Parshat BeHaalotecha

This week’s Torah reading begins with Hashem instructing Aharon the High Priest on how to light the Menorah as part of the daily Tabernacle service. When lighting the Menorah, Aharon had to position both the three wicks on the right and the three wicks on the left to face the center wick (as shown in the picture). Each day at sundown, he would light the Menorah, and the candles would burn throughout the night. This is the actual commandment (Numbers 8:1,2): 

(א) וַיְדַבֵּר יְדוָד אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:

(ב) דַּבֵּר אֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ אֶת הַנֵּרֹת אֶל מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה יָאִירוּ שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת:

  1. Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, 2) “Speak to Aharon and say to him: ‘When you kindle the lamps, toward the face of the Menorah shall the seven lamps cast their light.’”  

There is an obvious question on this verse. Because the commandment relates to the three wicks on the right and left of the Menorahviz, the central arm, shouldn’t it have said, “shall the six lamps cast their light,” instead of the seven?

Rabbi Ovadia Seforno (1480-1550) explains.

ב) בהעלתך את הנרות. כשתדליק את שש הנרות. אל מול פני המנורה. שהוא הקנה האמצעי, וזה כשתפנה שלהבת כל אחד מהששה נרות אל הקנה האמצעי, אז – יאירו שבעת הנרות – כל השבעה יאירו וישפיעו אור עליון לישראל

            When you light the six candles towards the central arm and they are all facing it, then, all seven candles will illuminate as one. And what will this unified light do? It will radiate the light of Hashem to the Jewish nation.  

            He explains further that the Jewish nation comprises two groups of people. One group comprises the people who have chosen the Torah as their vocation, such as Torah Scholars, teachers, and Kollel men who study Torah for the sake of knowing the Torah. The second group comprises people who have chosen to serve Hashem by pursuing a vocation. Although they spend most of their time conducting business, by doing so with honesty and integrity according to the Torah’s laws, they are also serving Hashem. The three wicks to the right of the central shaft represent the Torah group and the three wicks on the left represent the working group. How would both groups, the Torah learners and working people, merit the blessing of the Torah’s light emanating from the Menorah? By directing their energies to the Menorah’s central arm and wick, which point upwards towards Hashem.

The Menorah’s light represents the light of the Oral Torah, and the Menorah was the source of blessing for Torah wisdom to the world. When each person, from either side, directs his energies to the Menorah’s central arm to fulfill Hashem’s will, then all seven flames unite, burning brightly together, and all benefit equally from the Torah’s light. 

How is that accomplished? The Torah of the candles on the right benefits the entire nation by instilling holiness into their souls and raising their level of holiness, while the candles on the left provide the Torah learners with the financial support that they need to carry on their Torah study. This support unites them with the learners and makes them one unit. This is why the Torah says that when the six candles face the central shaft, all seven candles will burn equally bright. The unity between the two groups working together to bring out the Torah’s light will bring forth the brilliant light of Hashem’s Torah to all His people. 

After informing us that Aharon precisely followed these instructions, the Torah reminds us that the Menorah had to be fashioned out of a single ingot of gold instead of from various connected smaller pieces. The next verse (Numbers 8:4) says:

(ד) וְזֶה מַעֲשֵׂה הַמְּנֹרָה מִקְשָׁה זָהָב עַד יְרֵכָהּ עַד פִּרְחָהּ מִקְשָׁה הִוא כַּמַּרְאֶה אֲשֶׁר הֶרְאָה יְדֹוָד אֶת משֶׁה כֵּן עָשָׂה אֶת הַמְּנֹרָה

4) This is the workmanship of the Menorah, hammered-out gold, from its base to its flowers it is hammered out; according to the vision that Hashem showed Moshe, so did he make the Menorah. 

            The Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisroel Meir Hakohen Kagan 1839 – 1933) demonstrates how those who support the Torah are one unit with the Torah from this aspect of the Menorah. As noted, the base upon which the Menorah stood also had to be fabricated from the same piece of gold as the rest of the Menorah. The Menorah’s base represents the supporters of the Torah, since the Menorah which represents the Torah is supported by its base. By mandating that the base be one unit with the Menorah, the Torah teaches us that the supporters and the learners are a single unit and will receive equal reward for their efforts. 

There is yet another lesson that the Chofetz Chaim teaches us from the Menorah’s being made of one piece of gold. The Menorah’s light represents the Torah’s light, and the Torah’s many facets correspond to the Menorah’s different features: the branches, and the decorative the cups, knobs, and flowers. Just as all these components of the Menorah were one unit, so, too, the Torah’s many facets, namely, the sources for the laws, the clear principles, the extrapolated deductions, all the particulars, the Oral Torah, and even what a student in the future will ask in the classroom, are all elements of the Torah given to Moshe on Sinai, and are all expressly stated or are hinted to in the Torah. 

The Netziv (Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893) adds another layer of understanding regarding the Menorah’s seven branches. The Menorah’s light represents the light of the Torah, with the seven branches representing the seven branches of wisdom needed for the Torah to be understood and properly fulfilled. For example, without astronomy and mathematics, the laws of the new moon and the Jewish calendar could not be implemented. Without knowing the science of agriculture, the laws pertaining to the plants and fruits of Israel could not be properly observed. Although the seven branches of wisdom are inherent in the Torah, they are subordinate to it, for the greatest wisdom of all is, of course, Hashem’s wisdom, which is the Torah itself. 

If the Menorah’s radiating light represents the light of the Torah, then kindling that light can be compared to passing the Torah’s light to the next generation. Perhaps there is a hint to this in the first verse of the Parshah.

The Hebrew word for “kindle” in this verse is peculiar. Instead of using the usual word “להדליק” (the word used in the blessing for lighting Shabbat, Yom Tov, and Chanukah candles, להדליק נר של שבת), the Torah uses the word “,בהעלותך” which means “when you make them (the flames) go up.” Why this unusual usage? 

Rashi explains that this unusual word instructs the Cohen to follow a certain protocol in lighting the Menorah

בהעלתך – על שם שהלהב עולה כתוב בהדלקתן לשון עליה שצריך להדליק עד שתהא שלהבת עולה מאליה ועוד דרשו רבותינו מכאן שמעלה היתה לפני המנורה שעליה הכהן עומד ומטיב

  1. Since a flame’s nature is to always point upwards, he must hold the candle he is lighting from to the candle that he is lighting until the new flame “goes up” and is burning strongly on its own.
  2. There need to be steps for the Cohen to ascend (when you go up) so that the he can see down into the cups when he cleans them out every day

What lessons can we derive from these two instructions? Does it make any difference to the new flame how long one holds the match to the wick when lighting it? And why did Aharon need a step-stool to clean the Menorah? The Menorah was only about four and half feet tall and Aharon, being of normal height, could easily reach the Menorah’sbowls to clean them. 

A flame is used in scripture as a metaphor for a person’s soul, as seen in this verse in Proverbs (20:27). 

(כז) נֵר יְדֹוָד נִשְׁמַת אָדָם 

“A man’s soul is the lamp of Hashem”

Based on this, the Cohen’s kindling the Menorah lights could serve as a metaphor for educating our children and igniting their souls with the fire of Torah. The first lesson is that only when the educator is “on fire” with the Torah that he is teaching, will he be able to kindle the excitement for Torah in his students. The teacher’s infectious passion and excitement will inspire the students to become engaged in the lesson. Once they taste the sweetness of the Torah, they will be hooked forever. Experiencing the delight of learning Torah is the greatest motivation for learning it. 

Rabbi Yitzchak Zilberstein in his book Aleinu Leshabeach (Bamidbar קמד), describes his “entrance exam” into the great Yeshiva of Slabodka by its venerated Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Isaac Sher זצ”ל.

They told us (the new crop of students) that before beginning our studies, we would have to go into the Rosh Yeshiva’s office for an interview. We were going to learn Tractate Ketubot, and some of the boys prepared scholarly dissertations to share with the Rosh Yeshiva to impress him. 

When we entered his office, we encountered his glowing countenance, and he immediately informed us that he had no intention of hearing Torah dissertations from us. “If you want to delight me in Torah, I will show you how to do it.” With these few words, he ignited the flame of Torah in us. He then guided us to a different section of the Talmud, and told us that from the piece we are about to learn there is a difficult question on the beginning of the Tractate Ketubot that would learn. As we learned the seemingly unrelated material, one of the boys thought of the question that the rabbi meant. The Rosh Yeshiva praised him highly, and noted that one of the great commentaries, the Rashash, posed the question, yet doesn’t provide an answer, implying that it is unanswerable. 

The Rosh Yeshiva then challenged us to come up with an answer to the question. Rabbi Zilberstein reports: “The smoke that emanated at that time from the Rosh Yeshiva’s office remains before my eyes to this day. One student gave an answer and another questioned it. This one built an answer, and another broke it down. During all of this, the Rosh Yeshiva is prompting and coaching the boys in how to sharpen their points and respond appropriately. We were so engaged, we forgot completely that we were in the Rosh Yeshiva’s office.”

 Ultimately, the Rosh Yeshiva gave us the correct answer, and also explained why the Rashash refrained from giving this answer himself. We learned from this that the only way to become ignited in Torah is to engage one’s mind in its study. 

How does the educator remain on fire with his Torah? Perhaps the answer lies in the second lesson, the need for the Cohen to ascend the steps when cleaning the Menorah. How does a teacher keep himself fresh and on fire with the love of Torah? Only when he, in his personal life, is still going higher and higher, step after step, in his own growth in Torah. When the teacher is constantly elevating himself in Torah, the delight and satisfaction that he feels in his own growth spills over to his students and infects them with a love of Torah and learning. This also gives the students the greatest motivation to overcome the challenges sure to crop up along their way to becoming self-sufficient flames capable of sharing their light and warmth with others. 

Once the students have received a small taste of the sweetness of the material, the next step is for the teacher to provide the students with the tools necessary to learn on their own. This gives them the ability to satiate their thirst for the material that they find so enjoyable. This is what is meant when it says, “to hold the candle to the wick until the flame goes up on its own.” It is not enough to simply provide information for the student to memorize and give back when requested. A teacher must provide the student with the tools that he needs to be able to study independently on his own, until he himself is a self-sustaining flame.

The lesson of holding the fire to the new candle until it goes up by itself is something that is going on in Yeshiva classrooms the world over. Torah teachers, who are themselves on fire with the love of Torah, are transferring that love and passion to their students and igniting them with the love of Torah, our precious heritage. At the same time, they are giving them the tools they need to study Torah on their own, enabling them to grow into great Torah scholars. 

Giving a child the tools to be independent rather than just giving him information is a concept that applies to education on all levels. All parents are educators, and our goal as parents is to raise our child to be able to live his life as an independent and self-sufficient person and to have the tools to make proper decisions for himself.  

This concept is hidden in a contranym in the Torah. A contranym is a word that has two opposite meanings such as the word dust, which means to clean a surface (“dust off the table”) and to cover a surface (“dust the cake with powdered sugar”). 

The word גמל (gomel) in the Torah means to give or bestow. At the same time, it means to wean a nursing baby from its mother. When weaning her baby, the mother intentionally withholds her milk from her child. That is the exact opposite of giving! How does this work? 

The answer is that the greatest gift that a mother can give to her baby is freedom from his dependency on her. When weaning him, she is giving him his autonomy and allowing him to go off on his own to pursue his own interests. 

Since we are educators for our children, our job as parents is to provide our children with the tools and skills that they need to lead productive and meaningful lives. When a child achieves independence from his parents, we hope that he has acquired all the lessons and skills that he will need to live a meaningful and productive life on his own. 

To this end, we want to tell our children, “Let me show you how to do that,” rather than, “Let me do that for you.” This shows them that we know that they are capable of doing it themselves and do not need us to do it for them. This also builds their self-confidence. If we never let go of the bike, they will never learn to ride. Weaning them from us is giving our children the greatest gifts possible- independence and confidence. 

The second lesson, to have steps in front of the Menorah so the Cohen can see into the cups, is a second essential component that an educator must have to ignite his students with excitement for learning. He must have a broad and deep knowledge of the material that he is teaching. When the students sense that the teacher is teaching them just the tip of the iceberg and that there is so much more to learn that the teacher is not teaching them (because it is not on their level), this whets their appetite for more. It also provokes deep and probing questions, as the students seek more of the hidden information that they sense is there. The teacher can also give enrichment to advanced students by giving them additional areas to explore for homework. 

We see this idea symbolized in the difference in perspective between someone who is eye level with the Menorah’s cups and someone who is perched above the Menorah on steps. When standing at eye level, the Cohen can only see one cup at a time, and he cannot at all see carefully and deeply into each of the cups. From a vantage point high above the Menorah, however, he can see the entire Menorah at one time, and can also peer deeply into each of the cups as he cleans and prepares them. This perspective represents one of a broad and deep knowledge of the material.                                                            

Applying the metaphor that the flames represent the children’s souls, we can learn a second lesson from the Cohen’s elevated position when lighting the Menorah. The educator must be in a position from which he can peer deeply into the souls of his students. He must be able to determine what is troubling them and what they are dealing with so that he can properly address their issues. Additionally, he must be able to see the entire picture. This means that he must be able to see the student not only as an individual, but also as part of the class. How a student interacts with the other students in the class is also a very important component of his education so that, individually and together, they all can radiate the light of the Torah that they are learning. 

* * *

            The Talmud in Tractate Shabbat 22b explains that via what occurred with the central wick, the Menorah served as testimony that Hashem dwelled with the Jewish people 

מחוץ לפרוכת העדות יערוך וכי לאורה הוא צריך והלא כל ארבעים שנה שהלכו בני ישראל במדבר לא הלכו אלא לאורו אלא עדות היא לבאי עולם שהשכינה שורה בישראל מאי עדות אמר רב זו נר מערבי שנותן בה שמן כמדת חברותיה וממנה היה מדליק ובה היה מסיים

When preparing the candles each morning, the Cohen would put enough oil in each cup for its flame to burn through the night. Yet the central candle with the same amount of oil would burn throughout the next day. When it came time to rekindle the Menorah at sundown, the Cohen would use the flame of that candle to kindle all the others. Then he would extinguish it and relight it. This daily miracle proved that Hashem was always with the Jewish nation. 

Understanding that the light of the Menorah represents the light of the Torah, we can see the presence of Hashem is still with the Jewish people.  The miracle of the Menorah’s light burning beyond its natural ability continues through the light of the Torah, which is still shining brilliantly throughout the world, and right here at Partners Detroit!    

Print this article

Leave a Reply