ONE STEP AT A TIME
"And G-d spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron, and say to him, "when you kindle the lights. . ." (Numbers 8:1-2).
"And G-d spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron, and say to him, "when you kindle the lights. . . " (Numbers 8:1-2).
This week's Torah portion contains within it the mitzvah of lighting the menorah in the Temple. The Midrash comments that Aaron built a stepping stool in front of the menorah, on which he stood to light it. This stepping stool is in fact mentioned in a Mishnah (Tractate Tamid 3:9). The Mishnah states that there was a rock in front of the menorah that had three steps upon which Aaron would ascend to light the menorah. The fact that both the Midrash and the Mishnah call our attention to the stepping stool indicates that there is something significant about this device, above and beyond its practical function.
Rashi, the preeminent Torah commentator, quotes a fascinating Midrash: Why is the Torah portion concerning the menorah found immediately following the portion concerning the offerings of the tribal princes during the dedication of the Tabernacle, at the end of Parshat Naso? When Aaron saw the offerings of the princes, he was distressed that neither he nor his tribe was included. Hashem said to him, "I promise that your mitzvah is greater than theirs, for you will kindle and prepare the lights." This comment by Rashi bothers the commentaries. What does Rashi mean that the lighting of the menorah is greater?
The Ramban, one of the leading Torah scholars of the Middle Ages, explains that Rashi refers to the lighting of the Chanukah menorah (which came about through the courageous actions of the Chashmonaim descendents of Aaron), which continues today even after the Temple was destroyed. Other commentaries, however, suggest a different interpretation: The menorah symbolizes Torah, as the verse states, "For the candle represents a mitzvah; and the Torah is represented by light" (Proverbs 6:23). The study of Torah is the guiding force of the Jewish people. The Torah is what keeps the Jewish people going, and unites us as one nation, even today. By lighting the menorah, Aaron symbolized the spread of the light of Torah.
The Ramban continues further by explaining the juxtaposition in the Torah between the kindling of the menorah, the offerings of the princes, and the priestly blessings mentioned before them. (The latter two were mentioned in last week's Torah portion.) Neither the blessings nor the lights were ever nullified, even after the destruction of the Temple. Hence, it was to Aaron's honor and benefit that he was not included with the princes. What is the great importance of the lighting of the menorah and the priestly blessings that they continue to exist throughout our exile?
Rabbi Gedaliah Schorr, a leading Torah personality of the previous generation, offers the following answer: Our sages tell us that when the princes initially came to Moses to offer their sacrifices, he did not want to accept them, for no such sacrifices had ever been offered. Only when G-d told him to take them, did he do so. As such, the offerings have within them an element of Oral Law, an element of Torah not found within the written text. So too, the menorah Aaron's "consolation" which is still greater symbolizes the burning light of Torah. On a Kabalistic level, this creates the ability to study Torah, to produce novel Torah ideas into the world.
If that is the case, we can understand why the sages made a point of stating that Aaron had to step up on a three-stepped rock in order to light the menorah. The Sh'lah HaKadosh, the great 17th century Kabalist, states that we find that there are three categories of evil personality traits, as it is written in Ethics of Our Fathers: ". . .jealousy, lust, and pursuit of honor drive a person out of this world" (4:21). The three steps in front of the menorah symbolized these three categories of evil traits. Aaron was sending a message to all future generations: "If you want to come to spread Torah; if you want to ascend to the attribute of Torah; you must first fix your personality traits." Simply put, proper behavior and good character traits precede the study of Torah. Before we can begin to think about Torah, we must ensure that our personalities are in order.
We have learned that this light is indeed eternal, for it is found within our Chanukah lights. It is not only found in the Temple. Each of us, as we light the menorah, pulls from this same reservoir of energy and shines its light into the world. May each of us learn to truly draw from this source, brightening our homes with the lights of the Chanukah candles at the appropriate time, and with the light of Torah throughout the year.
Yoel Feiler, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a graduating senior at Yeshiva University in New York.
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