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Tuesday
Feb202018

ELIJAH AND DANIEL LIGHT OUR MENORAH

A PUZZLING MIDRASH

The opening words of our parsha this week discuss G-d’s command to Moses that the children of Israel provide olive oil to light the Menorah in the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary.

“And you will command the children of Israel that they shall take for you clear olive oil, crushed, for illumination, to light a lamp continually.”

The Midrash Tanchuma finds a rather unusual association between this statement and a verse in the Biblical book of Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) (7:6):

“Your head upon you is like Carmel and the hair of your head like purple…”

The Midrash explains this verse allegorically (which is consistent with the way our Sages have interpreted the entire book of Shir HaShirim, as a metaphor for the mutual love of G-d and the Jewish people):

The word for “head” in the verse can also be rendered “your poor one.” Carmel, the Midrash says, is a reference to Elijah who ascended Mount Carmel. Interpreted in this novel way, the verse is saying that G-d declares “even those Jews who are poor [in Mitzvah observance] are as dear to Me as Elijah, who ascended Mount Carmel.”

The second part of the verse is similarly explained by the Midrash, by re-translating the words “the hair of your head” to mean “the needy and poor ones of Israel.” G-d is thus saying that they, too, “are as dear to Me as Daniel of whom it is written ‘They clothed Daniel with purple.’”

At first glance there appears to be no connection between the way the verse from Shir HaShirim is interpreted by the Midrash and our parsha’s command to bring olive oil for the lighting of the Menorah. How does lighting the Menorah with olive oil relate to the way G-d treasures even the most spiritually impoverished Jew, who is likened to Elijah and Daniel?

THE LIGHT TO BRING MOSHIACH

Zera Avraham, a contemporary work, discovers a possible connection by citing the words of another Midrashic comment on the theme of lighting the Menorah.

This Midrash states that the kindling of the Menorah is the force that will bring Moshiach, about whom the Psalmist states: “I have prepared a lamp for My anointed one [Meshichi].” Moshiach is directly connected to the idea of lighting the Menorah.

We can now understand the meaning of the Midrash connecting the impoverishment of the Jews with Elijah and Daniel.

By being commanded to light the Menorah, we were given the power to bring light to the world for eternity. The light that we kindle radiates so far that it will bring Moshiach.

In order to grasp the extent of the power that is vested in us, the Midrash cites the verse in the Song of Songs that compares even the most spiritually impoverished among us to Elijah and Daniel.

These two prophets are singled out among all others by virtue of their connections to Moshiach and the Messianic Age. Let us explore the connection between Elijah and Daniel to Moshiach to understand why spiritually impoverished Jews in particular are connected to these two prophets.

THE UBIQUITOUS ELIJAH

Elijah is the prophet charged with announcing the coming of Moshiach. But even before that Elijah is credited with repairing the generation gap between fathers and sons. In the words of the prophet Malachi:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and awesome day of the L-rd. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers.”

Talmudic and Midrashic literature is replete with connections between Elijah and Moshiach. In some of our prayers the Redemption is credited to both Elijah and Moshiach.

We still have to dig further to understand Elijah’s special connection to “poor” Jews.

RELATIVE POVERTY

For a person to experience poverty, one must either be poor or live amongst the poor.

But poverty can come in many shapes and sizes. Material poverty is relative to one’s location and time period. For example, a person living in a third-world country who makes two dollars an hour may be considered rich by most others in that society. An American who is considered to earn below the poverty line today will still have amenities like plumbing and electricity and thus be “rich” compared to kings of the past. All the money in that bygone world could not have paid for these luxuries that even the poorest in our society now take for granted as necessities. So, who is richer, a 19th century monarch or a welfare recipient today?

The same is true in a spiritual sense. When we look at a Jew whom we consider impoverished, our assessment may be off the mark. We haven’t seen the people in previous generations who did not have the same trials and impediments as those of our generation. Relative to other periods, those who appear to be rich may be poor and those who seem poor may be regarded as wealthy.

WHO CAN BE A JUDGE OF POVERTY AND WEALTH?

Who can be the true judge of each person’s status as rich or poor?

Only one who has a panoramic view of all generations and their conditions can truly weigh who is genuinely rich and genuinely poor.

Only one individual has lived throughout history and has seen all the ups and downs of Jewish life from up close. Only that one individual has insight into the entirety of the Jewish people of all times and places. That unique individual is Elijah, who our Sages tell us, visits us in every generation. Not only does his soul show up at every Bris and Seder, but he even enters into a provisional body to come to the assistance of people who are in need.

This is the reason Elijah is singularly qualified to understand the status and needs of each and every Jew over all times. Elijah is eminently suited to assess our spiritual poverty and take us out of that state.

DANIEL’S COMBINATION

Daniel, too, was inextricably bound to the ideal of Moshiach, that is to say, to lift us out of our Galus poverty.

What was Daniel’s distinction?

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98b), in discussing who is a candidate for Moshiach, mentions Daniel’s name. One interpretation, by Rashi, is that Daniel was an example of a Messianic personality.

What distinguishes Daniel from all other righteous people?

Rashi explains that he was a chassid [a person imbued with extraordinary kindness and piety]. In addition, Rashi states, he was subjected to suffering when he was thrown into the lions’ den.

Why is the combination of a chassid with one who suffers considered a Messianic ideal?

To appreciate the needs of another person and to relate to his or her poverty, whether material, emotional or spiritual, there are two necessary conditions.

First, the person has to be imbued with extraordinary love and compassion for others, to the extent that he is willing to go beyond the letter of the law to help others get out of their state of poverty.

EMPATHY

But good intentions and even extraordinary love and compassion do not suffice. One must also know how to empathize with the other. Only one who has personally experienced being cast into a figurative “lions’ den” can appreciate others who are in that predicament.

Daniel, and Daniel-like figures, who go to great lengths to help others (acting as a chassid), while fully appreciating their pain and suffering, is a candidate for Moshiach and can get us out of our impoverishment.

We can now understand why the bringing of the olive oil to light the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash can be associated with Elijah and Daniel.

THE SOURCE OF GALUS

The source of Galus-exile is spiritual poverty. Spiritual poverty begins with a lack of understanding, consistent with the Talmudic expression “there is no poverty except intellectual poverty.” This refers specifically to one who may be a secular genius but who has a hard time focusing on and comprehending G-d’s transcendence, His oneness, His presence in this world and His relationship with us.

Indeed, we can be considered poor even if we are steeped in the study and knowledge of Torah but cannot relate to the spiritual and mystical ideas of the Divine.

The Menorah in the Temple, kindled with olive oil, is the metaphor and the medium to bring true Divine enlightenment to the world.

Hence, the Midrash, referring to the opening verse of this parsha, which describes the olive oil and its use for lighting the Menorah, connects it to the two Messianic figures, Elijah and Daniel, because they are capable of enlightening us and removing us from our impoverished state.

LIGHTING THE MENORAH TODAY

Because of Galus conditions, we have neither the Beis HaMikdash nor its Menorah. But we do have Torah-sanctioned substitutes.

Whenever a woman lights her Shabbos candles, or whenever we kindle the lights of the Chanukah Menorah, we initiate the process of restoring Divine enlightenment and hasten the time when Elijah and Moshiach (a protégé of Daniel) will usher in the Messianic Age of perpetual light.

But we needn’t wait for Chanukah or even Shabbos. Whenever we study the mystical teachings of the Torah, likened to olive oil, we bring light and enlightenment to the world, removing the Galus poverty at once and for all time. This is especially true with respect to Chassidic literature, which has made the heretofore esoteric teachings of Torah accessible to the human mind.

These actions empower everyone, even those who are presently below the spiritual poverty line, to bring an end to Galus and usher in the time when the entire world will be illuminated with G-d’s undiminished, infinite light.

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