Burning the Midnight Oil
This week's portion begins by discussing the commandment of lighting the Menorah in the Sanctuary. One verse reads, "Aharon and his sons must arrange it from evening until morning before God, an eternal decree 'Ledorosum' (for their generations)." (Ex. 27:21) The word "Ledorosum" is missing two letters. They are the letters "Vov" (one Vov after the Dalet and one Vov after the Raish). Why is this word missing the two Vovs?
Perhaps we could suggest that the letter Vov represents the Menorah itself. This is because, numerically, the letter Vov is six. The number six signifies the six branches on either side of the Menorah (Ex. 25:32). Additionally, the shape of the letter Vov symbolizes the central stem of the Menorah.
Based on this, two Vovs signify the two Menorahs that we had in Jewish history. One of them stood in the first Temple (taken from the Sanctuary), and the other one stood in the second Temple. Since both Temples were destroyed, both Menorahs disappeared as well. That is why specifically the word "Ledorosum" is missing two Vovs. The very word "Ledorosum", which tells us about the obligation to light the Menorah "In all generations", is missing two Vovs to prophetically teach us that the two Menorahs (represented by the two Vovs) will be missing in our two exiles (Babylonian and Roman) and we will not be able to fulfill this Mitzvah during those times.
However, perhaps we could go on to propose that there is a way of keeping the flame of the Menorah burning even during our long exile. We are told to, "Take pure olive oil to kindle the Menorah continually." (Ex. 27:20) The concept of having the Menorah lit constantly is applicable even today once we become privy as to what the Menorah's light characterized.
The menorah's light represents Torah wisdom and the Scholars who study it. One source which provides support that the Menorah's light represents Torah wisdom is found in the Talmud that says that if a person wants to become wise, he should face the south when he prays. (See Rebbi Yitzchak in Baba Basra, chap. 2, "Lo Yachpor", pg. 25b)
Parenthetically, my Rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, ZT"L, commented on this passage. He said that of course one should pray in the Halachik direction he is supposed to (facing Israel, Jerusalem, The Temple Mount...See Berachos, chap. 4, "Tefilas HaShachar", pg. 30a; see Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim, chap. 94, subchapter 1 & 2). However, at some point during the prayer, one can sway from side to side, facing the south for a moment, and connect with the energy of wisdom that comes from the south.
In any case, the connection between the south and wisdom is made by the Menorah which was situated on the southern side of the holy room it was situated in. Since the Menorah was placed on the southern side, wisdom is generated from the south. Thus we have a connection between the Menorah and wisdom.
A source which provides support to the fact that the Menorah represents Torah scholars is found in the Talmud that says that if a person wants to have children who will become Torah scholars, one thing they should do is regularly light candles. (See Rav Huna, Shabbos, chap. 2, "Bameh Madlikin", pg. 23b) Rashi there explains that one of the types of candles that a person should be careful to light regularly are the Channukah candles. Channukah candles today are an extension of the Menorah's lights in the Temple. (See Rashi Num. 8:2 citing Tanchumah #5, See also Ramban Num. 8:2)
Rashi goes on to cite a verse that teaches us that through the lighting of the candles one will merit benefiting from the Torah's light. That verse says, "Ki Ner Mitzvah V'Torah Ohr" (For a commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light. Pro. 6:23). This means to say that the light of Torah will come through lighting the candles of Channukah.
According to this, we can all fulfill the Mitzvah of lighting the Menorah every single day. When we study Torah, we are drawing wisdom from the Menorah's light, and we are involved in the process of becoming Torah scholars. In this way, we keep its candles burning brightly.
After establishing that the Menorah is connected to Torah scholars and to Torah wisdom, we can begin to understand the meaning behind the Menorah being lit constantly. This means to say that if we truly want to become Torah scholars and benefit from the Torah's wisdom, then we have to be diligent in our Torah study constantly.
For those who have the privilege of spending their entire days immersed in Torah study (and actually do so) are certainly called "Masmidim" (diligent) and have fulfilled keeping the Menorah's light burning constantly. However, even those who must spend considerable time providing for their families can be labeled "Masmidim" by keeping the Menorah's light burning constantly.
This can be achieved by spending some time each day in Torah study. We see this from Rashi's comments about the Menorah being lit "Tamid" (constantly; Ex. 27:20). He says that just by lighting it every day it is called "Tamid" even though it does not stay lit all day long. (See Sifsei Chachamim #7) Similarly, one who studies every day can be called a "Masmid" even though he cannot study throughout the entire day.
This idea can certainly improve our daily Jewish living. All we have to do is make a commitment to study as much Torah as we can each and every day. Then we stand the greatest chance of becoming true Torah scholars who will shine and brighten this world of ours.
So, may we all be blessed with the appreciation of Torah study, and may we all be blessed with the strength to commit ourselves to constant Torah study, and subsequently benefit from its light, not just us, but our children as well.