Behalosecha – Lessons from the Menorah

Since the Menorah represents wisdom, it is not coincidental that we learn some central principals of education from the first word of our parsha which discusses the mitzvah of kindling it.   The Torah does not use our more familiar term: lehadlik to describe the lighting, but leha’alot. The root of this word is to go up, or to raise (as in aliyah).  It is learned from here that there was a step before the Menorah, which the high priest would ascend on in order to do the mitzvah.  This shows us that doing mitzvos elevates us, and allows us to grow.  More particular to the Menorah (which symbolizes the spread of wisdom), we see that one in charge of enlightening others, must himself be growing at the same time in order to be a most effective teacher, and to lead by example.

Another halacha learned from the use of the word leha’alot – to raise up, is that the Cohen in charge of lighting the Menorah had to kindle the wicks until each independently rose on its own.  This teaches us another fundamental concept in giving; that the goal of raising another human must be focused on the continuity of our teachings in the pupil.  If the student can only perform while we are holding on, or if the young amateur still needs us in the building, then we have not fully stood him up.  A true pupil who has acquired the fundamental traits and learned the basic principles thoroughly, can take his master’s teachings and know how to apply them in a totally new context, to carry the tradition to a new generation and a new country.

The parsha states that the 6 branches to the sides of the Menorah all faced in toward the middle.  The great 18th Century leader of Hungarian Jewry, the Chasam Sofer, says that the lesson from this facet of the Menorah is to show us that all wisdom should be balanced, that an increase towards separation on one side, or to mundanity on the other should not veer us from the golden mean which Judaism strives to maintain.  Aaron, who was the High priest, had a particular need for this lesson, as his life of purity and separation could endanger his ability to remain normal and accessible; most of us need the lesson the other way – not to let our daily involvements sway us from truth and virtue.

A couple important events occur in the parsha relating to human weakness (which we discussed at the outset of the Book of Bamidbar, as a theme running through the fourth book).  One is the nation complains that they are tired of eating Manna, and they miss the meat and other foods they had in Egypt.  Manna was not typical food, it bordered on the spiritual, and their natural physical urges desired the more physical life.  This struggle is the root of most meaningful struggles, such as the inner conflict in one trying to quit smoking, and is being tugged between physical, immediate pleasure versus his convictions for more spiritual and long-term benefits.

Interestingly, our traditions say that the Manna could taste like anything one would think of – if so why were they missing anything? They had the whole world of edibles at their frontal lobes.  The answser is there was one condition for the system to work: they had to think.  Part of their fall into the physical was displayed in their lack of desire to use their minds, and to allow their bodies to identify them.  So often we all fail to enjoy what we have because we don’t put the effort to appreciate it, as our sages say in Pirkei Avos: Who is wealthy?  One who is happy his lot.

Even more disappointing and damaging was the way in which the nation complained: “We long for the food which we ate FOR FREE in Egypt”    -Now we know that as slaves we were not given many benefits in Egypt, and whatever we had cost us blood sweat and tears; hence ‘for free is an odd inclusion in the verse, and on it our sages expound the thrust of the nation’s complaints ‘free of mitzvos’  In other words, included in their rebellion towards the soul, was a complaint towards the entire life of Torah and mitzvos.  They longed to be free of obligations like the nations, and to return to a their mundane and easy life where they did not have to prepare, select and bless their food, and all the other laws governing all aspects of life.
What they failed to appreciate, is that doing mitzvos is not really for Hashem.  The Creator does not lack for anything, and our little deeds down here do not complete Hashem in anyway. The Torah and Mitzvos our for us, they are a tree of life to give us good, and to transcend into a life of meaning with a connection with eternity.  As we noted in the step before the Menorah –the mitzvos are our keys to true fulfillment, nobody is more alive and joyous than the true tzaddikim and scholars, who are called a living even after they pass on (as we say ‘may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing’).    The Chazon Ish claimed one of the reasons so many of our youth were lost in the past generation, was because their parents lived a Judaism which contained 613 problems, instead of a wealth of opportunities. (Like anybody trying to excel (e.g. business, sports, med-school, dating, etc,  seeks out all the means to achieve success, and is not dissuaded by the fact that some of those paths may require effort and sacrifice, because the greater goal makes it all worthwhile.  So too when the goals are righteousness, Torah wisdom, good character traits, helping the Jewish community, raising a Torah-true family in a challenging environment, growth in prayer, reaching out to those in need, etc, our mitzvos become our building blocks and family heirlooms.)  So we should feel privileged that we get to make blessings and do mitzvos when we eat, and that we are not like all the other nations.

The end of the parsha deals with Miraim speaking unfavorably about her younger brother Moses.  She is afflicted with tzaraas for a week, to atone and repent for her lashon hara.  We have a mitzvah everyday to recall this event, which the Rambam defines as the obligation to review the sin of lashon hara.  The Rashbam (Rashi’s grandson), says that the verse obligating us to recall the event includes the words ‘what Hashem did to Miriam  when you were leaving Egypt’,  to demonstrate that so grave is lowly speech, that Hashem had the entire nation of millions, that was on their great aliyah to Israel, wait a full week in order to not let it go unanswered  for a moment.

We hope everybody’s shabbos is an aliyah, (like our parsha )