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A Light Unto the World, and Moses' Role in It

February 25, 2010 By:
Rabbi Joshua Runyan
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Names are incredibly useful; indeed, they are vital inventions. Without them, we would scarcely be able to communicate with each other or even identify objects in the world around us.

This week's Torah portion has its fair share of names. There's Aaron and his sons -- Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar -- all of whom appear in relation to the work that they'll perform in the Tabernacle. Amidst a discussion of how to make their garments, the Torah even commands to write the names of all of the 12 tribes on two stones that will become part of the High Priest's ephod.

All of this begs the question: Where's Moses in all of this? His name doesn't appear once.

It's a detail that the Baal HaTurim commentary connects with a later occurrence, when Moses confronts the Almighty over His seeming refusal to forgive the Jewish people after the sin of the golden calf. If He won't forgive His people, says Moses, then "erase me from the record which You have written!"

Even though the people were forgiven, the oath of a righteous person always stands. Moses couldn't be erased entirely from the Torah, but his name could be excised from an entire portion.

Still, Moses is very much present in the narrative. He's the subject of the portion's first and all of its subsequent commands.

"You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly," God tells Moses.

This command was addressed to the very essence of Moses -- an essence that transcended his name. A name only encapsulates the external qualities of a person; it's what enables somebody else to call out to you. But just as a mirror image doesn't reflect a person's internal characteristics, a person's innate identity goes beyond his or her name.

That lofty level is signified by the "you." That term encompasses all of a person's nature, his desires, thought processes and unique characteristics.

The idea is underscored by the fact that Moses, aside from the gathering of the oil, had nothing to do with the actual lighting of the Tabernacle's menorah. That task was solely the province of Aaron and of his sons. Yet it was he who needed to gather the incredibly pure olive oil used for the lighting, and it couldn't be done with merely his external identity. All of his essence -- his entire soul -- had to be put to the task, and only then could the menorah be lit by someone else.

A literal reading of the Hebrew text reveals that the lamps had to be lit to the point that the flames rose of their own accord.

The Talmud explains that the oil used for the menorah was the purest of the pure, the first drop from every pressed olive. At this stage, each drop was exactly the same, devoid of any impurities.

At the level of our souls, we, too, are all the same. The Jewish people as a whole possess a unified identity that transcends place and time. This is why only Moses -- a leader who was ready to sacrifice himself so that his people could be forgiven -- could gather the oil, and why he needed to access his deepest essence in order to gather it.

So, too, by accessing our deepest identities and unifying our efforts are we able to bring light to the world.

Rabbi Joshua Runyan, former news editor of the Jewish Exponent, is the editor of Chabad.org News. E-mail him at: jrunyan@ chabad.org.

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