A Divine Quality to Emulate
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
Immediately following a detailed description of all the festivals and holidays (Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth), the Torah repeats the instruction for pure oil to be donated to the tabernacle for the purpose of the daily lighting of the Menorah in the temple. The juxtapositioning of the instruction to bring pure oil for the lighting of the Menorah requires further explanation.
The Sifri states: “Does God need the light? But behold for 40 years that they were in the desert they subsisted only on His light!” In the desert, while surrounded by the Clouds of Glory, it was God that provided the Israelites with light. The Torah, therefore, places the lighting of the Menorah immediately following the festival of Sukkoth to make it abundantly clear that the purpose of the lighting of the Menorah was not for God to have light, but to provide light to human beings.
It is an axiomatic Jewish belief that God is perfect and unchanging. God does not need anything from us. He does not need our mitzvoth or our money, and He is fundamentally unchanged no matter what we do. Why, then, does God command us to perform the mitzvoth and to behave in various ways? Purely out of His altruistic love for human beings, He commands and advises us how to conduct ourselves for our own advancement.
We are commanded to emulate God’s ways and the resultant message is simple yet profound. If we are deeply honest with ourselves, we come to realize that very often when we do things for other people we are also incentivized by self-interest. In other words, there is something we need or hope to gain and change for ourselves through our acts of giving and kindness. This is not fundamentally negative, just the simple reality. God is teaching us through the light of the Menorah (which He certainly has no need for) to emulate Him and strive to assist others in their growth from a space of simply wanting to see others grow and thrive.
At this time of Sefirat Ha’omer, when Rabbi Akiva’s students perished because they felt a jealousy when their colleagues were getting ahead, we need to work on feeling joy at the success of others. This is indeed the quality of God Himself!