Torah Reading for Week of February 6 – February 12, 2011
“The Soul of a Person is a Lamp of the Lord”
by Lisa Bock, AJRCA Fourth Year Rabbinic Student
“You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly.” (Exodus 27:20)
How much of our everyday language uses expressions referring to light? We use expressions such as, shed light on a subject, we may note how a person lights up a room, and we are enlightened when we see something newly. We use expressions of light to show how something is lifted, elevated, how we are brought higher in a soulful way.
Our verse here ends with “for kindling lamps regularly.” In Hebrew, the phrasel’haalot ner tamid, is translated literally by Rashi as “for raising a light.” Rashi explains further that regularly means continually, but that the lamps are not lit continually, but rather, once a night. He notes that other tamid offerings that are referred to as “continual” are actually daily, twice daily, or even weekly.
Nachmanides informs us that Rabbinic tradition disagrees with Rashi, and argues that the westernmost lamp would be kept burning constantly, so other lamps would be lit from it at twilight, or that the westernmost lamp in the Tabernacle was lit in the morning as well as twilight.
Why the debate? What is the significance of whether the lamps burned in the evening and went out, or burned continually?
Light, as we noted above, brings illumination, clarity, elevation, a lifting of the soul. The specific light in this verse is to be in the Tabernacle, a particular place that the Israelites are to make as noted in last week’s parashah, “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” (Ex 25:8). This is not a trivial assignment. This light is very specific. Hizkuni notes that the Israelites are to “bring you (Moses)” clear oil, “for you to be able to see where you are coming and going; as for Me, I have no need for light.” This light that is either to burn continually, or be lit continually, regularly – if it is not for HaShem, who is it for?
This light is of course, for us. We find this light, the ner tamid, symbolically in our sanctuaries above the Ark. I believe we also find this light in the faces of our loved ones, we find this light in the company of friends, when we illumine our souls in the study of Torah, and when we elevate ourselves in prayer, even as we strive to be like the angels as we sing “Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh” in the Amidah.
When we recognize the importance of this light, we can begin to see the significance of the having this light be continually lit rather than periodically lit. When this light is for us so frequent that it seems continual, we too may be elevated. When we strive as human beings to elevate our souls, to live our lives in a holy way, to act consistently with our values, to do mitzvot, our light burns brighter, and we become candles of HaShem, as it says in Proverbs 20:27, “The soul of a person is a lamp of the Lord.”