Operation Olive Oil

Naaleh_logo Shiur provided courtesy of Naaleh.com

Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

In Parshat Tetzaveh Hashem continues with the instructions on building the Mishkan, its vessels, and its accouterments. While the instructions for fashioning the menorah were given in Parshat Terumah, this parshah begins with the instructions for the oil to be used in lighting the menorah. While any oil will serve as fuel, Hashem instructs Bnei Yisroel "to take... pure, pressed olive oil for illumination, to kindle the lamp continually."

Interestingly, although there are many beautiful and pleasant trees, the Prophet Yirmiyahu compares Bnei Yisroel to an olive tree. Indeed, the medrash explains, as our verse states, that olives are different from other fruit, in that they are picked, beaten, then taken to be crushed by huge stones until they finally give forth their oil. So, too, continues the medrash, are Bnei Yisroel beaten and crushed again and again until they do teshuvah and Hashem answers them.

Medrash Rabbah offers additional, specific comparisons of olive oil to Bnei Yisroel. Just as olive oil remains separate and does not intermingle with other liquids, so too does Bnei Yisroel remain separate from other nation and does not intermarry. Further, when one tries to mix olive oil with other liquids, the olive oil always rises to the top. So, to, when Bnei Yisroel follows the ways of Hashem, they stand supreme over all the other nations on earth.

 The Sifsei Da'as notes, the Torah uses the passive voice in the commandment not to intermarry. Therefore, it is more of a promise that you will not intermarry with the other nations, for, as Rabbi Sorotskin zt”l adds, even if you do intermarry, you will never become part of them. Like the olive tree, teaches Rabbi Schlesinger, whose branch cannot be grafted onto a tree of a different species the Jew cannot become part of another nation. The innermost soul of a Jew remains pure, the "pintele Yid" is never destroyed. When that identity is most grievously challenged, the Jewish soul rises to the top. Through the challenges and the distress, the pure Jewish soul emerges, like the purest oil from the pressed olive. Our tremendous potential is hidden deep within us, waiting to be extracted. Through the challenges and the distress, we extract the innate goodness hidden deep within us.

Other nations have also been challenged and oppressed. They have disappeared from history. Only Bnei Yisroel gets stronger, for the verse proclaims, אתם נצבים/you stand upright, your spine is strengthened through the challenges. We are also compared to stars, reminds us Rabbi Druck, for they too are often hidden, only visible within the darkness

Rabbi Weinberger zt”l notes that the three characteristics of olive oil are parallel to three distinct groups of Jews. First those that are completely unaffiliated and do not wish to identify as Jews. Nevertheless, when antisemitism rears its ugly head, their Jewishness takes root and they remain separate from the gentiles. Then there are those Jews who, although they do not practice Torah Judaism, nevertheless would never consider intermarrying and becoming intermixed with the gentiles. Finally, the third group are those Torah true Jews who remain completely separate and rise above all others.

We are all composed of two parts, our physical, material bodies, the seat of the yetzer horo, and our spiritual souls. These two aspects of our selves are in constant conflict, writes Rabbi Noach Chafetz zt”l in Chalon Lateivah. Our mission is to allow the light and fire of the neshamah to rule over the physical body. While that fire is never extinguished, sometimes it requires fanning or additional fire to burn brightly. When we ourselves provide that fire, we need need not be provided with outside fuel and hardships to fan the flames of our neshamah.

There is another difference between the olive and other fruit, points out Rabbi Eisenberger in Mesillot Bilvovom. When you squeeze other fruit, the liquid comes out as the same entity, albeit in liquid rather than solid form. It has no additional purpose. The "juice" that is extracted from the olive, on the other hand, has a special use beyond that of being a food product. That "juice," the oil, serves another purpose, to provide light. And the only way to access that new entity with its new purpose is through pressure. You need to go through the process to get the light.

To provide light is the hidden power within the olive. A Jew also has a great light within him, but it is hidden behind the physical body, writes the Slonimer Rebbe zt”l in Netivot Shalom. Only by breaking through the allegorical physical skin can we see and access the Godly light within ourselves. This light is part of the primal light of creation, a light that is also hidden within the flames of the menorah. When the kohain lit the menorah, he also ignited the light within each of us.

How do we access this light today, without the menorah of the Mishkan and the Beit Hamikdosh? That light is also the light of Shabbat, a light that illuminates the face so that it is not the same as his weekday face. [Parenthetically, a sheva brachot celebrated on Shabbat does not require a new guest, just a new face. The Shabbat transformation on one's face fills the requirement of a new face.] On Shabbat we also break the shackles of the physical to enter the sanctity of the spiritual. Entering Shabbat in the proper frame of mind requires breaking away from the thoughts and actions of the physical world. As the Medrash tells us, Hashem had a beautiful gift in His treasure house, the gift of Shabbat, that He presented to Bnei Yisroel. That hidden treasure is the hidden primal light Hashem stored in His treasure house for the righteous. We are tasked with destroying the darkness of the yetzer horo of Amalek and bring down the pure, original light of creation.

Just as an olive can transform itself from being a mere fruit to an instrument that brings light to the world, so can a body remain completely physical, or can transform itself into a spiritual entity, writes Rabbi Eisenberger. Just as an olive requires pressure, not just breaking it, to be transformed into light producing oil, so do we require pushing ourselves to transform ourselves into spiritual, light producing beings.

So why are we compared to the olive tree instead of to the olive oil itself? Here lies the key, writes Rabbi Walkin zt”l. We are not focused only on the end result, but on the process, for it is the process, the struggles, the challenges and the pressure that make us who we are. In the Torah world, Hashem rewards us for our effort, not for the results. We are born for the struggle, for that is how we build ourselves, writes Rabbi Shternbach, and we are rewarded for that struggle.

People approach life as they approach an olive. Some will always enjoy the olive itself without ever probing its deeper essence. They may do all the mitzvoth and recite all the brachot without ever searching for the deeper meaning and the light within, teaches Rabbi Levenstein zt”l. We need to work on ourselves to reveal the inner light, the messages of the mitzvoth, not limit ourselves to enjoying only the obvious benefit.

It is only the crushed, pressed olive oil that is worthy of fueling the light of the menorah. Like the olive, the human heart has all this goodness within, knowledge, insight, wisdom, compassion, but it is all locked within, like a house without any windows. We came into this world with perfection, only to have these characteristics closed off when Adam ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Our habits and routines have deadened the fire and the fear of Hashem within us. We need to peel off the outer layers, to open the windows and let the outside pressure in to push out the wonderful qualities within us.

We tend to go about our lives unaware of the possibilities or pitfalls of life. As Rabbi Weiss notes, citing Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz zt”l, a person born in the concentration camp could not imagine a life of freedom. Likewise, a person living a successful life in Europe prior to World War II could not imagine a life of imprisonment. We are living a life of imprisonment. Having been raised in an egocentric world, we are unaware of the greatness of the life within us.

Compare this to the olive growing contentedly on the tree. Life is beautiful, and it believes nothing can be better. Then he's plucked from that idyllic life, pounded and crushed, and becomes the great olive oil. Within us lies similar greatness that can be accessed only through great difficulty.

When Yaakov Avinu approaches Esau, his message is, "עם לבן גרתי.../I have lived with Lavan... and I have arrived here."Yaakov is not just saying that he survived his time with Lavan, but that precisely through the challenges of living with Lavan that he grew to become the tzadik that he was.

In a similar vein, Rav Hutner zt”l interprets the verse in Mishlei/Proverbs, that a tzadik falls seven times and rises, for a tzadik rises to that level of righteousness precisely because he fell seven times and struggled each time to rise above, building his character each time.

We are all meant to be in the process of refining ourselves to become symbolic olive oil. The Netivot Shalom challenges us to find the negative trait within ourselves that is constantly rearing its head. That is the trait we are meant to work on, to pound and crush until we remove it and reveal the beauty within our souls. Like the olive, our growth and beauty lies in transforming ourselves through the process, welcoming the challenges and using them for inspiration and growth.