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    Shammash of the Divine Light – T’tzavveh

    Immense detail in this sidra is devoted to the lamp that gave light in the tabernacle: “Command the Children of Israel to bring you pure oil from olives beaten for the sake of the light, to light the lamp to burn continually”.

    Sacred as all the equipment in the tabernacle was, a special significance attached to the lamp.

    It stood for the eternal presence of God, the source of light (“For You will light my lamp; the Lord my God will illumine my darkness”). It symbolised the Divine message (“For the commandment is a lamp and the Torah a light”). It stood for Israel’s historic task in the world (“For I have made you a light to the nations”).

    How important the light was in the Almighty’s scheme of things, and how privileged was the shammash who cared for the lamp, is suggested by a remarkable Midrash.

    At the dedication of the altar, the princes of the people, each representing one of the tribe, brought magnificent gifts to the sanctuary. Amongst them, however, the tribe of Levi were not summoned to share in the celebration. They were understandably pained and surprised at being excluded.

    The sages explain their situation by a parable.

    A king wished to honour his friends and invited different groups of them to the palace day by day. Yet he had one dearly beloved, trusted counsellor. No invitation reached this courtier, who was increasingly troubled. “Perhaps,” he thought, “the king has some grievance against me. Perhaps I have offended him in some way. Otherwise, why would he leave me out?”

    But at the end of the series of receptions the king sent for his favourite counsellor. “My friend,” he said, “I have provided banquets for all my officers and friends. Now they have all gone, you and I will share a special feast – we alone – because you are so beloved to me.”

    Thus the King of Kings, says the Midrash, after all the princes had brought their offerings, sent for Aaron. Aaron had thought he might have offended the King and that accounted for the tribe of Levi not being invited to bring an offering.

    “Tell Aaron,” came the Divine message, “that for him and his children has been reserved the greatest privilege of all – to Iight the eternal lamp, the symbol of My presence and My message to all mankind.”

    Aaron’s fear that the other princes had secured God’s favour and he himself, despite his piety, no longer meant very much to the Almighty, echoes through history.

    Time after time other peoples seemed to enjoy a place in the sun whilst Israel, God’s unique covenant-people, were suffering and felt God was almost indifferent.

    Reading the Midrash we have quoted, Israel has an assurance that whilst every nation and people has its task in the world and its place in the Divine favour, God’s love for Israel has never waned.

    Despite everything, He always reaffirms their role as His torchbearers of morality in the world.

    No wonder the rabbis say, “Happy are you who have the privilege of being shammashim for God!”

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