Emor 5764

Posted on March 23, 2011

by Loen Peltz Amer

One of the things that impress me most about people is their ability to come together for hesed (goodness). Our lives are filled with the meanness, pettiness, and the bitterness of human interaction, often of such a huge scope that it baffles the mind. But however horrible we can be to each other as people, equally impressive are the great things we can do when we unite.

In this week’s Torah portion, Emor, God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites to bring oil to Aaron and the kohanim (priests) to use for the lighting of the menorah and other Temple lights: “Command the Israelite people to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly” (Lev. 24:2). The description of the required oil is very specific, as is typical of the materials needed for the mishkan (Tabernacle). The olive oil must be zach (clear), and katit (of beaten olives). Why are these additional requirements being placed on the oil that the people are commanded to bring? It’s as if when paying at Starbucks, only un-creased bills would be accepted.

The two requirements placed on the oil indicate two qualities of the light they will produce, which symbolize the community that has produced that light. If oil is katit, according to the great commentator Rashi, the olives used to produce it have been squeezed repeatedly, so that all that can be gotten from the olives has been removed, so when the olive is discarded, nothing is wasted. Light from oil katit will be stronger because the oil is thicker since more was pressed. Oil that is zach has had all possible impurities cleaned out. Flame from oil zach will burn brighter than regular oil, since there is nothing but oil to burn, no water or fat.

A nation that was able to produce “clear oil of beaten olives” together will be stronger and brighter than other groups of people. When the oil that all the Israelites all brought to the Temple together, the light that was produced must have been incredible.

Naturally, since this is a USY davar torah, this situation with the oil is analogous to USY. One can make one’s USY experience, as well as one’s olive oil, katit and zach. If you have gone to every possible USY event, come early, stayed late, lead services, acted for Israel, raised SATO money, and made great friends, then you have squeezed all you can out of USY, and the flame of your life will be stronger because of all that you have gained from the extra USY-love. If you have made your USY experience about the great friends, great learning, great ruach, and great opportunity, not what board position you had, then your USY experience was pure, and it will be clear in your mind as a great and important part of your life.

I’ll be leaving USY this weekend, officially discharged. I have no time left to improve my USY experience. I urge anyone who does to take USY and make it the katit-ist and zach-ist that you can. I know I will always regret events I missed and the dumb things I involved in my time here. However, with my fellow seniors I have done a pretty good job of the whole process. When we look at our combined experience, I know they were all pretty great. Together, we have made the whole greater than our individual streams of oil, creating a light bright enough to endure “for all time throughout the ages” (Lev. 24:4).