Thursday, May 27, 2010

Parshat Beha'alotcha - פרשת בהעלותך

וידבר ה' אל משה לאמר. "דבר אל אהרון ואמרת אליו: 'בהעלותך את הנרות אל-מול פני המנורה יאירו שבעת הנרות.' " -Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying, "Speak to Aharon, and say to him: 'When you light the lights towards the face of the Menorah, the seven lamps shall cast light.' "
(במדבר ח:א-ב)

I have two short thoughts on this week's Parsha. I don't normally like writing my own thoughts in case my own understanding happens to (inadvertently) clash with that posited by those with far greater perception and wisdom in Torah knowledge than me. But this week I feel fairly safe, given that neither are controversial and after having thought of the second one, I read a D'var Torah by a friend (Eitan Rapps) and discovered that it had been written about by a well-known Rabbi.

The first section of this D'var Torah deals with the very first words of the Parsha, written above. As you can see, Hashem speaks to Moshe to speak to Aharon, the Head Cohen, and instruct him to light the Menorah. Although I'd read this, and similar passages numerous times, I was struck by the seeming redundancy of Hashem speaking to Aharon through an intermediary. We know that Moshe was a prophet and merited to have Hashem speak to him, but why couldn't Aharon have heard this instruction directly from Hashem himself? After all, wasn't Aharon a great prophet in his own right?

The answer that I suggest is that we can see here how a dual leadership is prevented. If Aharon had been given a route to circumvent the need to go through his brother, Moshe's authority would have been eroded to some extent. There would have been the leader of the people, all the people but for one exception. I can imagine no easier way to stoke discontent than to provide people with a public example of someone who's authority is publicly disregarded. So, despite Aharon and Moshe being brothers, and despite Aharon's own monumental spiritual level, Hashem still made sure that Moshe's role as a leader was not compromised.

I think we may learn another, more practical, thing from this, too. Twice in the first chapter in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers,) we read the much-discussed imperative: "עשה לך רב - Make yourself a Rabbi." Each and every single one of us must find for ourselves a spiritual leader. The decision rests with us; we must find someone we are comfortable with, but ultimately we all are commanded to find someone more learned than ourselves in order to learn from them. And here too, we see that even someone who reaches the towering spiritual heights achieved by Aharon is not exempt from this.


The second thought I had is also based on the two verse quoted above, but this time the focus is on the word 'בהעלותך', which we may loosely translate as 'When you light.' In Rashi's commentary on the Torah, a well-known explanation of this term is given. The normal term for lighting candles is להדליק; it could just as easily have been written בהדלקתך above. Rashi notes that the word used, 'בהעלותך', is "לשון עלייה, שצריך להדליק עד שתהא השלהבת עולה מאליה," which may be loosely translated as meaning that "the terms is one associated with 'going up', and that one needs to kindle [a light] until the flame rise by itself." Rashi's point is that there was a special manner in which Aharon had to light the flames of the Menorah, and therefore the unusual term בהעלותך is employed.

Rav Avigdor Neventzahl, the former Chief Rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, explains however, that this isn't actually any different from the way we light any candle. Anyone who's tried taking a flame way from a candle before it's risen by itself knows that the candle will not light; of course you wait for the candle to catch the first flame and rise by itself; that's just the normal procedure.

When I was pondering the matter myself, an old Oxfam advert came to my mind. The voiceover explains that if you "give a child some corn" she won't be hungry for a short while. But if you "give her family the chance to grow their own corn," they will be independent of handouts, and will be able to provide food for themselves, earn money and send their children to school. I see a parallel between the advert and Rashi's point on the meaning of the word בהעלותך; the word teaches us how to give to people. Rather than simply giving people to stop-gap solutions, we must aim to find the root cause of the problem, fix that, and enable people to provide for themselves.

In a similar fashion, Rav Neventzahl points out that the phrase refers to the optimal way in which to teach and learn Torah. If a teacher feeds his students Torah so that they are not excited by what is being said, but listen nevertheless, then the moment he departs from their presence, their Torah learning will cease. Instead the teacher is charged with the task of igniting their students' souls. One of the greatest satisfactions in this world is creativity. Humans are markedly different from other creations in that they are able to change the conditions around them as well as express thoughts and feelings. If we give to someone, we are depriving them of their ability to be human. Rather we must allow them to rise up (as Rashi says, לשון עלייה) with their own creative energy so that they may give themselves.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

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