Exodus 27:20 to 30:19
The priests are commanded by the Eternal to light the menorah every day. Today, the light continues to shine as the Ner Tamid, located above the Ark containing the Torah.
This week’s reading opens with a “command” that instructs the Israelites to bring “clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly. Aaron and his sons shall set [the lamps] up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain which is over the Ark of the pact, to burn from evening to morning before the Eternal. It shall be a due from the Israelites for all time, throughout the ages.” (Ex. 27:20-21)
This command comes at the beginning of a parsha that deals with the vestments and ordination of the priests. The fact that this is the first command relating to priests leads me back to Genesis where God’s first command was “Let there be light.” (Gen. 1:1) As I have stated in past comments…. The sun and the moon were created on the fourth day. So, many commentators think that the “light” of the first day was the “light” of knowledge.
The priests were to light the lamps of the menorah located near the entrance to the area containing the Ark and the Ten Commandments. This menorah has seven branches. each with its own lamp and wick. It is understood that all seven lamps were lit from sundown to sunrise. During the day only one of the seven lamps remained lit. This continuous flame may have emphasized that the light (knowledge) is never extinguished.
After the destruction of the Temple; and over time, the lights of the menorah became the Ner Tamid, a single lamp, which is hung above the Ark containing the Torah. This light is meant to remind all who view it that the contents of the Ark – the Torah – is the light (knowledge) that can lead the people toward a better world.
The lamp – Ner Tamid – also reminds all the people of the words of Isaiah; “I will make you (Israel) a light of nations that My salvation may reach the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 40:6)
It is also said that this light tells the people that the Torah inside the Ark is the light of faith for all who study its contents…. The mitzvah (commandments and laws of Torah) is the lamp …. The teachings it offers is a light …. Every good deed brightens the world. (Harvey J. Fields, A Torah Commentary for Our Times, Vol. 2, p.73)
Today, it is hoped, that this light – the Ner Tamid –will continue to shine brightly and send the message that the knowledge of Torah should light the way for all the peoples of the world.
Photo: Ner Tamit (Eternal Lamp) in main sanctuary of Temple Chai, Long Grove, IL