This week’s Torah portion begins with the instruction to the Kohain regarding the kindling of the menorah in the Sanctuary.
“Speak to Aaron and say to him: ‘When you will raise up the lamps ... ” (Numbers 8:1-2).
Why does the Torah use the word “Behaaloscho” — which means “when you will raise up” — to describe this lighting of the menorah?
Rashi explains that the Kohain had to make certain that the flames continue to rise upward — continue to burn and shine brightly — not fizzle and burn out.
“The soul of man is the lamp of G-d.” Just as the light of the menorah must be a steady flame that rises, so it must be with the soul of a Jew. Each one of us has those special moments in our lives when we’re inspired and awakened to come closer to G-d. Our souls are set on fire. The question is what happens when those moments come to an end? Do things go back to the way they were before, or does the light keep shining?
The Torah tells us that the soul must remain kindled and continue rising upward. If you have a spiritual moment, you must find a way to take the power of that moment, keep it shining and apply it to the rest of your life.
After the Torah’s instructions regarding the kindling of the menorah, it goes on to tell us “Va-yas kain Aharon” — that Aaron, the High Priest, did exactly as he was instructed. Rashi comments that this teaches us the greatness of Aaron, that “he did not change.” In other words, he did exactly as he was told and did not change a thing from the way G-d said it should be done.
But the Sfas Emes explains this on a deeper level. For most people, when a new event takes place, it’s exciting and captivating. But then, after a while, the novelty wears off and it’s not so fascinating anymore. The first time you see the Grand Canyon, it takes your breath away; the second time, still somewhat breathtaking; the third time, the wonder is not quite there anymore. For those who pass it every day, it certainly loses its majesty.
This week’s parsha tells us something unique and interesting about the nature of Torah and spirituality. When Aaron lit the menorah for the first time, he did it with a sense of wonder, freshness and enthusiasm. Wow! An amazing new mitzvah being performed for the first time in history! But the magical part of it was that Aaron did not change! He never changed. When he lit the menorah for the second time, the fifth time or even the thousandth time, he did it with the exact same fervor and enthusiasm as the very first time. The novelty never wore off. It was always that same fresh and exciting mitzvah.
Torah can and should be as new and as exciting to us today as it was on the day we first received it at Mount Sinai. Judaism doesn’t get old. We don’t get bored just because we’ve done it before. The flame of our inner Mmnorah, the fire that is our soul, is consistent. It’s always burning bright. “Behaaloscho” — it’s always rising upward.
A great-grandmother can light Shabbos candles with the same glow in her heart as when she was a 3-year-old girl.
In Jewish life, holy events are not just fireworks that flash and then fizzle out. They are lights of holiness that are kindled for the sake of rising higher and higher — forever and ever. JN
Rabbi Yossi Bryski is the director of the Alternative Sentencing Department at the Aleph Institute, a nonprofit Jewish organization committed to criminal justice reform.