Tetzaveh 3

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


The Menorah & the Incense

Parshas Tetzaveh

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This week’s portion deals with the Kohanim; the priests. It addresses their selection, how they dressed, and how they were inaugurated. There are also several responsibilities mentioned which were incumbent on the kohanim to do every day: The lighting of the menorah (Shemos 27:21), the korban tamid, which was the twice daily sacrificial offering (Ibid. 29:38), and the ketoras, the incense, which was offered up also twice daily (Ibid. 30 v.7).

The twice-daily sacrificial offering symbolized the dedication of the nation. While it was the kohanim who performed the service, they were representatives of the entire nation. What is the significance of the menorah and the incense offering? 

The menorah has seven branches. The outer six, three on each side, symbolize the physical world of creation. The seventh - middle - branch symbolizes Hashem. The three outer flames on each side pointed towards the middle, symbolizing the taking of all of our worldly endeavors and injecting them with spirituality to make them kadosh — special.

The menorah is lit with olive oil. The Slonimer Rebbe gives a beautiful explanation as to why we use olive oil. He explains that the olive is unique amongst fruits in its duality. It is a fruit that produces oil.  But even after the olive has been crushed, the oil now becomes a whole new object, a vehicle for light. So too the Jewish nation, even after it appears we are crushed, has a hidden light deep within us which shines through and enables us to go on. The menorah represents illumination and clarity of the mind.

The ketoras — the incense — was a sweet smelling spice. The purpose of this mitzva was to give honor and glory to the temple. People would walk by the temple and due to the sweet smell would have a sweet association with it. But there is another reason. It says in Psalms (ch.3 v.17) "Its ways are ways of pleasantness." The "it" refers to the Torah. The sweet smell is to remind us not to merely do the mitzvos (commandments), but rather to take pleasure in the mitzvos, as they are sweet.

Rabbi Shamshon Rafael Hirsh, explains the relationship between the menorah and the incense. The menorah represents the importance of the sechel — the mind  — in relationship to the commandments. The incense represents the complete sublimation of all actions to make them something pleasing to Hashem. These two together express the aim of the ennoblement of man in his relationship with Hashem.

Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

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