In this week’s Torah portion, Moses receives the following instructions: “You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly” [Exodus 27:20]. Our sages wrestle with a couple of difficulties in this verse. Why is the pronoun “you” necessary? We already know that Moses is being addressed with very detailed and voluminous instructions about building the tabernacle for God’s indwelling Presence. Why didn’t the text use the command form, “tzav”, which doesn’t require any pronoun, as with so many of the other charges given to Moses?
Our oral tradition gives many meaningful and penetrating answers to this question. However, one particularly resonates with me. According to this midrash or explication, Israel and the Holy One are compared to a blind and seeing person, respectively. The seeing person (the Holy One), guides the blind person, (Israel) to their home. Once they enter the house, the seeing person asks the blind person to go and light a lamp so that they may see in the darkness of the blind person’s home. Furthermore, the seeing person explicitly states their purpose in doing so: so that the blind person doesn’t feel beholden to them for escorting them.
First and foremost, this parable is an empowering narrative about human agency and the efficacy of those living with disabilities. Though the blind person appreciates the escort of their companion, upon reaching the darkness of the interior of their house, they become the escort, providing light for their guest who is not used to entering a space with this level of darkness, and thus might fumble and trip through the space. Moreover, it is the sighted person who encourages their companion to provide this guidance in order that the blind person feels the relationship to be mutually beneficial.
Looking closely at the nimshal, the lesson of the parable, we learn profundities about the relationship of the human and the Divine. When Israel enters their house, the mishkan, having been lead through the wilderness by the Holy One, they are instructed to make illumination, not because God needs it (unlike the human guest mentioned earlier), but because doing so invests them with a spirit of welcoming and symbolizes their ability to “kindle” a continuous relationship and partnership with God.
May we, during these difficult days, light the way for peoples of all abilities and strive ever to welcome beings human and Divine.
Cantor Michael McCloskey, Temple Emeth