Parshat Tetzaveh: Pure, Beaten Olive Oil
וְאַתָּ֞ה תְּצַוֶּ֣ה ׀ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֨וּ אֵלֶ֜יךָ שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר לְהַעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד׃
Instruct the Israelites to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling an eternal lamp.
While the verse speaks about lighting the golden candelabra in the tabernacle, we read in proverbs that “The lamp of God is the human soul.” If it takes pure, beaten olive oil to light the golden menorah, what does it take to light up the human soul?
The answer comes from the verse itself. Pure olive oil in Hebrew is שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ, the last letters of which are שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ, nun, tav, and kaf, which make up the acronym תנ׳׳ך – “Tanakh,” the name for the entirety of the Hebrew bible. It is an acronym for Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim, the Torah books of the prophets, and the books contained in a section called “writings.” It is in these books that our souls find fuel to shine a pure light.
Yet, there is a step missing. The olives need to be beaten heartily in order for the oil to reveal itself. This is why we read the Torah year in and year out. It is why our rabbis teach us regarding Torah to “Turn it over and over again.” Each time we encounter our sacred writings and reread them, think about them, ask questions, wonder, struggle with them, expound them, we beat them like an olive until oil appears.
If hidden within the Tanakh is the fuel to illuminate our souls and the inspiration to help us shine our brightest light, why aren’t our texts always spiritually meaningful at first glance? This is like the olive that won’t give its oil on the first blow. When that happens, one doesn’t just throw away the olive. We hammer it again because we know there is oil inside.