THE FEELING'S MUTUAL
After the Torah lists the tribal leaders and their roles in the dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), Aaron is awarded the responsibility of lighting the menorah at the outset of this week's Torah portion.
After the Torah lists the tribal leaders and their roles in the dedication of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), Aaron is awarded the responsibility of lighting the menorah at the outset of this week's Torah portion. The Midrash asks why does the section regarding the menorah immediately follow the dedication of the Mishkan? The same Midrash offers an answer that shows a remarkable sensitivity to Aaron's feelings. At a momentous event in the history of the Jewish people as the dedication of our first organized site of public worship, Aaron was distraught when he realized that neither he nor anyone in his tribe was selected to play a role in the inauguration. Therefore, Hashem consoled Aaron, reaffirming that he and his tribe will always serve a significant function with importance beyond the initial dedication of the Mishkan. Aaron and his family will serve in the Mishkan, always being responsible to light the menorah.
While the Midrash's comments are interesting, we are left with an important question. Why does Hashem give Aaron the duty to light the menorah specifically; in what way is the menorah so important that it should offer a consolation for his not being involved with the original dedication of the Mishkan? In short, what is so special about the menorah?
The Talmud (Shabbat 22b) identifies the import of the menorah, quoting the passage in the Torah demanding the flame to always burn on the menorah: ". . .to cause light continuously to illuminate. . .Aaron shall set the menorah from the evening until the morning continually, before Hashem, an everlasting law throughout your generations." (Leviticus 24:2-3). The Talmud asks rhetorically: Is the lamp always lit, even during the day, for the purpose of illumination? There is no need for a fire to produce light during the day, so there must be a different reason for the mitzvah to have the light burning twenty-four hours a day. The lights of the menorah, explains the Talmud, are not there merely to illuminate, but rather they testify to the entire world that Hashem always dwells within the camp of Israel. Accordingly, by assigning Aaron and his family the service of the menorah, the very service that shows Hashem's love for His people, Hashem was demonstrating the importance of Aaron and his tribe. However, beyond the significance of the testimony that the menorah declares by its being lit, there is still an even more profound statement that the menorah makes.
There is another flame continually burning in the Mishkan. "A permanent fire shall remain burning on the altar; it shall not be extinguished" (Leviticus 6:6). The altar is fed from the sacrifices of the Jewish people, symbolizing our striving to draw closer to Hashem. Only these two flames, the menorah and the altar, are continually lit day and night in the Mishkan. At night all work stops. No offerings are brought, no incense is burnt, no wine libations are poured. Only the lights of the menorah and the altar shine. The lone lights beaming from within the Mishkan are the only signs of life, together implying an intimate relationship. While the light of the menorah beams, showing Hashem's desire to dwell within the Jewish people, the flames of the altar fed by our offerings rise towards heaven in our joint effort to reach and cleave to Hashem. These flames ensure and maintain the mutual love between Hashem and the Jewish people that shall never be extinguished. This responsibility Hashem entrusted to Aaron and his family. They are responsible for both the menorah and the altar, giving them the critical role of demonstrating the reciprocal loving relationship between Hashem and His people.
Micah Gimpel, a native Atlantan an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, recently graduated from Yeshiva University.
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