Shabbat Parashat Tetzaveh| 5764
Jews on Their Own Two FeetHarav Moshe Zvi Polin
Percival Goodman, one of America’s great synagogue architects, insisted that the Ner Tamid in every synagogue be designed to be an oil lamp to be tended by the members of the congregation.
Actually, there was no independent Ner Tamid in the Sanctuary or the Temple; it was the westernmost light on the Menorah (Shabbat 22b). When it was kindled, the flames were not allowed to sputter or flicker, but had to “dance” by themselves (ibid.21a).
The purpose of the Ner Tamid was “a proof to the world that the Shechinah (Divine presence) abides in Israel” (ibid., 22b). From Israel, specifically from the Temple, the Shechinah emanated to the world. “Just as oil illuminates, so does the Temple enlighten all the world” (Shemot Rabbah 36,1).
Haboneh to Shabbat 21a (found in the Ein Yaakov) offers another interpretation of the Ner Tamid based upon Mishlei 20:27, “the light of G-d is the soul of man.” In other words, just as Israel, i.e., the Temple, must be the source of inspiration for all mankind, so must a Jew fulfill his or her mission as G-d’s representative in the world. And just as the flame of the Ner Tamid had to burn by itself and not sputter or flicker, so must a Jew be sufficiently knowledgeable in Torah and committed to its commands to make the right decisions in life, to act independently of negative influences, not only from general society, but even from friends and family.
What does it mean to be sufficinetly knowledgeable in Torah? It means not deluding oneself into thinking that one knows more than he or she actually does. It means asking questions, first of oneself to try to find the answer, and afterwards of Torah scholars.
One must model himself or herself after the flame of the Ner Tamid, not sputter or flicker, but stand or “dance” on one’s own two feet.
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