This shiur is dedicated in memory of my mother, Bayla Basha bat Baruch Chaim, Hareni Kaparat Mishkavah
When asked about the contents of our Parsha, many people would most likely first think about Parshat HaMoadim. Lying smack in the middle of the Parsha, and familiar through the fact that it is read on both Pesaach (second day) and Succot (first day), the parsha describes the various holidays and the special korbanot which were offered on each one. It also describes the defining characteristics of each Moed. (Interestingly, the parsha does not describe the korban Mussaf of each chag. This is left for Parshat Pinchas). When further pressed, we would probably remember the beginning of the parsha, which deals with the question of the holiness of the Kohanim. We also might remember the end of the Parsha, which tells the story the son of an Egyptian father and Jewish mother who publicly curses in Hashem’s name, and the punishment (stoning) which is meted out to him. Few of us, however, would immediately think of the obligation to prepare the oil and light the ner tamid on the Menora or to prepare the lechem hapanim and place them on the Shulchan. These passukim (24:1-9) are most likely filed away in our minds as belonging back in Sefer Shemot, along with the building of the Mishkan. And in fact, that is where we find the almost identical commands, in Parshat Tizave (ner tamid) and Teruma (lechem hapanim).
As one would expect, the repetition of these particular mitzvot does not fail to catch the attention of the classical parshanim. Rashi immediately notes that the earlier reference to the mitzva of preparation of the oil for the ner tamid was only descriptive, but not prescriptive. The description of the building of the Mishkan requires the Torah to describe the mitzva of ner tamid, but the actual command is reserved for our Parsha. The Ramban rejects this approach, and instead suggests that the oil first used for the ner tamid had been donated by the nesiim for use in the Mishkan. The Torah here comes to command Bnai Yisrael in the preparation of the oil that would subsequently be used for the mitzva of ner tamid when that original quantity of donated oil was exhausted.
Interestingly, neither Rashi nor the Ramban refer to the repetition of the mitzva of lechem hapanim, or suggest why the Torah would have chosen to place these two mitzvot in Parshat Emor, immediately after Parshat HaMoadim. The Abarbanel, however, in adopting Rashi’s approach fills in the gaps. In his view, the Torah’s telling us of the Shulchan and the lechem hapanim in Parshat Teruma was also descriptive in nature, with the actual command to prepare the lechem hapanim held in abeyance. The reason that the mitzva of ner tamid and lecem hapanim are placed here, explains the Abarbanel, is because the oil for the ner and the flour for the lechem come from public funds. They are therefore to be considered public sacrifices, just as the korbanot of the Moadim are public sacrifices. Hence, this is the natural place to put them in the Torah. (It is worth noting, however, that the Chinuch lists the mitzva in Parshat Tizave and not in our parsha as Rashi and the Abarbanel would have it).
The specfic language used by the passuk in giving us this particular mitzva, “Tzav”, catches the attention of the midrash. Says the Midrash Torat Kohanim (Sifra), the word Tzav is used to describe a mitzva which should be done urgently (ziruz), immediately (miyad), and which is eternal in nature (l’dorot). The Rashbam, in the beginning of Parshat Tizave makes this same point when contrasting the command of building the mishkan (daber el B’nai Yisrael v’yikchu, tell B’nai Yisrael to take) with the mitzva of preparing the oil for the ner tamid, (v’ata tizave, you will command). Several hundred years later the Malbim (on the first passuk of Parshat Tzav) sharpens this point, describing the word Tzav as connoting a direct command from a superior who will brook no delay in seeing his demands fulfilled. (The idea of the command for eternity fits, of course, with the suggestion of the Ramban that we quoted earlier.)
This concept of the nature of the command dovetails with a different midrash, this one from VaYikra Rabba. “Hashem said to Moshe: “Moshe, I have made you a king. Just as a king commands and others fulfill (his command), so you should command and B’nai Yisrael will fulfill (your commands).” The Netziv is troubled by this midrash. As we have seen, the language of Tzav suggests that the mitzva be completed urgently, more for the sake of the one who demands it than for the sake of the ones who comply. What then, is so special about the mitzva of ner tamid that it is more important for Moshe than for B’nai Yisrael?
The Netziv sees the light of the Menora, burning uninterrupted, as an allegory for the never-ending power of Talmud Torah and for the power of chiddush, creativity, that is an integral part of that process. In the generation of Yiziat Mitzrayim, there was no one who more clearly demonstrated the characteristics of Talmud Torah and chiddush than Moshe Rabbenu. Hence this mitzva was associated with him rather than with all of Am Yisrael.
This could also explain why the parsha of ner tamid is placed specifically here, adds the Netziv. The Moadim are a time of increased study and there are always chiddushim to be derived in connection with a holiday (ask anyone who is preparing for Pessach). Hence the juxtaposition with Parshat HaMoadim.
While the Netziv sees the parsha of ner tamid as an affirmation of the power and scope of an individual’s abilities, Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch sees an affirmation of the community’s connection with Hashem. The purpose of the Moadim, says Rav Hirsch, is to demonstrate and reinforce on a regular basis our awareness of G-d’s guardianship of Am Yisrael.
On each holiday we are reminded of the miracles that Hashem preformed for us at various stages in our history, as well as our continuing dependence on Him through the agricultural cycle that the Chagim parallel. This, however, is insufficient. In fact, we must be constantly aware of our dependence on Hashem, and, equally importantly, be aware that G-d is constantly concerned about our welfare, both spiritual and material. This is accomplished through the mitzvot of ner tamid and lechem hapanim.
It is not coincidental that both these mitzvot are described in our parsha as being l’fnei Hashem tamid (see passuk 4 and 8). What we are in fact saying is that we are placing our spiritual and intellectual development (as symbolized by the ner tamid) and our physical wellbeing (as symbolized by the lechem hapanim) under Hashem’s constant supervision.
In truth, our extraordinary nature as a nation is a consequence of the synthesis between the approach of the Netziv and Rav Hirsch. The power of the individual can never be diluted by the responsibilities of the community. But an individual bereft of the community and of the responsibilities that are incumbent on all members of the community can never reach the full spiritual, intellectual or material potential of chiddush that lie within him.