"Blessed be Avram to the Most High G-d, Who possesses heaven and earth."
Elections, insurrections, national emergencies, insurgencies, earthquakes, hurricanes, markets crashing, budget slashing... These are but some of the headlines capturing our attention these past weeks and months. What does it all mean? In what direction are they pointing? Or is it little more than a lot of surface noise, upending lives for sure, but shedding little light for those of us seeking an insight into where man is heading, straining our ears to hear what G-d is saying?
These may be questions better left to historians to answer once the roar of events has died away and the dust has settled. But below the surface, far beneath the roiling events of the day, in the very tectonic plates that shape the eons, G-d has orchestrated the movements of man's past, his present, and his future. And Torah, G-d's gift of love and guidance, provides us with the tools and the body of knowledge to explore and behold and understand where G-d is leading us.
There seem to be no two characters in the book of Genesis more dissimilar than Noach and Avraham. Noach appears taciturn and introspective. Avraham is outgoing, embracing man, pursuing G-d. Noach succeeded in bringing aboard the ark just his immediate family, whereas Avraham, already busy "making souls" while in Haran (Genesis 12:5), has created an entirely new community, a fellowship of seekers devoted to walking before G-d. Yet midrash tells us that these two righteous individuals each performed a crucial role in a chain of events that began more than a millennium before their time and would continue to shape the destiny of nations for millennia to come.
"And the dove returned to him at eventide, and behold it had plucked an olive leaf in its mouth; so Noach knew that the water had abated from upon the earth." (Genesis 8:11) Midrash teaches the following insight: Noach stretched out his arm for the dove to alight on. He then gathered the olives that were attached the the leafy branch that the dove had delivered. He pressed the olives into pure oil, poured the oil into a cruse and sealed it. He presented the sealed cruse of oil to the eldest of his three sons, Shem.
The midrash picks up again in this week's Torah reading, immediately after Avraham led his allies to victory in the war between the kings of the Plain: "And Malchizedek the king of Salem brought out bread and wine, and he was a priest to the Most High G-d. And he blessed him, and he said, 'Blessed be Avram to the Most High G-d, Who possesses heaven and earth. And blessed be the Most High G-d, Who has delivered your adversaries into your hand,' and he gave him a tithe from all." (Genesis 14:18-20) Midrash teaches that Malchizedek and Shem were one and the same: Shem, the first born of Noach, had assumed his destined role as High Priest. And what did the tithe contain that he gave to Avraham? The single cruse of pure olive oil that Noach had previously given to him. And what did Avraham do with the cruse of oil? He bequeathed it to Yitzchak (Isaac), who handed it down to Yaakov (Jacob), who brought it along when he fled from his brother Esau. The midrash surfaces again when, returning to the land of Israel, Yaakov finds himself alone on the banks of the Yabbok river, where he wrestles throughout the night with an unnamed foe. Midrash teaches us that the foe was none other than Esau's guardian angel. And what were they fighting over? The single cruse of pure olive oil that Yaakov had returned for before entering the land. And what does Yaakov do with the cruse of oil? He returns to the very place where he had laid down his head to sleep and dreamed of a ladder stretching from the heavens to the earth, declaring upon wakening that this was the place of the House of the L-rd. There he hides the cruse.
And there the cruse remained dormant for centuries until one day a triumphant army of Maccabee warriors enters the Holy Temple, removes the desecration left by the Greek armies of Antiochus and re-purifies the Holy Temple. Looking for still pure olive oil to kindle the lamps of the golden menorah, they discover the very same single cruse of pure olive oil pressed by Noach, entrusted to Shem - Malchitzedek - and diligently cared for by Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.
We are taught further that the light of the golden menorah is the very same pure light of creation that G-d had hidden away at the beginning of time for the righteous to enjoy in the world to come: The light contained in the olive, plucked by the dove, pressed by Noach and handed from righteous to righteous throughout the generations.
Literal truth? Proven fact? Certainly not the stuff of today's headlines and lead stories, but the message alluded to by Torah is the unassailable incontrovertible truth of G-d's presence in history and His will that all man will come to worship Him in His house upon His holy mountain. The righteous throughout the generations have worked faithfully and selflessly to make His promise to mankind come true. New names and new faces appear each evening on our TV screens and each morning in the newspapers delivered to our doors. Many promise change. Few deliver. Some swear to serve G-d in the name of justice and right. Others swear to confound Him. But whether we find ourselves overcome with elation or plunged into despair with the news of the day, we must always remember that it is the righteous on this earth, working quietly and asking no reward, who are the true bringers of change. May we merit the day when Noach's cruse of pure olive oil will once again be used to kindle the seven lamps of the golden menorah, flooding us all with light: a light to Israel, a light to the nations.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discover Noach's magnanimous gesture to mankind, appreciate Avraham's uncompromising fight with the politically correct idolatry of his day, and his pursuit of truth and the one G-d. Plus, the enigmatic month of Marcheshvan, poised for glory, and the anniversary of the Rambam's historical visit to the Temple Mount.
Click to hear: