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THE SIZE OF AN OLIVE. WHY OLIVE?

The olive and its measure, the kezayit, serve as a profound reminder that spirituality can be found not only in grand narratives but also in simple, everyday experiences. * On Rambam's Laws of Oaths.

by ChatGPT

In the Mishneh Torah, Rambam elucidates the spiritual significance of quantities in determining the liability of an oath, prominently featuring the measure of a "kezayit" (olive-sized portion). For instance, he states: "When a person takes an oath that he will not eat anything on that day and he ate less than an olive-sized portion of food, he is not liable."


In our quest for spirituality, we often look to the grand and extraordinary. Yet, Jewish tradition encourages us to find holiness in the mundane and seemingly insignificant. Consider the humble olive, for example. How can such a small, commonplace item carry profound spiritual significance?


1. OLIVE AS A SYMBOL IN JUDAISM

The olive is a recurring symbol in our tradition. As mentioned in Exodus 27:20, "And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually." In his commentary on this verse, Rashi explains that the olive oil's purity symbolizes the pristine wisdom of the Divine, turning the simple olive into a beacon of enlightenment and clarity.


2. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE KEZAYIT MEASUREMENT

The quantity known as a kezayit is of significant import in Jewish law. The Talmud, in Tractate Berachot 40b, teaches, "One who eats a kezayit of olive's volume... recites the after-blessing." This measurement not only represents a physical standard but signifies a threshold for spiritual connection. Even the act of eating can be a sacred ritual when it meets the kezayit criterion.


3. CHASSIDIC INTERPRETATION OF THE OLIVE AND KEZAYIT

Chassidic teachings delve deeper into the symbolism of the olive and its measurement. In his work, Likutei Torah, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi draws a connection between the process of refining olive oil and our spiritual journey. He writes, "The olive oil, especially when crushed and refined, represents the innermost dimensions of wisdom." Just like the olive yields its pure oil when pressed, our souls can also reveal their deepest potential under the pressure of life's challenges.


Whether we are standing at Sinai or sitting at our breakfast table, we are reminded of the spiritual significance in every detail, even in the small, humble olive. As Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi underscores in the Tanya, "Every particular of the Torah and mitzvot... is a guidance to man how he should direct that particular limb or power of action for the service of God." The olive and its measure, the kezayit, thus serve as a profound reminder that spirituality can be found not only in grand narratives but also in simple, everyday experiences. In every bite we take, in every act we do, there lies the potential for a meaningful connection to the Divine.

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