The Dvar/article below is also available as a Podcast, simply click any of the following options: Apple, Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, &/or Youtube.
1Crushed for Illumination
This week has been a bit more challenging navigating the ups and downs that come with living in this life of exile… as Mark Ronson says, Nothing Breaks Like A Heart. I woke up today and it hit me that we’re all just scattered pieces of a broken soul trying to come together and make it whole.
This Parashah opens on the following verse:
וְאַתָּ֞ה תְּצַוֶּ֣ה ׀ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֨וּ אֵלֶ֜יךָ שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד
And you will command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you clear olive oil, crushed, for illumination, to light a lamp continually.2
What strikes me is that the action we are commanded to take is a physical action in a moment— it’s plucking an olive, squeezing, grinding and crushing it for its oil, in order to elevate it. And what’s to follow is illumination and a continual light. It is the same in life— only after self-sacrifice can we merit seeing purity illuminate our souls.3
The Mishkan (Tabernacle) was built to rectify the sin of the Golden Calf, because sin obscures the light of Hashem and the light of emunah (faith). Reb Natan of Breslov teaches that once B’nei Yisrael accomplished building the Mishkan, they aroused Divine Will instead of anger. By lighting the lamps, they expressed the desire that the light of Hashem should never be extinguished within them.4
The stories leading up to this moment in the Torah continually show us a yeridah (descent) prior to the aliyah (ascent), because the height and light come from the falls and the darkness. And since everything physical is a reflection of its spiritual counterpart, there is no aliyah without a prior yeridah. So, we have to stay faithful and focus on the light or we get consumed by darkness. If we look at ourselves like the olives, going through life, feeling crushed at various stages, but remain hopeful that from the crushed moments comes the elevation – the light – we can stay faithful on our path towards our own ascension and redemption. At every moment in life, our decisions can be fueled by fear, constantly questioning, in a state of uncertainty. Alternatively, we can operate from a place of faith, realizing that whatever is meant to be will be. And when we put our trust in that process, if we are open to believing that what is meant for us will come to us, then the crushed parts of the path that we are on will illuminate the darkness, like a light shown in a dark room. The greater the darkness, the greater the light.
We need to instill this lesson of lessening the focus on the elements that leave us crushed, moving away from the place of fear and feeling stuck, and into the space of Emunah (faith) and Bitachon (trust). And we will see that everything will be illuminated.
There is a concept that is spoken about a lot in Chabad of being a lamplighter. Inspired by going out of one’s way to be more loving, more giving, and inspiring to all of those that come into our presence. As any Jew who has traveled and needed a minyan, a kosher meal, or a community for Shabbat, even in the most obscure and desolate part of the world, there is almost certainly a Chabad around, and you can be sure their door will be open with a smile, words of Torah, love, and some warmth in all its manifestations.
All of this is borne of doing the mitzvot (commandments), but doing them in the most loving and enlightened way possible, as it’s written, “a mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light.”5 Because the light that was once fully revealed, prior to all of Creation, is now hidden in this physical and material world, so the more we reveal it, the closer we get to a time of full revelation and full redemption, when the light is likened to that of the First Day. This is the process of revelation and unification, of drawing ourselves and each other closer to our Source, closer to Emet (truth).
The Lubavitcher Rebbe teaches that if light is the purpose of every created thing, then light also must be the purpose of darkness. So we learn that darkness isn’t meant to be avoided but to be transformed into light.6
We are all light, we all have Hashem within us. We generally can’t see it within ourselves or even in the world, as it is all light, so in that sense it seems to not even exist. But if we bestow our light onto another, then we can see the beams of light from within us, around us, and mirrored back to us. That is when we see light, that is when light is revealed. As we see from the first verses in Bereishit, light is good, and good is only good when given. So to reveal light, we have to share light, and that is how we manifest good and light in this world, that is how we are able to take it from a seemingly “nonexistent” state to something revealed.
The mitzvot are a way to transform the physical into the spiritual, as it’s written “The soul of man is a lamp of G‑d.”7 When light from your own flame is shared with another flame, your flame doesn’t become smaller, only the other person’s flame is now ignited.
On the phrase K’tit Lma’or’/כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר (“Pressed…. for illumination”),8 the Talmud explains that although the olive oil used for the Menorah must be pressed over and over until a few choice drops are extracted, the same standards aren’t required for the oil that is used as part of the meal-offering.9 The Chatam Sofer goes on to say that if we assume that the Menorah is the source of our spiritual success and the meal-offering the source of our financial prosperity, then we can form our own relationship to the standards that should be attained in material and spiritual matters. Only the purest ingredients will suffice in relation to spiritual matters, and although material needs are often necessary for spiritual success, we don’t need to be as demanding with the quality of worldly necessities. Spiritual success comes from offering your soul without limitation, whereas material success comes from Hashem, and exerting oneself in these matters does not guarantee success. I have personally seen this in my own life many times. I could make hundreds of sales calls and not land much of anything. However, if I stay positive, do the work that needs to be done and stay hopeful and giving, I can be a vessel for receiving. Then I might get a call the next day, seemingly out of the blue, and land a big money deal. It’s not magic, it’s the give and take of this journey. Weput love and hard work out there, we help others and it does — if we can remain positive —come back to us.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the vessels of the inward sanctuary are, as their name implies, receptacles. When they are pure and their service is pure, they are the receptacles of the Divine blessings, physical as well as spiritual, as the Torah tells us: “If you go according to My statutes and keep My commandments… the earth will give forth its produce and the trees of the field their fruits.”
As Rabbi Ḥanina said: “Everything is in the hands of Hashem, except for fear of Him.”10 Connecting with something that is in concealment often takes a great leap of faith. If Hashem wasn’t concealed, our choice to fear, love, and connection would be taken away, as it wouldn’t be a choice at all. Starting with the sixth plague in Egypt, it says that Hashem hardened the heart of Pharaoh, which seems that He was taking away Pharaoh’s free will, but it is actually the opposite. He had to harden his heart to counter the effect that the miracles and revelations had on him in order to maintain his free will.
With our own life, there are the ebbs and flows, and it is up to us how we ride these waves, how we react to them. Do we remain a lamplighter for others, even during the moments we feel that we are struggling? Or do we let life’s tough moments get the better of us, leaning into negativity and diminishing the light of those around us? Every moment is a lesson; if we can only look at them as such, we can remain hopeful and even thankful during the difficult times, knowing something even better is around the corner. And we will connect with it and appreciate it that much more because of the difficult time that preceded our being ready, open, and unified with it.
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that what we see in each other is a mirror-reflection of ourselves: “When you see ill in your friend, it is your own ill that you are observing.” Just like a mirror that reflects exactly what is in front of it, so too what we see in each other reflects nothing but what we ourselves possess. And from this we must know that it is Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence) bringing it to light, in order to correct our own deficiencies.11
As we see time and again, we tend to project our own issues, insecurities and shortcomings on each other, seeing in the “other” what’s actually meant to be inner work for ourselves. The idea of hashgacha pratit is that we are put into situations and relationships for a reason; we are meant to learn from them and fix things in ourselves which will help the other person fix them for themselves.
Our entire lives are one long conversation with the Shechinah (Divine Presence), whether we are being pulled closer into it, feeling enlightened, or running away from it, rejecting the Emet, both are part of the same conversation and relationship we each have with Hashem. Every moment and encounter with each other, each of us being a part of Hashem, is part of that conversation, it’s us being shown something in order to grow in our connection with the Divine.
King David wrote, “I made a little hole in my heart,” וְ֝לִבִּ֗י חָלַ֥ל בְּקִרְבִּֽי .12 Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that the moment one thinks about serving Hashem, one should make a little space in their heart, and He will reveal Himself there. The way the world was created was by Hashem contracting his infinity, separating Himself from the world, leaving an empty space (tzimtzum, as the Kabbalists call it), so that man would not be overwhelmed by His awesome Light. It is just this separation that we are constantly reminded of that often feels unbearable, but we could continuously tap into connecting to it by remembering “a mitzvah is a lamp and the Torah is light.”13
This entire life is about revealing the concealed, about bringing light and love into darkness and adversity. Carlebach explains that when you love somebody very much, you are ready to do the smallest finite favors for them with all your heart and soul, because if you are genuinely connected, you understand that the finite is also the infinite. Hashem will pour the infinite into the finite vessel you create. Rebbe Nachman says the way in which to connect the finite vessel to understand His infinity is through your infinite emotions and wisdom of your heart.
A Mystical Medium of Illumination
In this week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, it says “And you shall speak to all the wise-hearted people whom I have invested with a spirit of wisdom.14 The Chatam Sofer explains that Hashem commanded Moshe to tell the craftsmen that He invested them with a spirit of wisdom, and once informed of their innate potential, these wise craftsmen were able to create Aharon’s vestments. Bahya ibn Paquda, in his classical work of ethics, Chovot Halevavot, notes, “Every human has hidden potential and talent. In the same manner that seeds must be sown, plowed and harvested, so too someone else must nurture the potential latent in his peer.”
As we read about the garments of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), the breastplate and the Urim and Tumim stand out as being from another universe, a mystical medium through which Divine Inspiration communicated through light. The names of the twelve tribes were engraved on each of the twelve stones on the breastplate, broken down as such:
- Rueven: Odem (Ruby/carnelian)
- Shimon: Pitda (Chrysolite/emerald)
- Levi: Bareket (Onyx/topaz)
- Judah: Nofech (Malachite/carbuncle)
- Yissachar: Sapir (Lapis-Lazuli/sapphire)
- Zevulun: Yahalom (Zircon/diamond)
- Dan: Leshem (Jacinth/zircon)
- Naftali: Shvo (Agate)
- Gad: Achlamah (Amethyst)
- Asher: Tarshish (Topaz/aquamarine)
- Joseph: Shoham (Beryl/onyx)
- Benjamin: Yashpeh (jasper)
Rabbeinu Bachya teaches the benefits associated with each stone: Odem helps childbirth; Pitda cools the body; Bareket brings enlightenment; Nofech overpowers enemies; Sapir helps eyesight and healing; Yahalom helps sleep; Leshem protects against theft; Shvo helps riding; Achlamah creates bravery; Tarshish helps digestion; Shoham allows a person to be perceived well by others; and Yashpeh helps blood-clotting.
We often forget or don’t even learn about the Shamanic practices of Divination in Judaism, but this Parashah brings much of it to light. Gershon Winkler’s book titled the “Magic of the Ordinary: Recovering the Shamanic in Judaism” is a worthwhile read if you want to learn more about the lost art of what was once a big part of our tribal roots.
According to the Zohar, the Urim and Tumim contained the Forty-two and Seventy-two Letter Names of Hashem placed in the folds of the breastplate, which caused the letters engraved in the stones to light up, which would spell out answers to the Kohen Gadol’s questions.15 The name Urim comes from its emanatation of light (Or) and Tumim because it was sliced into two perfect halves (te’omim means twins), and as the Midrash teaches, it was cut by the Shamir, a unique stone-cutting worm. The Ramban explains that answers would come to light by the letters of the two names of Hashem that were in the fold of the breastplate illuminating certain letters that were engraved as the names of the twelve tribes. The letters would light up and the Kohen Gadol, through Ruach HaKodesh (Divine intuition), would arrange the illuminated letters to compose words and reveal the answers.16
Purim and the Revelation of the Concealed
Soon we will be reading the Megillah (scroll) of Esther this Purim, which is also Le’galot Ha’ester (meaning “to reveal what’s concealed”). The word Esther is related to the Hebrew word, “I will hide,” which is said in Devarim when God says, “I will surely hide my face.”17 The Megillah is one of the only books in Scripture not to mention Hashem’s name at all. It’s a story that took place in the Persian Empire long after the Biblical stories in which the miracles and revelations took place.
Purim, like the present, is a time in which Hashem, Melech Ha’olam (King of the Universe), has hidden himself in the universe (Olam / עולם). The root of ‘Olam’ is also something that is unseen, hidden or disappeared (Ne’elam / נעלם). Hashem has hidden himself in the universe so that our actions are of our own free will, but when we create space for Him, we can peel back a bit of the concealment and see Him guiding and blessing us.
During Passover, we retell the story of Egypt to relive it as if we too are being freed and to remember that we too were once strangers in a strange land. With Purim it is said, “If one reads the Megillah in the wrong order (‘literally, ‘backwards’), he has not fulfilled his obligation.” The Baal Shem Tov explains that this refers to a person who reads the Megillah believing that the story it tells occurred only in the past (as a retrospective account) and that the miracle does not endure into the present. With that mindset, the person hasn’t fulfilled their obligation, because the purpose of reading the Megillah every year is for each person to learn how a Jew should behave in the present. Purim is the living revelation of the concealed.
As we go into Purim, we need to tap into the energy of the month of Adar, known as a month of celebration and joy. Adar was the last month that B’nei Yisrael were in Egypt before the Exodus, the time right before things became clear and Redemption revealed itself. We learn in the Talmud that “when the month of Adar arrives, we increase in joy,”18 welcoming this time of miracles. I pray that we are able to celebrate and focus on joy, illuminating ourselves and each other, sharing and shining light to dispel all the darkness of concealment so that we can revel in the Light of the Infinite with the coming of the Moshaich and the final redemption, speedily.
—- click here to join the weekly WhatsApp group, where I post a personal message and an audio snippet of the Dvar every Thursday!
Listen: Audio/Podcast version: Apple, Spotify, Youtube, or Soundcloud
** Get your copy of my second book, ‘LIGHT OF THE INFINITE: THE EXODUS OF DARKNESS‘. The book parallels the parshiot (weekly Torah reading) of Shmot/Exodus, which we are reading now!! The book is mindfulness, Kabbalah and Chassidut brought down in a way that speaks to our generation and is now available as Prime on Amazon! – – https://amzn.to/3uvdfxw
Notes & Sources
- Psalms 109:22
- Exodus 27:20
- Likutey Halachot II p. 63a
- Ibid I, p.260
- Proverbs 6:23
- Likkutei Sichot Vol. X pp.7-12
- Proverbs 20:27
- Exodus 27:20
- Menachos 86a
- (Talmud Niddah 16b)
- The Baal Shem Tov on Avot 4:1; Nega’im 2:5; and Kidushin 70a
- Psalms 109:22
- Proverbs 6:23
- Exodus 28:3
- Zohar II, p. 234b
- Talmud Yoma 73b
- Deuteronomy 32:15
- Talmud Ta’anit 29a