וְאַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִית לַמָּאוֹר לְהַעֲלֹת נֵר תָּמִיד And you shall command the Children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually. Exodus 27:20
The word eleicha, “to you,” seems unnecessary. Why not just say, “They shall take pure olive oil…”? (1) This is the Torah hinting to us of the benefit in joining with a tzaddik — for there is benefit for not only the God-fearing people who join with him but for the tzaddik as well (2). For when people travel to him they bring in their hearts a sort of arousal (3), in that they want to truly serve God, but they don’t know what advice to offer their own souls, so they come to the tzaddik to hear God’s Torah and advice; and this arousal brings to the tzaddik a great holiness from the Creator, Blessed Be He, in the form of new insights and understandings of the Torah, good advice and effective practices in how to serve God, each one befitting the person who asks. This is of benefit to the people, in that they receive this holy advice, and to the tzaddik, in that the holy One of Blessing pours out these insights through the people.
Let’s return to the verse above. Command the Children of Israel means that the leading tzaddik of the generation commands the Jews how to serve God through the holy Torah; but the root tzav (“command”) also means connection or joining, so the tzaddik must join himself to the other Jews, to be with them as one. The pure olive oil hints at the heavenly wisdom that they take to him. Olives are bitter, and the people come to him in bitterness and sorrow, asking for advice. The Torah specifies that the olive oil should be crushed, because they come with broken hearts, and when the tzaddik hears them his heart too is crushed within him. He thinks to himself, “These upright and righteous people come to me to hear advice for their souls on how to serve God, and I myself need to hear advice for my own soul, for I don’t know how to truly serve God! ” It is the way of the tzaddik to have a broken heart always, but when these upright people come to him, it breaks his heart even more. But it is written, crushed for lighting, for it is through joining in bitterness and brokenness of heart that they are able to receive the heavenly light. And the verse continues, to kindle the light continually, for then the tzaddik is able to unify and kindle the souls of the Children of Israel, to bring them closer to the Creator, Blessed be He and Blessed be His Name.
1) After all, Aaron and his sons will set up the menorah. Why does the Torah require this extra step of having the oil brought to Moses? 2) Tzaddik literally means “righteous person,” but of course in this context it means the rebbe. I like to read it both ways. 3) The word, which could also be translated as “awakening,” is common in Hasidic and mystical discourse.
When I learn hasidut I try to apply it to our modern, not-necessarily-orthodox and most-likely-not-Hasidic selves. Sometimes this is not as easy as others, and the issue of the tzaddik, the rebbe, can be particularly difficult, since very few of us have a spiritual mentor to whom we are so close and, if we do, we probably don’t see him or her in the way that hasidim saw their tzaddik. So I was thrilled to find this teaching, and from none other than the Maor VaShamesh, a disciple and chosen successor (though he refused the honor) to Elimelekh of Lizhensk, the rebbe most responsible for taking the idea of the Tzaddik to an almost super-human level. I find it applicable not only to our modern leader-led relationships, but to any relationship. If we want to serve God fully, the Maor VaShamesh tells us, we have to come down from whatever height we imagine ourselves to be on, to be heartbroken at the sight of the world’s suffering and our own failures to ease it, and be ready to have our hearts broken again and again at each encounter with someone in pain. This brokenness is what releases God’s light into the world, and it is what makes someone a tzaddik, a righteous person. Any of us can become that person, and we have countless chances to do so, every day.