Our parsha opens with the words,
“You shall charge the sons of Israel, that they bring you clear oil of beaten olives for the light…” (Ex.27:20)
The literal Hebrew renders it crushed oil. But this is impossible, isn’t it? Perhaps. This is why the translators generally smooth the text to a more logical reading. But what if the Hebrew pictures something important that we miss by changing it?
The book of Jeremiah contains a lovely passage that is considered an allusion to the Messiah within Jewish tradition.
“The LORD called your name, Green Olive Tree, Lovely and Good Fruit.” (Jer.11:16)
The great Jewish sage, Radak, comments:
“He said to the people of Israel, from the beginning He called your name “Green Olive Tree” – when you were doing His will, you were like a green tree.” (Rabbi David Kimchi, 12-13th Century)
The Midrash Tanchuma also comments, saying “the olive oil lights the world”, deriving the interpretation from, “There I will make the horn of David grow; I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed.” (Ps.132:17)
This sounds wonderful and glorious. But there is something amiss. As glorious as the expanding kingship of David is, it comes, apparently, at a great cost.
“Much like Israel, Messiah’s light will be seen throughout the world only after his great suffering.” (Exodus Rabbah 36)
From where is this idea derived?
“But the LORD was pleased to crush him, putting him to grief…” (Is.53:10)
We must remember that God has declared through His prophet Isaiah that Israel must shine forth a “light to the nations” (Is.49:6), as we see in the following Jewish midrash:
“(And he is also called) “pure oil of pressed olives” (Ex.27:20), since out of darkness he will be a light for Israel, as it says, “That you may say to the prisoners, go forth” (Is.49:9), and it is also written, “The Gentiles shall come to your light” (Is.60:3). (Otzar Midrashim, 138, as found in the book The Concealed Light, Tsvi Sadan, Vine of David)
There is more to the story. So far, we have seen agreement among the sages with the apostolic understanding of the suffering of the Messiah. But, then, there’s this:
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master.” (Matt.10:24)
If we are going to be disciples of the Master, we can reasonably expect to experience our own share of suffering, or being crushed into oil for the lamp.
This is not because God does not love us. On the contrary.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of his glory you may rejoice with exultation.” (1 Pet.4:12-13)
“Although he was a Son, he learned obedience from the things which he suffered.” (Heb.5:8)
And also this:
“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim.3:12)
So much of our focus is on experiencing God. But the commandment of God for the people to provide the oil for the Menorah shows us that God wants to experience us. How so? By offering up our service to Him. This builds a partnership between God and His people, and between the will of God, and the sacrifice of His servants.
Lacking a Temple today, how are we, as disciples, expected to bring forth pure, crushed oil for the lamp of faith?
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Rom.12:1)
Why? Does our self-discipline really impact the world around us? Why is this so important to God? The Midrash speaks of this:
“Not that I need for you to provide light for me, but in order that you may provide light for Me as I provide light for you. This is in order to elevate you above all other peoples, that they might say, “Israel gives light unto Him who illumines the whole world.” (Exodus Rabbah 36:2)
This is how the Menorah, and specifically the light of the Menorah, is presented in the Midrash; as an item which exists within the space of the Tabernacle, but which has its most powerful impact in the human expression and experience. It speaks of that which emanates from within.
What’s perhaps most interesting about this command, is that the oil is provided by the common people, not the leadership. It is a partnership that involves all of God’s people, not just the elite ruling class. And this is very important, because the light of the Menorah is meant to spread to the whole world, and so it will take the whole nation to bring it there.
“If you light lamps for Me, I will illumine you with the great light of the future, as it says, “No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor for brightness will the moon give you light; but you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory.” (Is.60:19)(Midrash Tanchuma)
And again, the Midrash says,
“The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moses, “Say to Israel, ‘My children, in this world you need the light of the Temple, and therefore you must have a lamp in it, but in the world to come, in the merit of the lamp that you lit, I will bring you the Messiah King, who is compared to a lamp.’ As it is written, “I will cause the horn of David to spring forth; I have prepared a lamp for Mine Anointed.” (Ps.132:17) (Midrash Tanchuma)
All of this is very beautiful, but as we see at the beginning of this parsha, the light is able to shine because of the oil that has been crushed.
It is the crushing which comes from the hand of a loving God which brings forth our brightest moments, and it is only right that we should share in the sufferings of our Master and Lord. We don’t need to seek it out; it will find us naturally if we only seek to walk with Him.
“…if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” (Rom.8:17)