The Beit Hamikdash Enlightens the World
"ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך...
כשם שהשמן מאיר כך ביהמ"ק מאיר לכל העולם שנאמר והלכו גוים לאורך לכך אמר הקב"ה למשה ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך:
“They shall bring you pure olive oil…” [Shemot (Exodus) 27:20] – as oil enlightens, so too the Beit Hamikdash (Beit Hamikdash) enlightens the entire world, as Scripture states: “The nations shall walk by your light.” [Isaiah 60:3] Therefore, God said to Moshe “They shall bring you pure olive oil.”
[Shemot Rabba 36:1]
Light of the Beit Hamikdash?
It seems that the words of the Midrash are not comprehensible at all. Did the Beit Hamikdash in fact enlighten? While Chazal (our Sages) relate that during the holiday of Sukkot, at the celebrations of the Libation Festival, many torches were lit in the Beit Hamikdash and “There was no courtyard in Jerusalem which was not lit up by the lights of the Libation Festival,” the Midrash apparently intends and ongoing illumination coming from the Beit Hamikdash, rather than the few nights of Sukkot. This requires understanding.
In truth, the question is independent of the Midrash. The posuk (verse) states "כי נר מצווה ותורה אור" (“The mitzva is a lamp, the Torah is light,”) [Mishlei (Proverbs) 6:23] and here as well we may ask: has anyone opened the Torah in darkness to discover that it illuminates the room? Of course not. Necessarily, the meaning of the verse as elucidated by the Midrash is different. In order to understand the intention of the Midrash, we must first understand the essence of light.
“And there was Evening and there was Morning” [Bereishit (Genesis) 1:5]
In his commentary on the posuk "ויהי ערב ויהי בקר יום אחד" (“And there was evening and there was morning”), Ramban explains that evening is the time when things are mixed and confused. (Ramban bases his comment on a play on words of the words “erev” [evening] and “m’urabav” [mixed and confused].) At times of darkness, it is not possible to distinguish between objects, and therefore everything is confused and unclear. In contrast, the time of light (“boker” related to “l’vaker” [to examine or check]) is the time that one can examine things and distinguish between them.
Ramban’s comments teach a new meaning of light and darkness. Light not only allows us to see and avoid walking into things or to read; it allows us to accurately perceive reality. In darkness, everything is jumbled, and we are unable to know the reality of our surroundings. This can be done only in the light.
Which Light Do We Use?
Even when we use light, there is significance to the type of light we use. For example, if we take a light bulb and cover it with green, the light it casts will appear green and everything it illuminates will appear green If we then cover the bulb with red, everything which had earlier appeared to be green will now appear as red. The color of our light source influences how we see things.
Torah is Light
We can now understand the verse from Mishlei. When we say the Torah is light, the intention is that through Torah we can “see” and understand reality in the proper manner. At times, we believe that we can assess reality independently, but the verse teaches that it is Torah which provides the light which allows us to correctly examine our surroundings. If we use a light source other than Torah, it would be comparable to covering our light source with a colored filter. To see reality as it truly is, to be able to distinguish between good and bad, what is proper and what is improper, what is ethical and what is not, we must look at things with the light of Torah, and no other “light” sources.
Enlighten Our Eyes With Your (Hashem’s) Torah
Every morning in the blessings which precede the recitation of Shema, we ask "והאר עינינו בתורתך" (that God enlighten our eyes with His Torah). On the simple level, the intention is that God help us to understand Torah in a suitable way. However, this understanding is problematic. In the blessing we had already asked that God "ותן בלבנו בינה להבין ולהשכיל לשמוע וללמד, לשמור ולעשות ולקיים את כל דברי תלמוד תורתך" (“Instill in our hearts the desire to understand and discern, to listen learn and teach, to observe, perform and fulfill all the teachings of Your Torah”), so the request "והאר עינינו בתורתך" (“Enlighten our eyes with Your Torah”) would be redundant.
Sha’arei Teshuva [laws of Purim, Oraḥ Ḥayyim 697] presents a wonderful explanation, which follows the exposition we are presenting. When we ask God to enlighten our eyes with Torah, the request is not to better understand Torah, since we have already made that request. Rather, the request is that having learned and understood Torah, God help us to see the world through the light of Torah; as we explained, to see reality through the eyes of Torah, through the eyes of Divine integrity. Enlighten our eyes through Your Torah.
"הנה עין ה' אל יראיו" (“Behold the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him”) [Tehillim (Psalms) 33:18] – the simple meaning is that God watches over those who fear Him, but Rabbi Kook adds that the verse also intends that those who fear God have “the eye of the Lord,” perceiving reality with this eye.
Delve and Delve Into It
In truth, what we have presented is explicit in a Mishna [Avot 5:22]:
"בן בג בג אומר הפוך בה והפוך בה דכולה בה ובה תחזי"
Ben Bag Bag would say: “Delve and delve into it (Torah), for all is in it; see with it.”
The Mishna teaches that we must study Torah over and over, since everything is contained within it, and adds “see with it.” The meaning of seeing with Torah is as we have explained, to look at the reality through Torah, which is the only way to see things as they truly are.
Jerusalem – The Light of the World
We can now understand the Midrash which we quoted. Clearly the intention is not that the Beit Hamikdash physically emits light, but that it creates a spiritual environment which influences the world. With the Beit Hamikdash, things are understood in a straightforward manner, reality is seen in the proper light. This influences our perception not only while in the Beit Hamikdash itself, but in Jerusalem, the entire Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) and the whole world. The Beit Hamikdash is a spiritual lighthouse for all of reality.
Of course, the closer one is to the Beit Hamikdash, the easier it is to feel its enlightenment. Maharsha [Kiddushin 69a] explains that the members of the Sanhedrin sat in the Beit Hamikdash Mount since it provided the ideal atmosphere for reaching the truth.
Even with the Beit Hamikdash destroyed, it site continues to enlighten. Mabit wrote in his book Bet Elokim, that since the site of the altar is the place from which man was created it is the most suitable place for receiving Divine inspiration. Chazal (Our Sages) taught that not only the place of the Beit Hamikdash enlightens, but the atmosphere of the Land of Israel conveys wisdom [Bava Batra 158a], but it is clear that the closer one comes to Jerusalem and to the Har HaBayit (Temple Mount) the greater the enlightenment – "כי מציון תצא תורה ודבר ה' מירושלים" (“For out of Zion shall the Torah come forth, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” [Isaiah 2:3].
May it be God’s will that we merit having the Beit Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our days and the enlightenment of the entire world with the “new light’ which God stored for the righteous in the days to come.
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