Light a Lamp
by Mary C Legg
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II-8 Tetzaveh Ex 27:20-30:10
Ex 27 :20-21 And thou shalt command the children of Israel, that they shall bring unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually. In the tent of meeting, without the veil which is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall set it in order, to burn from evening to morning before the Lord; it shall be a statute forever throughout their generations on the behalf of the children of Israel.
Commentaries give explanation for the emphasis of pure oil, describing the process of how the olives were pressed and the careful straining of the material so that no sediment or impurity could creep into the lamp oil.
Olives come from a small evergreen tree, olea europaea, which grows across the Mediterranean. It is related to other valuable woods includeing the jasmine, lilac and forsythia, each having mystical and spiritual implications. Altough the forsythia, unlike the lilac and jasmine has no rich scent, it heralds spring wiht its bright yellow and attracts bees for honey, frequently used in art and literature as a symbol of regeneration and resurrection.
Green olives used for a foodstuff are treated with lye to draw out the bitterness and then pickled in brine. Black olives are ripe, giving off a high yield off oil. Virgin oil is taken from the first pressing of ripe olives. Later the pulp is pressed for lower-grade commercial oils.
Even in these two short verses, there is a demand for separation of qualities. The best is dedicated for the lamp oil, not the pedestrian commercial product. The lamps are lit by Aaron and his sons before nightfall and burn until morning to give light into the inner sanctuary.
How big a lamp? Although there is not indication of size, certainly it was not a bonfire.
All through scriptures, light is used as a metaphor. "In the beginning, God created the hevens and earth... and God said, let there be light. and God divided the light from darkness." Gn 1:1-5
There is separation of degrees, but no absolute. Midnight is transitory, limited by increasing darkness before it dissipates into morning. Even at noon, there is still some darkness whether cloud cover or cast shadows. In heavy darkness, a little light is noticeable, but more importantly a small flame can burn for longer periods of time as it uses energy more efficiently. It can also light a large fire.
The metaphor can be interpreted many different ways as fire is also the medium for the purification of metals. Being a zealot isn't particularly effective, as fanaticism is met with scepticism, often offending the intended audience so it walks off. Fiery speeches receive cold reception. In the attempt to set the world afire, they are destructive, burning bridges of communication. However, if the motive and intention is pure within, then it doesn't matter how small the flame might be, because the flame will endure and be seen in the darkness surrounding it.
Furthermore, the lamps are before the altar inside the tabernacle, away from the public eyes. Why is this so important in a metaphor? It indicates that the flame should be internal before the eyes of God. It should be within the soul, not the flamethrower shooting out the mouth. God doesn't need flamethrowers, after all he created nature and lightning bolts.
Proverbs 20:27, "The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching the inward parts of the belly."
The flame of a candle is by no means stable, flickering in the drafts that circulate about the house. A candle, like a lamp is made of two things: the wick and the wax. A wixk by itself, will burn out quickly and the wax alone has no value. They need each other to create the flame just as the wick is fed from the oil in the lamp. The flame is life the soul, surging upward to be be joined with the infinite, invisible God, while the body of the candle or the oil can sustain it. Such is our faith in difficult times, it flickers in the cold blasts of life, wavering with the changes of the winds. A bad wick smokes or consumes the candle too quickly, but a wick made from fine cotton burns without smoke and endures longer hours. Even so, our lives can be dissipated and ill spent through angry temperaments or getting caught in the qurrels and disputes of life. We can reduce the waste, by refining our hearts, by eliminating the unnecessary impurities of our lives. Although, we can do little to stop the storms passing over us, we can protect our faith by avoiding contention, polemics and empty arguments. Whether or not the neighbors see the candle we set in the window of the world is not nearly as important as whether it is lit before God.
Just as divine oil cannot be lit without a wick, neither can a wick be lit without the oil or candle. Without either it burns rapidly and fizzles. So is faith. Without the fulfilment of the mitzvot/ commandments of good works, religous worship is empty. Only when our hands act in accordance with the lips is it more than lipservice.
Moreover, Proverbs 6:23 says, "A mitzvah (good deed or commandment) is a lamp, and the law is light..."
How many times have you experienced really stressful days: the dog slipped his leash and ran off ten minutes before you were to catch the bus for work; the egg blew up in the microwave at lunchtime; the copy-machine went bezerk and started chucking out pages in imitation of Mt St Helens and then the boss walked in to find your coffee spilled on the floor. From beginning to end, it seemed that absolutely nothing would go right, MS acted spastic and deleted four hours' work; the telephone rang in the middle of an interview and your hair frizzed with static electricity from all the stress.
And at three, when you least expected it, your boss walked back in again and said, "You look utterly frazzled. Let's go for a sandwich to take a break."
Or the copymachine mechanic appeared and announced that he had to haul the carcass off, but the guarantee covered it and the substitue would be installed in twenty-four hours.
Or a colleague slipped you an extra ticket to the symphony.
Does it matter how big or small that good deed is? Not at all, because it lightens the gloom of your existence and restores your faith in humanity and subsequently God: the shopper, seeing you struggling with two screaming tots and an overladen shopping cart, who props open the door or the clerk who sees that you forgot to pick up your change. They don't preach and certainly not classified as zealots, but their actions are the light in which we find God in our daily life.
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Mary, this is wonderful - I just saw it! Wished I had seen it last week when I was stressed out. But you're right, even last week, finances were tight, bills were due, and a client, who generally drags their heels in payment, sent me three cheques right in a row! WHEW! Brightened our day, let me tell you!