Parashat Tetzaveh

I know it has been a long time since I have posted. You will be happy to know that I am now working full time at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. This d'var torah illuminates the importance of the work of the Federation, in particular, the work done through the Center for Jewish Life and Learning.
In this week's parasha, we learn:

“You must command the Israelites to bring you clear illuminating oil, made from hand crushed olives, to keep the lamp constantly burning.” (Exodus 27:20)
שמות פרק כז: כ וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית--לַמָּאוֹר: לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר, תָּמִיד

Midrash Rabbah teaches:

Just see how the words of the Torah give light to a person when s/he studies them; but s/he who does not occupy him/herself with the Torah and doesn’t know it, stumbles. It can be compared to one who stands in a dark place; as soon as s/he starts walking, s/he stumbles against a stone; s/he then strikes a gutter, falls into it, and knocks his/her face on the ground--and all because s/he doesn’t have a lamp in his/her hand. But those who study Torah give forth light wherever they may be. It is like a person standing in the dark with a lamp in his hand; when he sees a stone, he does not stumble; she doesn’t fall over a gutter either, all because s/he has a lamp in his/her hand. “The soul of a human being is the lamp of Hashem” (Proverbs 20:27) נֵר ה’, נִשְׁמַת אָדָם What is the lamp of Gd? The Torah, as it says, “For the commandment, it is a lamp, and the teaching is light” כִּי נֵר מִצְוָה, וְתוֹרָה אוֹר (Proverbs 6:23)
In our work at Federation, we ensure that the Jewish community’s needs are being taken care of. It is very easy to see how important it is to help Jews living in poverty, whether here or overseas. It is also very easy to understand how import it is for us to support the State of Israel, a physical homeland, a safe haven for our people. What is less easy to see sometimes, is how similar our spiritual needs are to our physical needs. We know when we feel sick, or hungry, or cold. And the cure for those needs are easy to identify. We also know what it means to feel lost, in need of direction, unsure of what the next best move is, or searching for clarity. In many ways, that is where our American Jewish Community is right now- searching for answers.

The Midrash teaches that our spiritual needs for direction, clarity, and insight, are just as important as our physical need for light by which to see. By comparing spiritual vision to physical eyesight, the Midrash puts a fine point on the importance of nourishing our intangible needs. How do we find direction and light when we are lost or hopeless? The book of Proverbs, teaches that the Torah is light, and that Gd’s very light of Torah is what illumines our souls. In our work through the Center for Jewish Life and Learning, we ensure that each Jewish person who wants to grab ahold of that lamp of Torah has access to it. The light of Torah isn’t just a luxury for those who have extra time or money on their hands. Torah study, and the access to it, is an absolute necessity if we are to raise a new generation that is not stumbling around in the dark. Also for each of us, it serves as an important lesson. I know that the next time I am questioning what the right course of action is, that I will try to remember to turn to Gd for guidance, and to Torah study for light.