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Parashat T’tzaveh (Exodus 27:30-30:10)

“You shall make a headband of pure gold, and you shall engrave upon it,
engraved like a signet ring, “Holy to Adonai.” (Exodus 28:37)

Parashat T’tzaveh opens with straightforward instructions to use pure olive oil to keep the menorah, or candelabrum in the mishkan, or Tabernacle, lit continuously (Ex. 27:20, 21). These two simple verses are rich in symbolic imagery.


The S’fat Emet (1847-1905; Yehudah Leib Alter, a child prodigy and the 2nd Rebbe of the Gerer Chassidim) cites the verse “For a mitzvah, or commandment, is a candle and Torah is light.” (Proverbs 6:23) to describe the Torah as God’s candle. He then uses another verse, “A candle of God is the soul of man” (Proverbs 20:27) to assert the Torah brings the soul to life. Thus, a person who performs a mitzvah is a walking candle, fulfilling the injunction to be a “…light unto the nations.” (Isaiah 42:6) This light shines in two directions: it illuminates the darkness in this world while also illuminating God’s transcendent nature, which is opaque or “dark” to us.


The performance of a mitzvah is considered an act of self-creation and we become co-writers of Torah by enacting the Torah through our behavior (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 99b). The S’fat Emet claims this is the real meaning of the standard blessing formula …asher kidshanu b’mitzvotva, “…Who sanctifies us in God’s mitzvoth:” we become the mitzvah we perform.


T’tzaveh may or may not be Tom Bodett’s inspiration to “…leave the light on for you,” but Frederick Douglass (1818–1895; African-American social reformer, abolitionist, and statesman) certainly understands its message when he states, “Anytime is a good time for illumination.” Kein Y’hi Ratzon, so may it be.


Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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