“You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel.”
“…You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood.
… And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the Lord throughout your generations.”
Exodus 27:20-21 and 30:1, 7-8
As this week’s portion opens, we see G-d prescribing rules for the menorah and the oil that is to be burned in it.
The symbolism of the menorah has been the topic of discussion among the sages for centuries. While they often disagree on many points, one thing a lot of them can agree on is that the menorah represents Israel.
As a kingdom of priests, she was to be a light to the nations, shining the glory of G-d to them through her good deeds, mitzvot, which G-d had commanded her to perform.
One messianic rabbi, Paul Phillip Levertoff, says explicitly that Israel is the menorah and doing the good deeds of the Torah was the “fuel” which was burned in it. (Love & The Messianic Age – pg 44, Vine of David)
In other words, not only is Israel represented by the menorah, but the oil in the lampstand is representative of her performing the commands of G-d.
If it was true of Israel in the desert, is it still true of Jews and, by extension, Gentile believers in Messiah today?
Yes, it is!
We find similar references in the apostolic scriptures and from Yeshua Himself.
In Matthew 5:14-16 Yeshua says “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaver.”
Here we see Yeshua making the connection between light and good deeds.
In Matthew 5:17 Yeshua says that He came to properly interpret the Torah. An old rabbinic euphemism says that if by teaching to obey certain commandments a rabbit teaching one to violate other commandments, he is “doing away with” the Torah. Likewise, a rabbi who properly interprets the Torah so that he teaches his disciples to keep all other commandments when teaching about the one in question is said to be “fulfilling” the Torah.
Part of Yeshua’s light was teaching people how to properly live according to the Torah.
Rabbi Shaul (Apostle Paul) also teaches this in Ephesians 5:8-10. He equates light & darkness with what we do.
In 1 John 1:5-7 “walking in the light” is equated with being sinless. Sin is missing the mark G-d has defined for us in the Torah.
So, we’ve established that we should be lights in this world and that the “light” we shine is the good deeds, mitzvoth, we perform. But that’s only half of what is required.
This week’s portion is book-ended with sections about the menorah – it’s pretty important. But at the end of the portion the altar of incense joins the menorah. Both are tended to together on a daily basis. This is entirely intentional.
There are two kinds of worship: service of the heart and service of the hands. Service of the hands is good deeds, while service of the heart is prayer.
In Revelation 5:8 we’re told that incense represents prayer.
By positioning the altar of incense and the menorah together, Adonai is telling us that not only must we tend our lamps and continuously shine His light in the world, but at the same time we must never forsake prayer.
In Matthew 3:7-10 John the Baptist rebukes the Pharisees for coming to be baptized. Notice when he does this the reason for the rebuke has everything to do with the fact that, as Yeshua said in Matthew 23, they made long prayers for pretense but did not bear fruit the demonstrated repentance.
Service of the hands without service of the heart leads to legalism.
Service of the heart without service of the hands is, on the light side, insincere. On the heavy end it leads to self-deception.
Good deeds give our prayers wings and our prayers give our good deeds heart.
G-d requires both from us and as His willing servants, we should give it.