Reach into the basket of complimentary images and you will find many
suitable contributions from the plant kingdom. Only one, however,
actually becomes so identified with Klal Yisrael that it lends us its
name. “Hashem has called your name ‘a leafy olive tree, beautiful
with shapely fruit.’”2 Scripture
compares us to the vine,3 the fig
tree4, the date palm5, the cedar6, the
nut tree7, but they are all runners-up
to the olive tree. We are not explicitly called any of them – save for
olive tree. What makes the olive tree stand out?
A medrash8 puts it this way. “While the
olive is still on the tree, they let it shrivel. They then take it down
from the tree and beat it. After beating it, they bring it to the olive-
press for pressing. They follow this with placing great weights upon it
[to apply even greater pressure.] In this manner, the olive yields its
oil. So it is with Yisrael. The nations beat them, [moving them] from
place to place. They incarcerate them and place them in chains, etc.
Finally, they do teshuvah, and HKBH answers them.”
At the root of this is a striking difference between all other common
fruits and the olive. All of them have discernable substance and tissue.
Besides that, the olive has a seeming “hidden” property of great human
utility. After – and only after – the series of crushing activities
listed by the medrash, the olive reveals its capacity to give light.
Other fruits may also be ground and squeezed, but what they yield remains
food. When the prescribed activities are applied to the olive, however,
it metamorphoses into a radically different object. What used to be a
foodstuff now becomes a source of light and illumination.
A great light exists within every Jewish neshamah as well. It is
hidden and suppressed by the physical and substantive parts of the
person. They prevent the person from recognizing and detecting the great
light within. That light emerges – just like the light from the olive –
only after the physical has been forcibly removed. When this happens, the
Jew shines with the Light of the Divine.
The parallel ends here. Unlike the olive, that physical nature need not
change through beating and pain. There is a different route that the
hidden light can exit. All that is necessary is that a person should rend
his heart before Hashem.
It is no ordinary light that shines forth from within the neshamah,
but a portion of the Ohr HaGanuz, the hidden, spiritual light that
shone at the beginning of Man’s development. Noting Man’s comportment in
the generations of the Flood and the Dispersion, when his actions were
thoroughly debased, Hashem sequestered this light for the benefit of the
righteous of the future. This light of Divinity would be revealed at the
time of the complete tikkun, when the “world will be full of
knowledge of Hashem, just as waters cover the sea.”9 In that time, “the sun will no longer be the light of
day…but Hashem will be the light of eternity.”10
The Menorah’s light as well was nothing ordinary, but was sourced in the
Ohr HaGanuz. It’s function was to shine a light of Divinity into
the heart of each and every Jew, regardless of his station in life. We can
readily understand the special – and rather extreme – requirements of
purity of the Menorah’s oil. To match the hidden light of the Menorah we
needed oil that represented the power of illumination locked into and
hidden within the olive.
Medrash Tanchuma11 teaches that the
Ohr HaGanuz was intended for those who toil in Torah. We can now
appreciate that the medrash does not simply mean that talmidei
chachamim are entitled to a wondrous reward for their effort. Rather,
talmidei chachamim follow the course we charted. By denying
themselves sleep and the accoutrements of genteel living, they release
themselves from the hold of their physical, substantive natures. “The
nation that walked in darkness saw a great light.”12 This “nation” means talmidei chachamim, who
darken their physical eyes, giving themselves over entirely to the service
of Torah which, as we know, weakens a person’s strength and breaks the
hold of his physicality. Having done that, they are then able to see the
Divine light that others cannot.
The essential parity of the universe13
dictates that if there is a hidden light (which is not entirely
suppressed, but available through special instrumentalities like the
Menorah and the talmid chacham), there must be an equivalent anti-
light. Indeed, Amalek plays precisely this role. The kelipah of
Amelek represents a power of darkness and evil whose nature is also hidden
and blocked from vision. As long as it holds sway, the tikkun
cannot take place. While Amalek is left intact, the light of Divinity is
blocked from illuminating our world.
All of this takes place in the microcosm of the life of every individual.
Part of our necessary growth is eradicating the Amalek within. Each of us
has some hidden predilection towards various types of evil. It is not just
the physical – which by nature is antipodally different from the
spiritual – that blocks Divine illumination. Bad character traits and
midos have the same effect. How well we root out that evil
directly determines our ability to detect the supernal light of Divinity
that is available to us if we wish it.
1 Based on Nesivos Shalom pgs. 221-222 2 Yirmiyahu 11:16 3 Tehilim 80:9 4 Ibid.; Hoshea 9:10 5 Shir HaShirim 7:9 6 Tehilim 92:13 7 Shir HaShirim 8 Shemos Rabbah 36:1 9 Yeshaya 11:9 10 Yeshaya 60:19 11 Noach, 3 s.v.aileh toldos 12 Yeshaya 9:1 13 i.e. the requirement that the balance of discernable good
and evil must be kept equal in order to preserve human free choice,
without which there is no purpose in Creation