Just To What Point Should Generosity Extend?
It is written, “And you, command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you pure, pounded olive oil for illumination, to light the lamp continually” (Exodus 27:20). Why is the expression “that they shall take for you” different than what we find earlier: “Let them take an offering for Me” (Exodus 25:2)? Were they taking oil for Moses? They were taking it for Hashem in order to light the Menorah!
The Sages have taught that there are three olive crops, and that each crop yields three kinds of oil. The first is when the olives are picked from the top of the tree. They are pounded and put into a basket, yielding the first kind of oil. They are then pounded with a beam, yielding the second kind of oil. They are then ground and pounded again, yielding the third kind of oil. The first is used for the Menorah, while the others are for meal-offerings (Menachot 86a). We need to understand why the first kind of oil is so special that only it can be used for the Menorah.
We also need to understand what we read further on in the parsha: “And you, bring near to yourself Aaron your brother” (Exodus 28:1). From the fact that it says, “bring near,” it seems that Moses had to do so because Aaron did not want to serve! Could anyone think that Moses had to convince Aaron to serve Hashem? Was Aaron not happy to have been chosen to serve as High Priest, which would enable him to reach a lofty spiritual level?
The Creator dealt with the creation of man for an entire day, giving him a soul that is a Divine spark, as it is written: “The L-RD G-d formed man from the dust of the earth, and He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). The early commentators (see Ramban ad loc.) said that one who breathes into the nostrils of another gives him something from within himself. Our Sages have said, “When the Holy One, blessed be He, created the world, He brought three creatures into existence each day, but on the day before Shabbat He spent the entire day on man. At the first hour He had the concept of man, at the second hour He consulted the ministering angels, at the third hour He gathered the dust, at the fourth hour He began to knead it, at the fifth hour He shaped it, at the sixth hour He placed man on his feet, and at the seventh hour He breathed a soul into him” (Pesikta Rabbati 46).
Why did the creation of man differ so greatly from that of all the other creatures, which came into existence with but a single word from Hashem, whereas man was fashioned by His own hands? This goes without mentioning the fact that his creation lasted an entire day, and that Hashem breathed a living soul – a Divine spark – into him. Although other creatures also have a soul, Hashem did not breathe a Divine spark into them. In fact He wanted to prove to everyone that “I will see G-d from my flesh” (Job 19:26), so that all the inhabitants of the world would reflect upon the fact that Hashem dealt with the creation of man for an entire day, whereas all the other creatures were created by a single word in a brief instant, and thereby learn to respect one another. Every person should take this to heart and show respect for others, for all men are the work of Hashem’s hands, as it were. Since the Holy One, blessed be He, disregarded His own honor by personally descending to deal with the creation of man, giving him 248 limbs and 365 sinews, how much more should each person defer to others and show them respect! The Torah warns, “You shall love your fellow as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). It does not just say, “You shall love your fellow,” but “You shall love your fellow as yourself.” In other words, just as a person loves himself and does not trust others for everything, so too must he not trust them to help his fellow, but must do this himself. As the Gemara states, “It is more of a mitzvah to do it personally rather than through an agent” (Kiddushin 41a), and the Mishnah states: “[He who says,] ‘What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours’ is a pious man” (Pirkei Avoth 5:10). In other words, piety consists of giving one’s own possessions to others. From the creation of the world, we learn that this is what the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, did in creating man, having given him a soul that is a Divine spark, a part of Himself, so to speak.
This is why the text states, “[T]hey shall take for you pure, pounded olive oil for illumination.” When it comes to an offering for the Sanctuary, we read: “Let them take an offering for Me” – every man should offer his own possessions to others and give a great deal of tzeddakah in order to emulate his Creator. As for the oil, “[T]hey shall take for you pure, pounded olive oil for illumination.” A person normally rejoices in the first oil that comes from his olive tree, and Hashem commands him to give this first oil for lighting the lamps.
How does one give it? In the same spirit as, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours.” Therefore it is said, “[T]hey shall take for you” – they are to give you the first oil and they are to take the second oil for themselves. Hence with regards to the Hebrew slave we read, “It was taught: ‘It is good for him with you’ [Deuteronomy 15:16]. He must be equal to you in food and drink, so that you should not eat white bread while he eats black bread, nor should you drink old wine while he drinks new wine, nor should you sleep on a feather bed while he [sleeps] on straw. Thus it is said: Whoever buys a Hebrew slave is as if he bought himself a master” (Kiddushin 20a).
Hence we read further on, “And you, bring near to yourself Aaron your brother” (Exodus 28:1). Since the Torah states that the world can only endure through kindness and unity, here it says: “And you, bring near to yourself Aaron your brother” – that everyone should perceive the other as his own brother, being close to him and helping him throughout life. In fact Moses also wanted to serve as High Priest, as our Sages said: “When G-d was about to appoint a High Priest, Moses believed that he would be made High Priest, but G-d said to him: ‘Go and appoint Me a High Priest.’ Moses replied, ‘Master of the universe, from which tribe shall I appoint him?’ The Divine reply was, ‘From the tribe of Levi.’ Moses was then exceedingly happy, saying: ‘So beloved is my tribe!’ G-d then said to him, ‘It shall be Aaron your brother’ ” (Shemot Rabba 37:1). Thus we read, “And you, bring near to yourself Aaron your brother.” Since G-d told him to bring Aaron “near to yourself” – that is, to conduct himself according to the middah of, “What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours” – he brought Aaron so close that it was as if he had said: “Dare to carry out your service!” Now the Children of Israel are called priests, as it is written: “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). How can they all be priests? It is by unity; it is by not being envious of one another, just as Moses was not envious of Aaron. Although Moses wanted to serve as High Priest, he brought Aaron closer because Hashem ordered him to. Each person must conduct himself with other people in the same way. They must not be jealous of others, for this is the only way that Jews will merit to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Therefore it is written, “You shall be for Me” – similar to, “And you, command,” “And you, bring near to yourself” (not, “The L-RD spoke to Moses, saying,” a formula that is often found in the Torah) – for this parsha was addressed to each of the Children of Israel. Thus we read, “And you, command,” “And you, bring near to yourself,” for all the Children of Israel were in harmony with one another, and everyone seemed like a brother in the eyes of others. When acting in this way, the entire Jewish people are considered to be High Priests before Hashem. The Midrash Aggadah (Bereshith 80) asks why the names of the tribes do not appear on the stones of the Breastplate. It is because all the Children of Israel were called priests on Sinai, as it is written: “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The Holy One, blessed be He, said: “Is it possible for all of them to bring offerings upon the altar? They shall all be priests by the fact that their names will be upon the heart of the High Priest. When the High Priest comes to bring the offerings, they will all be like a High Priest before Me, clothed in the garments of the priesthood.”