Parshas Tetzaveh - The Menorah: Overnight Avodah
Parshas Tetzaveh commences with the mitzvah of preparing and lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan and the Beis Ha-Mikdash. The Gemara (Pesachim 59a) notes that this is the only Avodah (Mishkan/Mikdash service) which pertains overnight; all other Avodah is exclusive to the day.
Is there anything unusual about the Menorah, such that it relates to the night?
Night is identified as a time of insecurity, vulnerability, fear and loneliness. This is why we recite the berachah of Hashkiveinu specifically at night, during Maariv, as Hashkiveinu is a request for protection, needed most during the night.
Normative Avodah occurs during the day, when things are secure and clear. This is because the Mishkan and Beis ha-Mikdash represent a state in which Hashem’s Presence is conspicuously manifest, denoting security and clarity.
The Menorah, however - despite being part of the Mishkan and Beis Mikdash - conveys a very different message.
The Ramban (on Bamidbar 8:2) invokes midrashim about the Menorah and expounds that the Menorah represents a perpetual mitzvah which would apply even after the Churban (destruction of the Beis Ha-Mikdash), via the kindling of Chanukah lights. What is the significance of this?
The Gemara (Shabbos 22b) states that the Menorah testifies that the Shechinah dwells among Klal Yisroel, the Jewish People. Understood in light of the above interpretation from the Ramban, what emerges is that notwithstanding the Jews being in Golus (Exile), devoid of discernible Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah (the manifestation of Hashem’s Presence), the Shechinah is always with us, even in gloomy periods; this is the message of the Menorah.
And this is the connection with Chanukah, for although Klal Yisroel was living in Eretz Yisroel during the Chanukah period, it was a time of darkness, exemplified by unprecedented religious persecution. The performance of many mitzvos was banned by the Syrian-Greek occupiers, with torture and death imposed for violation of their numerous edicts, which were designed to eradicate Torah study and observance and strip the Jewish People of its connection with Hashem. The Chanukah lights declare that even in times of darkness and oppression, the Shechinah is with us; this is the essence of Chanukah. The Syrian-Greeks denied this concept, and that is apparently why they stole the Menorah in the course of their ransacking and defiling the Beis Ha-Mikdash, as the Menorah represents the message they so violently rejected.
We can now better understand why the Menorah is the exclusive overnight Avodah. The Menorah informs us that the Shechinah resides among Klal Yisroel even in Golus, and Golus is identified with nighttime, when insecurity, vulnerability and loneliness are prevalent. Even in the incredibly long night of Golus, Hashem is with us, as the Menorah testifies.
There is another unique aspect of the Menorah – its oil. The Mishnah (Menachos 86a, cited by Rashi on Shemos 27:20) explains that the olive oil used for the Menorah must be of utmost purity, with absolutely no residue (pulp). Whereas oil with residue is kosher for Menachos (flour offerings), it is not acceptable for the Menorah. What is the symbolism here?
It can be suggested that this special purity requirement indicates that Hashem’s Presence can be most properly perceived in Golus by those who retain pure emunah (faith) despite the darkness and bitterness of all that is transpiring. The pure oil which fuels the Menorah is akin to purity of emunah, which enables us to retain a connection to Hashem at all times and know that He is with us.