"…They shall take unto you…." (Ex. 27:20)

We can understand the reason for the word 'eileicha/unto you' by referring to the Talmud explanation of the words: "outside the curtain of the testimony". The "testimony" the Torah refers to is all the people who came to see the Tabernacle realizing that G‑d’s presence was hovering over the Israelites. (Shabbat 22) Rav defined the testimony as specifically the "Western Lamp," i.e. the lamp on top of the Menora's middle shaft. [This lamp burned around the clock instead of only at night although, not only did it not receive more oil than the other lamps, but the other lamps drew on its oil supply. — EM.]

...the ongoing miracle of the Western Lamp...served as testimony that G‑d’s presence was there to stay.

The scoffers amongst the Jews ridiculed the idea that G‑d would take up residence in a structure made by Moses. (Shemot Rabba 52:2) From this we see that not only did the gentiles not credit the idea that the G‑d of the Heavens had come down to earth, but even some of the Jews could not believe this. Accordingly, even though it was evident that G‑d’s presence was indeed in the Tabernacle on the first day of Nissan, the day the Tabernacle had been erected, they did not consider this as evidence that G‑d’s presence would remain there on a permanent basis. But once they observed the ongoing miracle of the Western Lamp, this served as testimony that G‑d’s presence was there to stay.

The Torah impressed upon Moses that the oil for the Menora in the Tabernacle would become the vehicle by means of which G‑d’s presence in the Tabernacle would be demonstrated when the "eternal flame" would be lit. This matter would have far-reaching consequences for Moses’ own standing as a prophet; hence the word eileicha is of crucial importance. Perhaps G‑d hinted at this already when He said: "ve’ata tetzaveh" i.e. "do not worry that the people will not believe you when you tell them that I will take up residence in the terrestrial regions." G‑d’s prediction indeed came to pass. Should you Moses ask how such a fact could be demonstrated, G‑d continued by instructing Moses:"and they will take unto you pure olive oil."

A moral ethical approach to our verse may be based on the Zohar Chadash (Gen. 8) that the Israelites were or would be redeemed from each of their four exiles due to a specific merit. The Jews were redeemed from their first exile in Egypt thanks to the merit of the patriarch Abraham. They were redeemed from the second exile thanks to the merit of Isaac; they were redeemed from the third exile thanks to the merit of Jacob, whereas they will be redeemed from the forth exile thanks to the merit of Moses. Moses’ merit was that of his dedication to Torah-study. The interminable wait for the redemption from the forth exile is due to our neglect of the study of Torah and the performance of its commandments with sufficient vigor and diligence. As long as we do not engage sufficiently in Torah study, Moses on his part is not willing to invoke his merit to redeem the Israelites who continue to neglect his Torah.

By writing "And you shall command the Israelites…" the Torah hints at something we mentioned earlier (in connection with Psalms 91:11) that G‑d would dispatch angels to commune with the Jewish people. The meaning of the line may be that the timing of the redemption depends in large measure on Moses seeing that it is his merit that will have to be involved in order to orchestrate the final redemption.

Alternatively, the word tzav implies Royal authority. Moses will be our king in the future. When the future will occur depends on the amount and quality of Torah studied by the Jewish people. The words: "they will take to you pure olive oil" are an allusion to the Torah which has been compared to oil. Just as oil lights up the universe, so does the study of Torah result in enlightenment. This is basically what the Zohar we have mentioned before had in mind.

...the study of Torah has to be motivated by pure, not by self-serving considerations.

The reason the Torah was careful to stipulate that the oil had to be pure, was to convey that the study of Torah has to be motivated by pure, not by self-serving considerations. Impure thought fuelling Torah study turns such study into a source of accusation by Satan instead of conferring merit on the student or scholar in question. Even the intent to become well known as a Torah scholar is considered an unworthy thought in this connection. Such thoughts may be considered as equivalent to oil which contains sediments.


[Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of "Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar" by Eliyahu Munk, Vol. II.]