“You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly.” (Exodus 27:20)
This week’s Torah perspective comes from Robin Ballin, JCC Association Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications.
Parashat T’tzaveh continues the description of the meticulous craftsmanship that went into the building of the mishkan (Tabernacle) and the priestly wardrobe. It opens with the commandment to raise a ner tamid, an eternal light. This is the origin of the eternal light that burns before the ark in synagogues today.
Ner tamid refers either to a lamp that burns continuously, or to one that is regularly lit. In the mishkan, the ner tamid was set up in the ohel moed, the tent of meeting, outside the curtain which hung before the ark. It burned from evening to morning and was relit each day. Providing the oil for keeping it lit was to be a public obligation for all time, throughout the generations. (Exodus 27:21) Most synagogues today use an electric light for the ner tamid, which is simpler to maintain and easier to explain to the local fire marshal.
Light is a metaphor for God’s presence, which not only “enlightens” the world in general, but also provides a sacred spark that burns within each person. Each person’s spark is unique, and so is the light, or the individual contributions of talent and time, that we can bring to the community and to the world. Alone, each light may be small. But together, they make a bright flame that burns strongly for our community, but only if we are vigilant to keep it lit.
We no longer have the mishkan, but we still have many centers of Jewish life. Each one of them, be they JCCS, schools, federations, synagogues, or Jewish homes, are “tents of meeting” for the Jewish people, and each one requires the ner tamid that is the Jewish people.
Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom