Like an Olive

Now you shall command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you pressed olive oil for illumination… (Shemot 27:20)

In his sefer Aperion, Harav Shlomo Ganzfried points out that in the command to collect materials for construction of the Tabernacle, Hashem says, “They shall take for Me a portion” (Shemot 25:1) and here Hashem says “they shall take for you.” Why the difference?

To resolve the difficulty, he quotes a midrash (Shemot Rabbah Tetzaveh 1) that compares Israel to an olive based on the passuk “The L-rd called your name a green olive tree, fair and full of beautiful fruit” (Yirmiyahu 11:16). Why, the Midrash inquires, does the prophet single out the olive? The Jewish people are compared to so many other fruits as well, such as grapes, figs, dates and pomegranates.

The Midrash explains that Israel is compared to the olive because to put forth pure olive oil the olive undergoes a harsh processing period of beating and crushing. Only then is pure olive oil produced. So too the Jewish people. The gentile nations capture and enslave, beat and crush the Jews until they repent from their sins and Hashem provides salvation and restoration of peace.

This comparison, Rav Ganzfried explains, is the reason for the use of “for you.” When Moshe Rabbeinu returned to Egypt to demand emancipation of the Jews from bondage, he expected that Pharaoh would comply with Hashem’s demands. Instead, the Egyptian monarch increased the burdens by demanding that the Jews gather straw on their own and yet still fulfill the same daily quota of bricks. When the people complained to Moshe, he turned to Hashem and said, “My L-rd, why have You done evil to this people, why have You sent me?” (Shemot 5:22). In other words, he questioned the need for additional suffering.

Hashem responded by explaining to our leader that Israel improves with tribulations like the olive produces oil through a harsh process. In order to purify the people to the point where they would be spiritually pure enough to accept the gift of Torah, affliction was necessary. When Hashem said, “Now you will see,” He instructed Moshe that only after suffering — i.e., “now” — can they be freed.

Now we can understand the reason for the use of the phrase “for you.” You are the one who questioned My ways because you did not understand the nature of the Jewish people. Affliction brings forth the best in them. They are like the olive that provides pure oil and clear light only after it is processed in a harsh manner. Now you will see the geulah from Egypt come about because the slavery has purified them to the level of purity needed to learn Hashem’s Torah. The oil they bring is for you to understand this lesson.

The suffering of the Jew should never bring him to the point of despair. Hashem commanded Moshe to make eight garments for the Kohen Gadol, including a breastplate — choshen — which had the urim v’tumim inside. All eight of these garments are a prerequisite for the Kohen’s service. Rashi points out that in the Second Temple, the Kohen Gadol had a choshen to wear but the Name of Hashem that illuminated letters to advise our leaders — urim v’tumim — was not inside.

How did Rashi conclude that there was a choshen? He explains that since the Kohen needed eight garments to serve, Hashem made sure that he had all eight so that he could serve. Although Chazal point out many items lacking in the Second Temple, Hashem provided what was necessary for the service of the Kohanim.

We should learn from this that life is a series of challenges and difficulties. One is expected to face the challenges and overcome the difficulties. One should never use the tribulations of life as an excuse not to fulfill one’s duties. Hashem loves us and gives us all we need to meet our obligations. Perseverance can be maintained when one realizes our similarity to olives. The challenges bring out the best in each of us.

Shabbat shalom.