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9 Adar 5775
Rabbi Scott Kahn

The Menorah and Education
By Rabbi Scott Kahn

“And you should command the Children of Israel that they should give you pure olive oil, pressed for lighting, to go up as a permanent light. Aharon and his children should organize it from evening until morning before Hashem.” (Shemot 27:20-21) These opening lines of Parashat Tetzaveh, describing the oil needed for the menorah in the Mishkan, require that the oil be absolutely pure. Rashi, in fact, notes that the purity of this oil must exceed that used for the menachot (flour offerings):

“The oil must be without any sediment. After the first drop is removed, [the olives] are placed in a mill and ground. The oil that comes out afterward [and has sediment which is then removed] is unfit for the menorah but acceptable for the menachot.”

Rashi is telling us that while the oil for the menachot can be used once the sediment has been removed, the oil in the menorah can never have had sediment within it.

Rashi also comments on the strange usage of the phrase, “to go up as a permanent light.” He explains that the Kohen who lights the menorah cannot move on to the next flame until the first flame is strong enough that it will stay lit by itself.

Finally, Rashi also comments on the idea of ensuring that the menorah remain alight from evening until morning. He states that Chazal determined that the necessary amount of oil to last the night is half a ‘lohg’. This amount is enough for the long winter nights; even though it is more than is needed for the shorter summer nights, the amount of oil always stays the same.

According to Rav Moshe Feinstein ZT”L, these three halachot contain within them ideas relevant well beyond the walls of the Mishkan. He, like many others, understands the menorah as a symbol of intellectual attainment, and, accordingly, he utilizes these laws to express several important points that every teacher must internalize.

The halacha which requires the olive oil for the menorah to contain no sediment – even during the manufacturing process – represents the need for a teacher and leader not only to live a good and worthy life, but also to live a life which is good and worthy in the eyes of everyone who sees him. The teacher’s actions must be beyond reproach, even to the point that he avoids correct actions that simply appear wrong and must be explained to be understood; for there may be some individuals who never hear the teacher’s explanation, and are left with the impression that the teacher acted inappropriately. Just as the oil cannot have sediment that is later removed, a teacher of Torah must ensure that his actions look as perfect as they actually are. A teacher cannot allow himself to be undermined, and must therefore utilize extreme caution to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing.

While the halacha forbidding sediment describes the actions of the teacher, the law which requires the Kohen to continue lighting each flame until it goes up on its own describes the ideal of proper education. It is not enough for a teacher to merely teach facts, or even to inspire his charges. An authentic Torah teacher has a greater
goal: to allow each student to achieve independence, and to reach a level of success in learning such that he is able to progress further on his own. Like the Kohen who does not leave the flame until it is able to rise on its own, the teacher cannot abandon any student until that student has become educationally self-sufficient.

The third halacha, which requires the same amount of oil for both the long winter nights and the short summer nights, reminds the teacher that while his goal is to allow students to become independent, he cannot assume he has reached that goal before giving even the sharper students the same attention as those who require additional help.
Sometimes, a teacher can mistakenly assume that the stronger students need less attention, as they appear to absorb the material on their own, and will likely figure much of it out for themselves without the teacher’s involvement. Nevertheless, just as the shorter nights are given the same oil as the longer nights, the stronger students should receive the same attention as the weaker students. A teacher must expend as much energy on those students who appear not to need him as on those who obviously require the assistance. For without the full involvement of the teacher, the stronger students will inevitably make mistakes, and fail to be as exact and careful as they should be

It is often a challenge to find the correct balance in education, whether we are educating our students or our children. The laws of the menorah, as elucidated and interpreted by Rav Moshe, demonstrate three principles which every teacher and parent should take to heart: that they should not only adhere to the highest standards of behavior, but also ensure that their actions appear blameless, as well; that the goal should always be the student’s self sufficiency and independence; and that every student, whether strong or weak, deserves the teacher’s full attention and complete dedication. By following these directives, we can ensure that our effectiveness as parents and educators will never be compromised.

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