Since Thursday evening, I've been MIA -- my computer was acting a bit "ferkakt" and I had no access to e-mail or the Internet. Thank G-d -- and my husband -- that the computer was fixed today and that Pearl is able to access her messages and her blog once more!
I hope those of you who celebrate Purim had a most wonderful chag, and those of you who might celebrate Easter had a most wonderful holiday. And those of you who perhaps don't celebrate anything simply had a wonderful long weekend!
Well, my d'var Torah is behind me and it was a resounding success. Firstly, I must thank a couple of you out there who offered me wonderful quotes related to the "light of Torah." I'd planned to incorporate them into my talk on the Ner Tamid, but when my computer went on the blink, I couldn't access the quotes when I was typing on Friday.
Before I even had the opportunity to speak, I received what to me is a wonderful compliment. I happened to go Shabbos morning to the shul I was to speak at (I alternate shuls usually) and after services the president made his announcements and said that Pearl _____ would be the guest speaker at seudat shlishit. I saw a woman sitting nearby confer with her daughter then, the woman and daughter turned, I was pointed out to the daughter... I tapped the woman on the shoulder and jokingly said, "I'm not going to be reading poetry!" (this woman is actually a poet, has published a couple anthologies of her poetry, has been a speaker at the Toronto Jewish Book Fair, and she and I have shared poetry readings on a couple of occasions in the past three years) She smiled and told me, "My daughter asked when she heard the name, 'Isn't that the poet?' " To say I'm flattered easily is somewhat obvious, but here this young woman heard my name and associated it with poetry was a wonderful feeling for me.
Yes, I labored long and hard at the d'var I was to present. I was very self-conscious that I was going to be sharing my words with some real "big guns", some real "talmidim" -- was I as a female going to be able to make an impression on a rabbi and on a mostly male audience with my words?
Not that you necessarily want to read my d'var but I'll share it with you anyhow. Perhaps I can enlighten you somehow; putting together the information certainly enlightened me!
My D’var Torah – Saturday March 26, 2005
Honored rabbi, family, friends and fellow congregants. Shabbat Shalom.
The night of the shul’s tribute dinner, Rabbi G. reminded my husband of his upcoming d’var Torah, and then he turned to me and asked, “Would you like to do one the following week?” I thought he was teasing. What would I talk about? How would I approach whatever I chose to talk about? I didn’t dwell on it, and assumed that because we hadn’t firmed up any arrangements, I really was not meant to do one.
But two weeks ago, when my husband did his d’var, I asked the rabbi if he indeed had been serious about the offer; he assured me he had, and so I signed my name to the imaginary dotted line.
Yes, I perceived preparing for a d’var as challenging—I have not done anything remotely similar since my U. of T. days, while minoring in Jewish studies, or when I wrote school papers in high school, but I sort of looked forward to this challenge.
I davka chose not to pursue discussing the parsha—you get spoon-fed that enough from all your rabbis and teachers. Instead I decided that I would talk about the NER TAMID, and hopefully enlighten you with its origins and some of the manifestations of light as we understand it.
The concept of the Ner Tamid has always been a fascinating one for me. From a young age, whenever I walked into a shul, whatever kind of shul it was , I noticed the “constants” – the bimah, the aron kodesh and the ner tamid, the eternal light. I’d look at the ner, looking at its casing and deciding if I liked it simple or artistic, and remaining in awe of the fact that this was indeed an eternal light, a continual glowing above the aron kodesh housing the Torah scrolls.
References to the origins of the Ner Tamid appear primarily in two places in the chumash:
In Sefer Shmot, Exodus, Parshat Tetzaveh, Perek , 27th chapter , psukim 20-21, katuv:
The second appearance, with wording almost verbatim, appears in Sefer Vayikra, Leviticus, Parshat emor, Perek , chapter 24 pasuk b, verse 2. Katuv:
In Parshat Tetzaveh, it says the olive oil that is to be brought to light the menorah, the seven branched lamp, in the mishkan has to be pure, and direction is given as to the exact positioning of the menorah and the way it is to be lit and what it’s supposed to do.
A question is raised: why does the parsha start with the commandment of lighting the menorah? Why is the commandment not listed in the previous parsha, following the description of the building of the menorah? Why does it come in between the description of the building of the vessels for the mishkan and the clothing and offerings of the priests? What makes it so special?
The details of the lighting of the menorah represent Avodat Hashem and yiraat Shamayim. Rashi understood that the commandment to build the mishkan was given after the sin of the golden calf. The Israelites needed a physical reminder of G-d’s presence to focus their worship so he gave them the mishkan. What vessels in the mishkan could possibly represent his presence and remind them of his constant protection and guidance? In the desert, it had been the pillar of cloud in the day to lead them, and the pillar of fire at night to give them light.
So the fire, the Ner Tamid, is reminiscent of the desert’s pillar of fire for it was lit from the evening until morning. The golden incense altar that creates a cloud of incense, represents the pillar of cloud, for Aaron lit it in the morning when he deals with the menorah lamp. And when Aaron lit candles in the evening he burns the incense, too.
In fact some interpretations, like Rashi’s, say that the Ner Tamid does not actually mean “continuously” but rather “regularly.”
Ramban disagrees and says that Tamid does mean continuously. He goes on to say that the Ner Tamid that the pasuk talks about is the western candle that always stays miraculously lit. All 7 candles were given the same amount of crushed pure olive oil each night, enough to last till morning. Ramban says that every night the western candle actually had to be blown out in order to be relit.
But the details of the pasuk call to our attention. Shouldn’t the text say “Vykhu eylai” – “to bring to me” the clear oil of the beaten olives. No, it was intentional. It was about the kohanim and Israelites and servitude for themselves as well. In a midrash it is said that G-d pointed out that he actually had many servants_- the brightness of the sun, the moon, the stars, lights that were created by him. He really doesn’t need the particular light of the menorah. But it is to endow the Jews to whom the torah was given, with the zechut to observe particular commandments, So not for G-d’s edification, but for ours. Preparing and bringing the oil is what the Midrash says is one of many opportunities to come closer to the shechina. And as an interesting tidbit, the word for “the oil”, “Hashemen”, is made up of the same letters that spell the word for soul, “Neshama.”
In the 19th century Rabbi Hersh examined the 2nd half of the verse: “L’a lot Ner Tamid”, ie. The flame should ascend of its own. He said that the description of the act of lighting a lamp by using “ascending” is peculiar to the service of the menorah in the mishkan. It alludes to the action of the kohen, applying the flame to the wick until it ascends. Similarly, a rabbi or teacher of Jewish tenets makes himself available but maintains some distance. People receiving instruction from him shouldn’t be constantly dependent on him. We as people should aim to be flames which ascend on our own, to shamayim.
It is interesting to note that the menorah and its candles have a significance of relating to both G-d and man. Its several branches represent the range of human wisdom, or for some, the major organs. The central branch from which all the branches extend show the centrality of Torah to Jewish life and human intelligence. The ner tamid corresponds to the heart – it is to be a light that can never be extinguished, which burns miraculously , even without replenishment of the oil or wicks of mitzvah observance.
In Proverbs 6:23 it says: "Ki Ner Mitzvah, vTorah Ohr." The commandment is a candle and Torah is illumination. The commandment is the candle and the mitzvah’s purpose is to illuminate the path to Torah, the source for all light. A commandment is compared to a lamp in order to tell you that as a lamp gives light for a short time, so the performance of a commandment also gives protection only for a short time. But the torah is compared to light itself in order to tell you that as light always illuminates the world, so does the study of torah always brings enlightenment to the world. Learning torah is a lifelong undertaking, an intricate process, just like the lighting of the menorah. First, learning involves refinement is which we work to bring the best of ourselves to the text. Second, learning must be tended to on a daily basis, and one must be disciplined to learn. Third, our learning must radiate outward in both word and deed, and must be sustained between generations.
It also says in Proverbs, 20:27 “Ner Hashem Nishmat Adam”-- the lamp of G-d is the human soul. Pardesai Yosef, cited in Itturei Torah, elaborates and says that every Jew must light a ner tamid in his/her own heart, not only in the mishkan, the beis midrash, the bet Knesset or during tefilla. But also “Mechutz laparochet”, outside the curtain, meaning in the street, in business dealings, in personal and social interactions.
In his book, A Passion for Truth, Abraham Joshua Heschel says that the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidut, distilled in people Judaism’s essence of joy, compassion and love for God. He awakened the zest for spiritual living, expressed in “hitlahavut” which literally means “being excited/being aflame”. Like the kohanim kindled the ner in the bet hamikdash, so, to, did the Besht help to rekindle a ner tamid in Jewish hearts.
(Here: read 4 lines of poem, in Hebrew first, then English: In the world’s heart burns a torch of fire/In its footsteps, eternal wanderers we have gone./Embodied light of all that transpires/It is the fire-core for everyone.
In every Jewish soul is a spark of light, a ner tamid. In every Jewish chapel is a ner tamid, a special, everlasting light. It reminds us that a shul is like a small bet Hamikdash and that our prayers which represent and replace sacrifices, are always welcome, because like sacrifices they bring us closer to Hashem.
May we all continue to be “keepers of the flame” and maintain “Hitlahavut” in our paths of Yiddishkeit.
It was a very good feeling to have men say "Shkoyech" to me, for the rabbi and rebbetzin to compliment me warmly and sincerely, but I think the greatest compliment for me came from an older gentleman, who happens to be the zeyde/grandfather of the young woman who referred to me as "the poet" earlier in the day. This lovely man came up to me and said, "Pearl, it was wonderful. You should publish it in a newspaper...I really mean it...you should publish it." (Okay, I couldn't tell him that maybe I won't publish the vort in a newspaper, but will publish it in a blog!)
When I go to a simcha or sit at someone's Shabbos table and someone gets up to give a d'var Torah, I am always so impressed; they can relay information, including psukim or rabbi citations, off the top of their heads, or know exactly where in a sefer to open up and make a point. I certainly could not do it off the top of my head, but the "spark" that I talk about in the vort, was certainly present when I was doing my research. That in itself is probably greater than any "shkoyech" I could ever receive...