Friday, March 03, 2023

perfection is not an enemy of the good

Why is the mitzvah of preparing oil and lighting the menorah is sandwiched between the command to construct the mishkan and the instructions on how to make bigdei kehunah?  

I think that the type of oil spoken about in the parsha is key to answering that question.  The Torah tells us that  שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר is required.  With respect to the menorah, only the best, first pressed oil can be used.  However, with respect to menachos, Rashi comments  כתית למאור – ולא כתית למנחות.  Here the second pressed, less than perfect quality oil is acceptable.  

Why should we accept second best when it comes to how we do things in the mishkan?  Why should a lesser standard apply to the menachos offerings than the menorah?

Chazal see oil and the light of menorah as representing the ideal of wisdom. 

הרואה שמן זית בחלום יצפה למאור תורה שנאמר ויקחו אליך שמן זית זך (Brachos 57a)

רוצה שיחכים ידרים ושיעשיר יצפין וסימניך שלחן בצפון ומנורה בדרום (Baba Basra 25a)

וישלח יואב תקועה ויקח משם אשה חכמה מאי שנא תקועה אמר רבי יוחנן מתוך שרגילין בשמן זית חכמה מצויה בהן (Menachos 85b)

דאמר רבי יוחנן כשם שהזית משכח לימוד של שבעים שנה כך שמן זית משיב לימוד של שבעים שנה: (Horiyos 13b)

Explains the Shem m'Shmuel, this ideal, abstract, form of wisdom is just that -- an ideal.  In the day to day world, most of us end of cutting corners in some places, fudging here and there, and living by less that the perfect standards we might aspire to.  

The light of the menorah illuminates where we want to be, but it's the oil of the menachos which is nonetheless acceptable which speaks to the l'maaseh.

I think this distinction is what the Torah wants to draw our attention to as we shift gears from the building of the mishkan to the personnel who work in it.  Rashi in parshas Ki Tavo (26:3) comments on וּבָאתָ֙ אֶל־הַכֹּהֵ֔ן אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִהְיֶ֖ה בַּיָּמִ֣ים הָהֵ֑ם that  אין לך אלא כהן בימיך, כמות שהוא.  Not every kohen will be like Aharon haKohen (see Ramban there).  Not every person will measure up to our ideals of what an oveid Hashem in a makom kodesh should be.  That's reality.  But perfection should not be an enemy of the good, to paraphrase Voltaire.  כתית למאור – ולא כתית למנחות  The kohen must light the menorah 2x a day to remind himself of the ideals to which he should aspire (see Abarbanel), but even if he falls short, that does not preclude his donning the bigdei kehunah and serving to the best of his ability.

1 comment:

  1. If perfection isn't the enemy of the good, where's your collection of Sifrei R Chaim Brisker?

    When you think that "not everything that is thought should be said, and not everything that is said should be written, and not everything that should be written should be published", nothing you ever write is good enough. And the world missed out on a lot of Torah.

    What I am really pointing out is that the idiom in your subject line doesn't really refer to what you discuss in your post. I think your post could be summed up by nothing there is no issur of בל תצטבעו (or whatever is proper Hebrew for "thou shalt not be a hypocrite"). Worrying about perfection means that anyone's observance of every mitzvah would be pulled to the lowest level of their observance of any mitzvah.