Bring the Oil to Moses

One of the most important functions carried out in the Mishkan (the portable Sanctuary in the desert) and later in the Bais Hamikdash (the Holy Temple) was the lighting of the Menorah, the seven branched candelabrum. The primary objective was to extend the light of the Sanctuary where G‑d was revealed to the entire world. It would not suffice for there to be a single place on Earth that reflects the Divine reality; the ultimate objective is that the entire world will be illuminated by and bask in Divine light. This, indeed, is the very rationale for the creation of the world and which will be realized in the imminent Age of Redemption 

This week’s parsha begins with G‑d’s instruction to Moses:

“You should command the children of Israel that they should bring to you clear olive oil…”

The question is asked, why did they have to bring the oil to Moses? After all it was Aaron and his sons who lit the menorah, not Moses.

Another question is asked concerning the use of the word olive [oil] in the singular, [shemen]  zayis. Why does it not use the plural [shemen] zeisim-[oi of] olives, in the plural?

The Chassidic work Panim Yafos answers that in Moses’ merit one drop of oil sufficed! This was similar to the miracle of the “Western light” of the Menorah that would not extinguish on its own. This miracle lasted for the duration of the first Bais Hamikdash-The Holy Temple, and then for a brief period in the Second Temple era. This was also the essence of the Chanukah miracle; one night’s supply lasted for eight nights.


Breakdown of Analogy

But here is where the analogy breaks down:

There is a well established principle of Jewish law that a Mitzvah should be performed within the parameters of nature. If one must invoke supernatural forces to facilitate the fulfillment of a Mitzvah, it undermines the spiritual quality of the Mitzvah.

There is a well-known story of the Alter Rebbe on this point. When he was rowed across a waterway to transfer him from one prison facility to another, the Alter Rebbe noticed the new moon shining brightly in the sky. So he asked the prison official who was rowing the boat to stop so he could say the traditional Sanctification of the Moon blessing. The official refused.  The Alter Rebbe resorted to his supernatural powers to cause the boat to stop on its own. As soon as it stopped, he recited a preliminary psalm and then the boat started to move again. The Alter Rebbe asked the official once more to stop the boat. This time the official acceded to his request and willingly stopped the boat, whereupon the Alter Rebbe recited the blessing on the new moon.

The question has been asked: If the Alter Rebbe had the power to stop the boat why did he let it resume moving? Why did he again ask the official to stop the boat when he had the ability to stop it himself?

The answer given by the Rebbe is that Alter Rebbe refused to do a Mitzvah with the aid of a supernatural force. He wanted the official to decide to stop the boat of his own free will, so the Alter Rebbe could fulfill the Mitzvah without the support of a miracle

Why then would the central Mitzvah of lighting the Menorah in the MIshkan be based on a miracle; that one drop of oil would suffice when there was no shortage of olive oil?

The fact that the Western light did not go out on its own is not a good analogy. There was sufficient oil for the entire night, which satisfied the basic requirement of the Mitzvah to light a Menorah so that it lasts “from evening until morning.” The miracle merely allowed one flame of the Menorah to extend beyond the time it was required to burn.

Likewise the miracle of Chanukah was designed by G‑d to show His love for the Jewish people and highlight the victory over the Greeks. Furthermore, their only alternative was to use contaminated oil which was much less preferable than the use of miraculous oil. (See LIkkutei Sichos, volume 5 n.35).

Which brings us back to the original question, why did G‑d invoke Moses’ merit to cause a solitary drop of oil to suffice and thereby compromise the integrity of a Mitzvah that should be done within the parameters of nature?


Why the Focus on Nature?

To answer this question we must review the reasons for the insistence that a Mitzvah should be done through natural means.

The Rebbe provides two explanations: (See Likkutei Sichos, volume 35 p. 226):

The first is that G‑d cherishes the natural order, for it is His Handiwork. Therefore He does not want us to alter nature; even to perform a Mitzvah.

The second reason is that, although the Torah itself transcends the parameters of nature, it was given precisely to affect and refine nature. To perform a Mitzvah with miracles circumvents the very objective of a Mitzvah.

Now let us examine the lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan, which relied on a miracle that one drop of oil brought to Moses sufficed.

If the reason we attempt to perform a Mitzvah within the parameters of nature is to respect the laws of nature, that did not apply during the sojourn in the desert wherein everything that happened was miraculous, from the splitting of the Red Sea, Manna from Heaven, the Clouds of Glory and Miriam’s Well.  Indeed, the supernatural phenomena were more common than the natural. A child who grew up in the desert would be more surprised to see an apple slowly growing on a tree than by the ration of Manna that rained from Heaven daily for forty years!

If lighting a Menorah from one drop of oil was miraculous for us it was commonplace for them and, indeed, was a part of their“natural” world.

If, however, the reason for the need to perform a Mitzvah within the confines of nature is to affect nature and refine it, the question still remains, why would they light the Menorah with but one drop of oil?

Two answers come to mind:


Not Operational Yet

The first is that the objective of Torah to refine the world was not fully operational until the Jewish nation conquered the Land of Israel.  According to the Alter Rebbe, the reluctance of the spies to enter the Promised Land was due to their preference to remain in the totally spiritual desert environment. They could not adapt to living within the parameters of a natural world with the duty of changing it. They chose to live in a spiritual world and remain pure and G‑dly rather than engaging the material world and risk the danger of being swallowed up by its physicality.

Thus, as long as the Jewish nation was in the desert, the objective of refining the world by entering into its precincts and changing it from within, was on hold. There was thus no problem with using the supernatural for the observance of a Mitzvah because they were not yet in the mode of refining the natural world from within its own boundaries. It was an era of the miraculous overwhelming, and not changing, the world with G‑dly light.


Ahead of its Time

A second but opposite approach can be offered: the lighting of the Menorah by Moses in the desert was actually ahead of its time. Rather than suggesting that the mission to change the world had not yet begun in earnest, this explanation posits that Moses was setting the tone and paving the way for the ultimate future, when the natural world will have been fully refined and changed to the point that there will be a seamless transition from the natural to the supernatural.

This can also explain why the miracle that occurred specifically with the lighting of the Menorah was associated with Moses and not Aaron, who actually lit the Menorah.

Our Sages tell us that “Moses is the first redeemer and he will be the final redeemer.” This, they explain means that Moshiach will possess the soul of Moses and represent his essence, which is Torah.

The Menorah, in contradistinction to the Altar and the Table, was designed to illuminate the Divine in the world. The Menorah channeled the Divine light from the first day of creation that “illuminated from one end of the world to the other.” And it is that light which will be fully revealed in the Messianic Era.

Thus, when the oil (the power of Moshiach) was brought to Moses (the first and final redeemer) to light the Menorah (the portent of the light of the Messianic Age) one drop sufficed because in the future there will be no dichotomy between the natural and the supernatural.


The Power of Faith

There is one very important caveat: The Torah does not actually say that Moses took one drop of oil for the Menorah. Rather, it states that the Jewish people were commanded to bring their “olive oil,” in the singular, to Moses. No one dwelling in the desert thought it was bizarre that a single olive was enough!

The lesson here is that the Jewish people had total faith in the ability of one drop of oil to burn for as long as needed. That pure faith was a miraculous phenomenon and a taste of the Messianic future; that the Jews of the desert, who were always murmuring and doubting, would have a spiritually lucid moment and behave in a futuristic Messianic fashion.

The contemporary Chassidic work Shefa Chaim suggests that it was this faith that actually caused the miracle to happen.

Our generation has witnessed countless miracles and we have, as the Rebbe taught, reached the point of no return to our exile past. When we respond to the Rebbe’s call with simple and profound faith and deliver our “one drop of oil,” the core of our soul that will bring about the true and complete Redemption, when G‑d’s light will spread to the entire world. 





Moshiach Matters:  


At the present time, when the world trembles, when all the world shudders with the birth-pangs of Moshiach, for Hashem has set fire to the wall of the exile... it is the duty of every Jew, man and woman, old and young, to ask themselves: What have I done and what am I doing to alleviate the birth-pangs of Moshiach, and to merit the total redemption which will come through our righteous Moshiach.