The Living Torah is a weekly publication distributed in and around North West London. Written by members of Hasmonean High School's Sixth Form programme - we aim to bring you divrei torah for your Shabbat table each and everyweek.

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Thursday, 7 January 2010

The Light of Eternity

מא - לג] - ״יֵרֶה פַרְעה אִיש נָבון וְחכם״]
...pharaoh seek out a discerning and wise man...”

There is a Gemara in Mesechet Shabbat that says that “one who is accustomed with a candle will have children who are Bnei Torah or Torah Scholars.” Rashi comments on this Gemara and says that the candle refers to the candles of Shabbat and the candles of Chanukah.

A simple explanation of this would be that those who perform the mitzvah of Shabbat and Chanukah candles will have the reward stated in the Gemara.

The Maharal differs to the aforementioned Pshat and explains that the candle is, in the language of symbolism, representative of the whole world. In order to explain the statement he paraphrases it as: “one who is accustomed to looking at the whole world as a candle will have children who are Bnei Torah.” But what does it mean to look at the whole world as a candle? There is a Pasuk in Mishlei that says:

"כי נר מצוה ותורה אור"
"The candle is a mitzvah and Torah is light."

The individual commandment is compared to a lamp which requires oil and a wick in order to burn, similarly a mitzvah only has force as long as a man’s spirit is contained in his body. The Torah on the other hand is light itself, general and intangible, radiating in a man’s spirit long after his death.

As the mitzvah candle of Shabbat or Chanukah burns down and the flames are dancing their last we might be tempted to ask ourselves, “what have we really gained or what is accomplished through this act of lighting? The good oil is gone and the money spent but what actually remains?”

The Maharal states that although the oil has been consumed the light generated from the candle continues to run its eternal course. It goes on forever. So what have we accomplished by performing this mitzvah? We have in reality taken a piece of this temporal world and unlocked its eternal essence. We have taken a physical action and elevated it into a spiritual realm.

This answers our original question of how does one look at the whole world as a candle – he simply sees the world as being packed with endless spiritual potential. Any item, each person and every single moment is dense with limitless possibility. One who is able to ‘see’ the spiritual light of Torah is one who can see the opportunity for Mitzvot in our banal physical actions.

R’Elyah Lopian compares this world to the years of plenty, and the Next World to the years of famine. (Pharaoh’s dream) Only in this world do we have almost endless opportunities to study Torah and perform its commandments. In the Next World, no such opportunity exists; it is a time of famine. We tend to think that this life is forever and we will always be able to do Mitzvot and store away spiritual provisions for later. It takes wisdom to envision a time when we will not be able to add to our storehouse of merit. If we remember the famine of Mitzvot that exists in the Next World, we will use our time wisely.

This is the lesson that can be learnt from Yosef’s words when he says to Pharaoh “seek out a wise and discerning man and set him over the land of Egypt.” Only a wise man could comprehend the dangers of the famine that lay ahead whilst still living in a time of abundant plenty. It is interesting to note that the words used to describe this character are נָבון and חָכַם (see Pasuk above) – Mishlei tells us (see issue 314 - or my post on Bereishit) that a person who has these qualities is someone who is able to see the light of creation, the light of torah; someone who looks at the whole world as a candle.

My favourite dvar so far - very geshmaldik :)

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