Sedra of the week: Tetzaveh

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Sedra of the week: Tetzaveh

Hannah Reuben looks ahead to this week's portion of the Torah

This week’s sedra, Tetzaveh, focuses primarily on the design and manufacture of the priestly garments.

It opens, however, with a commandment to take “pure pressed olive oil for illumination” that is to burn continuously in the menorah that stood in the Tabernacle. 

While we might suggest that the various branches represent the range of all of human wisdom, the central branch of the menorah, from which all the branches extend, also underscores the centrality of Torah to Jewish life. 

King Solomon reaffirms this message in the Book of Proverbs (6:23) when he writes “for the commandment is a candle, and Torah is light”.  

Our rabbis explain that the mitzvah is a candle because its purpose is to illuminate the path to Torah, the source from which all light comes. 

They take this idea further and say that every Jew must light a ner tamid (an eternal light), the light of God, in their own heart. 

The candle must be lit not only in the tabernacle, the synagogue or during the time of prayer, but also me’chutz la’parochet, “outside the curtain” (Exodus 27:21) – meaning in the street, in business, when engaging in everyday matters and during one’s interaction with others. 

Every Jew is expected to have a flame in their heart, to feel inspired, invigorated, and excited about Jewish life, mitzvot and studying Torah, but there is more to it.  

The well-known rabbinic interpretation of the verse in the Shema, “these things that I command you today” (Deuteronomy 6:6), underscores that God’s commandments should always be fresh in our hearts and minds.  

The implication is that every Jew should feel excited about being Jewish, feel the thrill of performing mitzvot, but also find a way to bring God into everyday life and everyday activities. 

Hannah Reuben is a United Synagogue Living & Learning Project executive

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