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Torah Sparks

March 6, 2004 – 13 Adar 5764

Annual: Ex. 27:20 – 30:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 503; Hertz p. 339)
Triennial: Ex. 29:19 – 30:10 (Etz Hayim p. 513; Hertz p. 346)
Maftir: (2d Scroll) Deuteronomy 25:17-19 (Etz Hayim, p. 1135; Hertz p. 856)
Haftarah: (a) I Samuel 15:2-34 (s) I Samuel 15:1-34 (Etz Hayim, p. 1280; Hertz p. 995)

Prepared by Kenneth S. Goldrich, Esq.
Author of the USCJ/RA Luah and Yad LaTorah

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director


27:20-28:43 - Instructions concerning the oil for the ner tamid; the fashioning of garments for the kohen, including the ephod (a type of apron) and special breastplate.

29:1-37 - Description of the consecration and inauguration of Aaron and his sons as priests.

29:38-46 - The korban tamid, the daily sacrifice (two sheep: one in the morning, one in the evening) offered each day, every day.

30:1-10 - Details for the construction and use of the incense altar.

Selected Text

You shall command the Bnei Yisrael to bring to you pure pressed olive oil for lighting to kindle the ner tamid (continuously burning lamp). (Exodus 27:20)

Discussion – “Knock, Knock.” “Who’s there?” “Olive.” Olive Who?”

Two of the most important factors in effective marketing are getting one’s product mentioned frequently and having it mentioned at particularly opportune times. My hat is off to the marketing team responsible for launching the olive. The olive tree and its byproducts are mentioned with incredible frequency throughout the Bible and rabbinic literature, always at just the right time, when and where everyone is paying attention. In our Selected Text, we find olive oil designated as the “official fuel” for the menorah that would constantly illuminate the Temple and all of Jerusalem. Following are a few of the many times the olive’s PR firm managed to place its product:

  • To Mark The End of the Flood - Our Selected Text is the second reference to olives in the Torah. The first reference is in Parashat Noah. After the flood and the cessation of the rain, Noah sent out a raven, then a dove, without success. After another seven days, “and again he sent the dove from the ark. The dove came back to him at evening time and there was an olive branch, which it had plucked, in its mouth. Then Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.” (Genesis 8:10-11)
  • To Anoint Kohanim Upon Their Appointment (And Later, Kings and the Messiah) - After our Selected Text, the third reference in the Torah to olives is found in next week’s portion, Ki Tisa: “The Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Take choice spices [which are then specified] … and a hin (a liquid measure, approximately 6 liters) of olive oil. Make this a holy anointing oil, a compound expertly blended to serve as holy anointing oil. With it anoint the ohel mo’ed (tent of meeting), the ark of the covenant [the contents of the mishkan are specified] … Thus shall you consecrate them so that they may be most holy; whatever touches them shall also be holy. You shall also anoint Aaron and his sons, making them holy to serve me as priests.’” (Ex. 30:22-30)
  • One of the Seven Official Species of the Land of Israel - The special relationship between olives and the Land of Israel (where the olive tree was found in ancient times and continues to be found today) is evident in the following description: “The Lord your God is bringing you to a good land, a land with streams of water, springs and fountains, in the valley and the mountain; a land of wheat and barley, (grape) vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of oil-olives and honey.” (Deut. 8:7-8)
  • As a Standard Measurement - A kezayit (zayit is an olive; kezayit is, literally, the equivalent of an olive) is a standard measure for many purposes within halakhah. As an example, eating is defined, in part, as consuming the amount of a kezayit within a specified time frame. Thus, if one consumes at least a kezayit, it carries with it certain obligations for washing (in the case of bread) and the recitation of appropriate berakhot before and after. At the Pesah seder, one must eat at least a kezayit of matzah and a kezayit of maror to fulfill the obligation of eating these foods. While the topic is subject to significant debate, a kezayit is basically a measure in volume equal to either one-third or one-half of the volume of an egg. Opinions vary from a volume of anywhere from around 25 cc to 50 cc, equivalent in weight to anywhere from 15 to 30 grams (approx. 1/2 to 1 ounce).
  • As a Construction Material in Paradise - Midrashic and kabbalistic sources talk of the five chambers of paradise (i.e., olam ha’ba), each of which is reserved for a designated class of the righteous. The first chamber is made of cedar and crystal. The second of cedar and silver. The third of silver, gold and pearls. The fifth of precious stones, gold and silver surrounded by myrrh. “The fourth chamber is made of olive wood and is inhabited by those who have suffered for the sake of their religion. Olives typify bitterness in taste and brilliancy in light (through the pure olive oil), symbolizing persecution and its reward.” [Midrash Konen as found under “Paradise” in the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906)]
  • In the Emblem of the State of Israel - In modern times the symbols of the menorah and the olive branch found expression in the official emblem of the State of Israel, adopted in Shevat 5709, February 1949. The seven-branched menorah, “a primary symbol of the Temple, appeared on coins, on decorated glass, in catacomb frescoes and on the walls and mosaic floors of synagogues” forming the perfect symbol for the modern state aswell. According to Gavreil Shamir, one of the designers of Israel’s official emblem: “After we decided to use the menorah, we looked for another element and concluded that olive branches are the most beautiful expression of the Jewish people’s love of peace.” One olive leaf was placed on each side of the menorah. “The two olive branches evidently played an extremely important part in the perception of the new state, in which ‘religion’ and ‘state’ (the ‘two anointed dignitaries’ – the high priest and the governor) stand together to realize the Zionist dream.” (Alec Mishory, “The Flag and the Emblem,” from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of Israel)

Sparks for Further Discussion

  1. The very word mashiah, messiah, means “anointed.” Just as the kohanim (priests) and kings were anointed with the holy olive-based anointing oil in ancient times, so too will the messiah be anointed in the future. What relationship is there between the olive branch in the Noah story, the olive oil that lit the menorah, the holy anointing oil for priests and kings, and the messianic age?
  2. Understanding both the actual and symbolic importance of olives and olive oil, reconsider the various levels of meaning of the miracle of Hanukkah (one cruse of pure olive oil which was sufficient for one day and lasted eight days). (Talmud, Shabbat 21b)
  3. Many of us may remember having read the children’s book The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. The book explores the many uses to which a tree can be put through the tree’s relationship with a child from boyhood to adulthood. How many uses do we find in Jewish tradition for the olive tree and its byproducts? Consider the relationship of the olive tree to the Jewish people, past, present and future.
  4. Purim is on 14 Adar, Saturday evening (3/6) and Sunday (3/7). Once you have heard the megillah, delivered mishloah manot to your friends, provided matanot l’evyonim to the needy, and finished your purim se’udah, consider the following: When the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E., they carted off numerous treasures from the Holy Temple, including containers of the pure extra virgin olive oil used to light the ner tamid. Once they returned to Rome, since they had no eternal light, the Romans used the pure extra virgin olive oil to saute garlic and serve over al dente pasta. Consider how the destiny of Jewish history and the nature of Italian cuisine would have been different had the Romans not destroyed our Holy Temple and stolen our olive oil.

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