This week’s Torah reading begins with the instructions to Aharon the High Priest on how to light the menorah in the Tabernacle. The instructions are, that when lighting the wicks of the menorah, the three wicks on the right, and the three wicks on the left, must all face the center wick.
ספר במדבר פרק ח
(א) וַיְדַבֵּר יְדוָד אֶל משֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:
(ב) דַּבֵּר אֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ אֶת הַנֵּרֹת אֶל מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה יָאִירוּ שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת:
Hashem spoke to Moshe saying,
“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.”
The word used for “kindle” in this verse, is peculiar. Instead of using the usual word “להדליק”, the word used in the blessing for lighting Shabbat candles, or Chanukah candles, (להדליק נר של שבת) the Torah uses the word “בהעלותך” which means “when you make them (the flames) go up”.
Rashi, picks up on this unusual usage and presents us with two practical lessons to the Cohen when lighting the menorah.
- Since it is the nature of a flame to always point upwards, you need to keep holding the candle which you are lighting from, at the new candle until the new flame goes up and is burning strongly on its own.
- There need to be steps in front of the menorah so Aharon can see into the cups when he cleans them out every day. Cleaning out the cups each morning in preparation for the new kindling was the first step in the service of kindling the menorah on a daily basis. The menorah was then lit at sundown each day and the candles burned throughout the night.
What could be the meaning behind these two instructions? Does it make any difference in the new flame if you hold the match to the wick a little longer until the flame goes up by itself?
And why would Aharon have needed a step stool to light the menorah? The menorah was only about four and half feet high and if Aharon was of normal height he surely would have been able to reach the wicks of the menorah to light them.
Our sages derive many valuable and relevant lessons from these two instructions. Here are a few to consider.
A flame is used in scripture as a metaphor for the soul of a person, as seen in this verse in Proverbs.
(1) ספר משלי פרק כ
(כז) נֵר יְדֹוָד נִשְׁמַת אָדָם
“A man’s soul is the lamp of Hashem”
Based on this, the kindling of the menorah could serve as a metaphor for the act of educating our children in Torah, igniting them with the fire of the Torah.
The first lesson is, to hold the candle to the wick until the flame goes up on its own. This means that as educators we need to teach the material to the children until they have the tools to learn on their own. It is not enough to simply provide information to the student, so that he can memorize it and can give it back to us when we ask for it. We must provide him with the tools he needs to be able to study independently on his own; until he is a self -sustaining flame.
This concept of giving a child the tools to be independent rather than just giving him information is really a concept that applies to education on all levels. This means to say, that 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 actually hidden in a contronym in the Torah. A contronym is a word that has two opposite meanings such as the word buckle for example. This word means to connect two things such as to buckle your belt, but buckle also means to fall apart such as to buckle under pressure.
The word גמל (gomel) in the Torah means to give or bestow. At the same time, it means to wean a suckling baby from its nursing. When a baby is weaned, the mother systematically withholds her milk from her child with the intention of not giving him any more. That is the exact opposite of giving! How does this work?
The answer is that the greatest gift a mother can give to her baby is his freedom from his dependency on her. She is giving him his autonomy and allowing him to go off on his own and pursue his own interests. Independence is the greatest gift a parent can give their child. This means that they have equipped him with all the lessons and skills he will need to live a meaningful and productive life.
We want to tell our children, “Let me show you how to do that,” rather than, “Let me do that for you.”
This also builds self-confidence in our children and gives them the ability to believe in their own abilities, because we have expressed to them that we know they are capable of doing it themselves and do not need us to do it for them.
This is a lesson why we must hold the fire to the new candle until it is able to go up itself.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein OB”M explains that the two lessons are really related to one another, and that the second lesson is actually the secret of to how to achieve the first lesson. How does one go about educating his pupil until he has the tools to learn on his own? By having a broad and deep knowledge of the material he is teaching. This is symbolized in the difference in perspective between someone who is eye level with the cups of the menorah and someone who is perched above the menorah on steps. When standing at eye level with the menorah, the Cohen would only be able to see one cup of the menorah at a time. He would also not be able to look carefully and deeply into each of the cups. However, from a vantage point high above the menorah, he can see the whole menorah at one time, and 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.
There is perhaps another lesson that we can learn from the need for the Cohen to go up steps when lighting the menorah. When will an educator be successful in igniting the spark of Torah and the love for learning in his students? When he himself is still on fire with the love of learning and Torah. 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 Torah will be sure to spill over to his students and infect them with a love of Torah and learning. This will also be the greatest motivation to the students 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.
As parents, we are important educators to our children. These are a few valuable lessons that can help us in our efforts to raise children who will love Torah and learning.
Additional points to ponder.
- Look carefully at the verse. It says to light the wicks on the right and left to face the center wick so that the seven lights will cast their light. Shouldn’t it have said the six candles?
What lesson can we learn from the fact that the Cohen has to peer into the cups to prepare them for the new lighting?