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Darash Moshe: Tetzaveh: Pure Oil

The 13th of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Moshe (ben Dovid) Feinstein (1895-1986). Born in Uzda (near Minsk), Belorussia, he was a great-grandchild of the Be’er Hagolah. His mother was Feige Gittel, daughter of R’ Yechiel, rov of Kopolia. He joined the yeshiva of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer in Slutzk at the age of twelve. At the age of sixteen, Rav Moshe completed Shas and Shulchan Oruch. He was rabbi of Lyuban from 1921 to 1936. He escaped the Stalinist regime in 1936 and settled in New York as rosh yeshiva of Tiferes Yerushalayim. He authored Igros Moshe, Darash Moshe, and Dibros Moshe and was universally acknowledged as the posek of the American Litvish community.

“Pure. Pressed olive oil.” (Exodus 27:20)

Rashi comments that only the oil of pressed olives was acceptable for the Menorah, while for the meal-offerings the oil of crushed olives was also suitable. The crushing of olive leaves a sediment, which has to be removed in order to produce a pure oil; but for the Menorah, only oil that had never contained any impurities at all was necessary.

The Menorah represents the wisdom of Torah and the scholars who are imbued with that wisdom, the teachers and leaders who guide the people in the way of Torah.

Just as oil for the Menorah must never have been clouded with sediment, so also must the leaders of the holy nation be people whose actions have always been impeccably pure, whose deeds were never open to suspicion. Should a leader ever commit any questionable acts, then even though they are later clarified and he is found innocent of any impropriety, there is room to fear that people dwell upon his alleged troubles, rather than the eventual clarification and justification that emerges.

This is reminiscent of the Rabbinic saying (Avot 1:11): Scholars, be cautious with your words, for you may incur the penalty of exile and be banished to a place of evil waters – heresy. The disciples who follow you there may drink and die, and consequently the Name of Heaven will be desecrated.

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