Parashat Tetzaveh 5778 – Shabbat Zachor
“The kindling of the Menorah and the kindling of the Shabbat candles”
This week’s parashah begins by saying, “You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly. Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain which is over [the Ark of] the Covenant, [to burn] from evening to morning before the LORD. It shall be a statute for the Israelites for all time, throughout the ages.” (Sh’mot 27:20-21).
God commanded the children of Israel to bring olive oil every day in order to light the Menorah that was placed within the Mishkan, the tabernacle.
According to the sages, this tradition is reflected today in the Ner Tamid (eternal light) that hangs above the ark of every synagogue. It is one of the symbols associated with the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) that we still have in our synagogues. According to the Talmud, the synagogue is considered a Mikdash m’at, small sanctuary (Talmud Bavli Masechet Meguila 29a).
What would the Ner Tamid, a perpetual lamp, symbolize?
There are many answers to this question. The Ner Tamid could symbolize God’s presence (Talmud Bavli Masechet Shabat 22b), the flame of Judaism that is alive and that our values, Torah, and teachings are eternal.
In addition, this symbol transmits a message of union. All the synagogues around the world, despite their different points of view, have the same object, the Ner Tamid, above the ark. It is one of the components that is required to have in a synagogue.
In this week’s Torah Thoughts I would like to bring another explanation related to the first verses of this week’s parashah. It is an explanation written in a different way. It is written through a Tkhine.
Before I show you the Tkhine that I’m referring to, I would like to introduce the literature of Tkhines with two quotes written by Chava Weissler, author of the book “Voices of the Matriarchs. Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women” (Beacon Press, Boston 1998):
“Because most Jewish texts of the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, as throughout most of Jewish history, were written in Hebrew by men for other men, we have very little direct evidence of women’s religious lives. Tkhines (Yiddish, from Hebrew tehinnot, “supplications”), private devotions and paraliturgical prayers in Yiddish, primarily for women, were published beginning in the early modern period, especially in Central and Eastern Europe and among Yiddish-speaking populations elsewhere. Written by both women and men, they were printed and reprinted again and again, thus providing evidence of their great popularity. Moreover, we can document some of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century women who composed them. Thus, these prayers are among the most important resources for the history of the religious lives of Jewish women in the Yiddish-speaking world.
“The tkhines reveal a whole world of women’s religious lives, concerns, customs and settings for prayer. These texts are deeply spiritual, no less than the complex and esoteric works produced by Kabbalists and hasidic masters. The women (and men) who composed these prayers for women addressed the spiritual issues of their day, whether on the level of domestic piety or national redemption. The tkhines themselves are at home in the literature produced for the intellectual “middle class” of this period; they belong among the guides to the upright life, books of customs, condensations of guides to pious practices, and digests of mystical teachings that were read by householders and artisans. Indeed, the tkhines show how much women were a part of this intellectual and spiritual world. Finally, the tkhines provide a directness of passionately emotional personal prayer, mostly absent from the more collective and formalized male worship experience.”
Therefore, we may say that through the reading of Tkhines we may enter the spiritual world of women from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, women who were excluded from the major arenas of Jewish public life. Through the Tkhines, women could raise their voices and share their spiritual thoughts, experiences, and prayers. Without a doubt, the Tkhines are a very rich treasure to study and enjoy.
Having briefly explained the meaning of the “Tkhines,” I will share one of them that is related to the first verses from our parashah:
“Lord of the World, may my observance of the commandments of kindling the lights be accepted as the act of the High Priest when he kindled the lights in the dear Temple was accepted. ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ (Psalms 119:105). This means: your speech is a light to my feet; may the feet of my children walk on God’s path. May my kindling of the lights be accepted, so that my children’s eyes may be enlightened in the dear Torah. I also pray over the candles that my observance of the commandment may be accepted by the dear God, be blessed, like the light which burned from olive oil in the Temple and was not extinguished” (Exodus 27:20).
(From The three Gates, attributed to Sarah bas Tovim, Eastern Europe, late eighteenth century)
I believe it is a beautiful prayer for candle lighting, in which the author makes a deep connection between the kindling of the Menorah by the High Priest in the Temple of Jerusalem and the woman who is kindling the candles for Shabbat. She asks for the acceptance of her prayers and for blessings for her children, that they may be enlightened by the light of the Torah.
Thus, we have here a deep connection between the lights from the ancient ritual of the High Priests and the lights of the Torah, the children, and the eternity expressed in the weekly mitzvah of the Shabbat candle-lighting.
This is another explanation of the first verse of this week’s parashah. Fulfilling the mitzvah of candle lighting is a way to be connected to our ancestors, “kindling lamps regularly,” and to the future, hoping that our children and grandchildren will be able to keep this deep and spiritual ritual that unites all the generations.
So, following the message of this beautiful Tkhine, let’s kindle our candles for Shabbat in our “sanctuaries” with the purity, devotion, and spirituality the High Priests showed when they kindled the Menorah in the Temple of Jerusalem.