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Shabbat Parashat Tzav 5775

Ein Ayah: The Correct Growth of the Individual and the Nation

(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:3)

Gemara: The wicks and oils that the Rabbis forbade for Shabbat candles cannot be lit in the Mikdash either. This was connected to the pasuk, “to raise up the light consistently” (Shemot 27:20) – so that the flame will rise on its own and not with the help of something else.


Ein Ayah: The oil and the wick for Shabbat candles must interact in a manner that the flame does not flicker. This illustrates the completeness that is the goal of Shabbat and the interdependency of the sanctity of the body and of the spiritual intellect. When one’s body is dense, i.e., when his whole purpose is to “pour a cup of indulgence into his mouth,” the intellect’s light cannot cling to it. He may be able to understand craftsmanship and say bright ideas when in the proper mood and affected by the divine form with which he was created. However, the spirit of wisdom will not rest in his heart with permanence, and his materialistic leanings will overcome him and darken the light of the intellect.

One’s physical side, which corresponds to a wick, to which the spiritual light must take hold, must be purified so that the light will be constant and not flickering. The idea behind the sanctity and rest of Shabbat is to have a life at rest to the extent that one’s nature pushes him toward sanctity, justice, and goodness. The intellect (oil) must also impact positively on the physical side, not in the manner of those whose wisdom is untruthful. Such people can be intellectually sharp, yet follow their heart and perform abominations. Proper wisdom brings hope, and it is Jewish wisdom that leads a person to proper physical actions. This is oil that is drawn to the wick.

Shabbat relates to the individual Jew’s striving to complete himself as a person. Sometimes individuals are able to direct their material desires to upright matters, yet concerning national matters, the same people take an approach of physical dominance without concern for their action’s legality or propriety. Sometimes the nation uses only theoretical wisdom to flaunt its honor in the world instead of pursuing justice. Sometimes, individuals are good, but the nation is violent and merciless. The Nation of Israel does not embrace this approach. We yearn for our national honor to be in line with our individual one, with both based on Hashem’s righteous statutes. We want our wisdom to straighten our practical path so that all recognize and spread the idea that true divine wisdom is doing justice, loving kindness, and walking modestly before Hashem (see Micha 6:8).

We have seen that the proper combination of wicks and oils for Shabbat has to do with the idea that both material powers and intellectual ones will be dedicated toward sanctity and justice. Just as Shabbat candles promote this idea for the individual, so do the lights in the Mikdash represent this concerning the nation.

When physical powers are focused on fulfilling one’s desires and intellectual ones are for abstracts ideas, sanctity and ethics will not remain over time nationally or individually. In such cases, the quest for justice will not be innate but will be prompted by self-interest, along the lines of “I will guard for you if you will guard for me” or “I will love you if you will love me.” This will not last because this interdependency will not always suffice to keep one in check. To such a situation we can apply the pasuk of “to raise up the light consistently,” i.e., the flame must go up without external prodding. Divine justice must be natural, from the depths of the soul, due to the sanctity of the body that has been elevated by mitzvot and the purification of the intellect by means of the light of the Torah, which “goes up on its own.” When a person or a nation has developed this sanctity as a mainstay of its natural state, it will not need external stimuli.
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