This week’s parashah continues the intricate and essential instructions we started learning about last week, regarding the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The very first verse from this week’s parashah reads; “You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly”.
It is from this verse, that we establish the custom and practice of the Ner Tamid (Eternal Light).
The Ner Tamid is a light found in every synagogue, and represents the Menorah that was in the Mishkan, and that later stood in the Temple in Jerusalem, as well as the continuously burning fire on the altar of burnt offerings in front of the Temple. It exists in our sanctuaries, usually placed above the ark, in the center, so that it can be seen by everyone.
It is a symbol of God’s Presence, and is therefore never extinguished. Our sages remind us that it is the divine light that was originally created on the first day of creation, but then hidden away for the messianic age. It is the light of Torah that guides us through the dark world, helping us, like a little lamp, to see the obstacles and roadblocks in our way so that we do not trip and fall.
There is also an explanation that teaches us that this is not just God’s light, but it is also ours. It is the light of the mitzvot that we do. It is the shining of our souls. This olive oil that was used in the Tabernacle came from us. It is our physical contribution to the maintaining this eternal light.
There is also a spiritual contribution and connection to that light. Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky (The Slonimer Rebbe) provides an interesting explanation as to why we use olive oil. He explains that the olive is unique amongst fruits in its duality. When you squeeze or crush most other fruits, they become a liquidized version of that fruit, nothing more. The olive, however, produces oil. But even after the olive has been crushed, the oil that is produced becomes a whole new object, a vehicle for light.
In the same way, the Ner Tamid and Menorah, fueled by the olive oil, both represent illumination and clarity of the mind. Even after it appears that we are crushed, we expose a hidden light deep within us which shines through and enables us to go on.
Another interesting observation on the Ner Tamid is its position in the Torah text. It is placed almost in the center of the instructions concerning the building of the Tabernacle. Some say that as an instruction concerning the ingredient to be used for the lighting; “clear beaten olive oil”, it should have been included earlier, with the description of materials.
And as an instruction concerning the process of lighting, it should have come later, together with other instructions concerning the daily tasks of the Kohanim, in the book of Vayikra.
This further emphasizes the centrality of the Ner Tamid in our physical existence, and its importance in our spiritual existence. May it continue to serve as a reminder of the light that guides us in our physical and spiritual journeys.