The Torah is Acquired by Humility
Commenting on the verse that states: “Ve’ata [And you] tetzaveh [you shall command] the Children of Israel that they shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil” (Exodus 27:20), the author of Vayechi Yossef asks why the verse employs both the word Ve’ata (“And you”) and the letter tav that prefixes the word tetzaveh (“you shall command”). Simply using one of these would have sufficed, and instead the verse could have stated Ve’ata tzaveh (“And you shall command”). The Ohr HaChayim explains that the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded Moses not to prescribe this mitzvah to the Children of Israel in His Name, for it is not becoming of G-d to order that the lamps in His House be lit. Hence for the sake of the dignity of G-d’s House, Moses prescribed this Divine precept in his own name. Yet if so, a question arises: Did the Children of Israel not know that everything Moses commanded them was but an expression of G-d’s will (see Megillah 31b)? In response, we may say that with respect to this particular mitzvah, the Shechinah did not speak “from the throat of Moses,” as the Zohar puts it (Zohar III:232a). What is the reason for this, and did Hashem really need this light (see Shabbat 22b)?
We may also ask why G-d did not tell Moses to transmit to the Children of Israel the mitzvah of building the Sanctuary in his (Moses’) name. Rather, G-d ordered that it be transmitted in His (G-d’s) Name. Was it ethically appropriate for G-d to ask them to build Him a Sanctuary with their contributions? Since everything belongs to G-d, what did He need with their money? Finally, concerning the mitzvah to provide oil for the Menorah, why did G-d order Moses to transmit it directly to the Children of Israel in his own name?
The reason is that, as we saw, the construction of the Sanctuary and the Temple shows the great modesty of the Holy One, blessed be He. Despite the fact that the whole world is filled with His glory, He desired to contract Himself into the Sanctuary, which alludes to the body of a Jew. G-d desires to dwell within each Jew, but only on condition that harmony reigns among us. Let us therefore act like G-d and embrace that prime virtue which is modesty.
The mitzvah of lighting the lamps also implies the attributes of humility, submission, and diminishing oneself. These can only reach a state of perfection, however, through the diligent study of Torah, which is compared to light, as it is written: “For a commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light” (Proverbs 6:23), “Practice is the essential thing” (Perkei Avoth 1:17), and “Great is Torah study that leads to deeds” (Kiddushin 40b). The Torah survives only with one who demonstrates humility (Eruvin 54a), and it is acquired only by a modest man (Perkei Avoth 6:6).
G-d said to Moses: “You alone, who ascended to the heavens and spoke to Me face to face [Numbers 12:8], all while remaining the most humble of men [v.3], truly understand the value of modesty. Therefore instill that virtue into the Children of Israel and teach them to study Torah with humility. From Me they will learn the attribute of diminishing oneself, as I demonstrated in general with respect to the Sanctuary. I require neither light nor lamps – not even the Sanctuary – for the whole world is filled with My glory and ‘The Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool’ [Isaiah 66:1].”
G-d therefore wanted to honor Moses by asking him to teach them to study Torah with the utmost enthusiasm and humility (Katit lamaohr: Crushed, humbled for the light of Torah). In fact the Children of Israel, as we saw above, knew very well that everything Moses said was but an expression of G-d’s will.
Rabbi Chanania ben Akashia said, “The Holy One, blessed be He, desired to grant merit to Israel. Therefore He gave them Torah and mitzvot in abundance” (Makot 23b). The Children of Israel would thus be entitled to two rewards: The first for having, in accordance with His will, studied Torah with enthusiasm and pleased their Creator, and the second because this Torah is as magnificent as the one that emanated from our holy forefathers. G-d said to Moses: “Because you were the only one to sense the sweetness of the Torah, I command you to transmit it to the Children of Israel. It is in no way proper for Me to do so, since it was for this purpose that they were created.” The first reward that they received was thus for having studied Torah. To that end, the Talmud teaches that one who studies Torah because he has been commanded to do so is more meritorious than one who studies it without having been so commanded. The second reward was for having had the merit to receive commandments directly from Moses.