- The children of Israel are commanded to bring pure olive oil for the ner tamid "a constantly burning light," above the sanctuary. (27:20-21)
- Aaron and his sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar, are chosen to serve as priests. (28:1)
- God instructs Moses to make special clothes for the priests. (28:2-43)
- Aaron and his sons are ordained in a seven-day ceremony (29:1-29:46)
- Aaron is commanded to burn incense on an acacia altar every morning and evening. (30:1-10)
By Marina Eick
I wanted to explore this Torah portion Tetzaveh because I love Olive Oil, and though the rest of the portion deals with fashion, I most definitely would rather talk about the oil.
The simple meaning of the text as I see it is that Ha-Shem in Holiness ordered construction of a Tabernacle where His chosen people would be holy unto Him as well, a place to worship and sacrifice. His orders were detailed and specific. We were to worship Him alone, and we were not to allow second-rate surroundings or materials to be used in His tabernacle or His worship.
He ordered that the priests use the purest virgin olive oil, taken from the fruit at the topmost branches of the olive trees. The first beating of the fruit yielded the costliest, purest oil. This was the oil to be burned in the sanctuary lamp. It was to be kept burning for all time, throughout the years. Once that first beating of the oil was poured off, the fruit was beaten a second time, then a third time. Those pourings were also good oil but not of the purest quality as was reserved for the Sanctuary lamp.
That olive oil was burned using twisted linen wicks that were made from the discarded white linen undergarments sewn for the priests to cover their bodies from the waist to the knees. The wicks were to be placed so that they burned on their own. The modesty of the priests was to be protected whenever they climbed the stairs in the sanctuary to make their offerings. To forestall distraction by even an inadvertent glimpse of the priests' private parts, they wore the breeches.
For at least the time of the services we endeavor to leave earthiness outside and make ourselves holy unto our G-d. We were to be different from the Pagans by not sacrificing our babies, by not allowing carnal activity during prayers, sacrifice and rituals, by reserving the best quality, perfect animals and oils for sacrifice to Ha-Shem.
That ideal didn't always continue once we walked away from the Tabernacle. Reserving the best and purest in worship of Ha-Shem helped in theory at least, to force our ancestors to take the time to think about repentance, a fresh start, and being kinder, better people. In other words, to burn on our own.
A friend asked me why the priests' undergarments were used to make burning wicks for that lamp oil, and why the lamp was ordered to burn for all time, throughout the years. I'd never thought about it. I took a wild guess: Worn out linen boxers from the priests still had value. They shouldn't be used to wash the camels or clean up after the ewes gave birth. The breeches were to be disposed of with respect, like a holy object or a holy book. Burning was perfect.
The purity of the priests was protected by the linen, and the purity of the line of Kohanim was guaranteed by strict laws about marriage and the bloodline of the priests. It was necessary for their loins and their private lives to be more proper than the other tribes. They had to marry within their tribe and be certain that they were the father of their wives babies.
As to the light, it came from the purest oil (The Torah). We are supposed to be a light unto the nations. We can't be good Jews without the Torah, because our light is fed by the Torah.