Book of the Torah is not to leave your mouth.  You shall contemplate it day and night.” 

…   How… do we define a few moments of prayer in the morning and then again in the evening as a fulfillment of that verse?  A quick 2-minute Shema twice a day, spending the rest of the day engaged in trivial pursuits, and we call that “contemplating it day and night”?  Who are we trying to fool? … 

Read more.

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  “Clothes FAKE the Man” (2007) 

…How does such an event take place?  How do children of Holocaust survivors participate in a conference whose purpose was to deny the obvious truth?  How could they stand arm-in-arm with people who want to see them dead? 

There are only two possibilities.  They are either wicked, evil, despicable people, or they are out of their minds… 

Read more

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“Light up your Life!” (2006) 

…The Menorah, which remained lit 24/7/365, could only be fueled with oil that was “crushed for lighting.”  Olives were crushed by hand in a mortar until a single drop, totally clear of sediment, came out.  This “custom-made” clear olive oil, crushed for lighting, was the only oil that was acceptable for the Menorah.  (Obviously, they went through a lot of olives!) 

After the first drop came out, the olives were ground in a mill.  The resultant oil, although unfit for the Menorah, was acceptable as an ingredient in meal offerings.  Rashi explains that the Menorah lighting oil could not have any sediment in it.  For the meal offerings, however, this was not a problem. 

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of Blessed Memory, explains why the Menorah was different from the meal offerings… 

Read more.

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“Tea Leaves and Poison Ivy” (2005) 

Yale University is one of the most prestigious centers of learning in the world.  There is a great deal of knowledge that can be acquired in that historic institution. 

I once tried to read a Yale diploma.  There was a problem.  While I can speak, read, and understand, at various levels of proficiency, English, Hebrew, Aramaic, and Yiddish, I wasn’t prepared for the diploma from “Universitatis Yalensis.”  When it comes to reading or understanding Latin, as the saying goes, “It’s Greek to me!” 

But wait! I noticed an old friend! Was that – yes! It was! – Hebrew! Perhaps I would be able to read something after all. The logo consisted of an open book with Hebrew letters… 

Yale University!  That honored, venerable storehouse of knowledge!  How could people who are so intelligent act so goofy?! … 

Read more.

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“Galbanum in Spice, so Everything’s Nice!” (2004) 

… The Priest was required to burn incense on a special Altar every morning and every afternoon.  The sweet smell of the incense serves to endear us to our Creator.  In fact, the Talmud tells us that while Moses was in Heaven receiving the Torah, the Angel of Death divulged to him that he could “assuage” G-d’s anger with incense.  (See Deuteronomy, 17:6-15, where Aaron ends a Divine plague by igniting incense.) 

Why was the incense so special and powerful?… 

Read more.

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“Dress to Impress” (2003) 

… Why is the Torah putting so much emphasis on clothes?  Does it really matter how the Kohain is dressed?  Doesn’t that seem superficial?  Isn’t it what’s inside, what’s in his heart, that really counts? … 

Read more.

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“Bless Your Heart!”  (2002)

… Wouldn’t it be great to always know the correct answer to your question? 

In the Temple, this was the case.  The High Priest wore a breastplate … embedded with stones that lit up to answer questions. … When the High Priest was asked a question, certain letters lit up.  The High Priest would then determine the answer by figuring out what the letters were spelling. 

How did this lofty and holy work end up in the hands of the “Aaronites?”  What did Aaron do to deserve such honor? … 

Read more.

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 This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on February 12, 2008 at 7:22 am  Leave a Comment  

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