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Beit Midrash Series Ein Ayah

The Purpose of the “Western Lamp”

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(condensed from Ein Ayah, Shabbat 2:17)

Gemara: [The menora was] a testament to the world that the Divine Presence dwells in Israel. How was it a testament? Rav said: It refers to the menora’s "western lamp," into which they put the same amount of oil as the other ones, but from it they would light and with it they would finish.

Ein Ayah: [Last time we saw that the menora represented the internal light emanating from the holiest parts of the Mikdash, spreading to outside the Mikdash.]
External (material) life requires external light. There is a difference between Israel and the nations concerning how much external light is needed to enjoy a life of culture as is common for rich, powerful, cosmopolitan nations. Religious life is one of the important needs of every nation. Regarding their external life, religion has to find its place and not overstep its bounds and conflict with other spiritual lights.
This is very different for Israel. Other nations do not have other lights to improve their social and national life. Therefore they borrow light from their religion, but it remains unconnected to other facets. In contrast, the testament in Israel is that the Divine Presence dwells and shows that the Torah is the source of life for all of its aspects, including the most complex external ones. Our humanism does not stem from what is known as culture but from Hashem’s Torah that we merit to have in our midst.
The purpose of external life in the Jewish mindset is also different. It does not have a separate purpose but rather serves to prepare us to be what we can from a perspective of internal light of Torah.
[What is the significance of the western lamp?] The Divine Presence is [most strongly] found in the west. This is in contrast to the east, which is the direction in which the material world is most strongly felt, as the sun begins to give its light there. Israel strives for lofty lives that transcend such concerns, as the pasuk says: "The moon will be shamed, and the sun will be embarrassed, for Hashem will reign in Zion and in Jerusalem, and there will be honor toward the wise" (Yeshaya 24:23). We look forward to a time when there will not be a need for the light of the sun and the moon, as we will function by the light of Hashem (see ibid. 60:19). This divine light is hidden in the souls of Israel, the nation that can say, "When I sit in darkness, Hashem is a light for me" (Micha 7:8). Hashem’s light is thus felt in the west, where the sun stops giving its light.
In holy venues, the internal light (represented by the western lamp) serves alone. Concerning external matters, it serves along with the other lamps. Superficially, it is not discernable as superior to the other lights (i.e., all the lamps receive the same amount of oil). However, the gemara says that they would start in the Mikdash from the western lamp. This represents that we start all worthwhile efforts from the light of Torah, which lifts us to the highest levels of a wise nation that is able to excel in all facets of life. That is the idea of lighting from the western lamp. The idea of finishing with that lamp hints at the idea that it provides the goals for all of our activities in life. We live in order that we will, individually and collectively, reach the high level that the Torah sets out for our lives. This is the testament for Israel, as it is something that no other nation received.
The miracle that the western lamp always stayed lit shows the world the source of the dwelling of the Divine Presence in our midst. While in many parts of our external life we share much with the nations, the place from where it comes and to which it is directed is particularly lofty and holy. While the western lamp looks the same and contains the same amount of oil, it still stands out as the source of the light of others and remains light-emitting forever.
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