Beha’alotcha: The light within

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you mount the
lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lamp-stand.” Aaron did so; he
mounted the lamps at the front of the lamp-stand, as the Lord had commanded Moses. (B’midbar 8:1-3).

At daybreak he awakens –
the first rays percolate:
a gentle glimmer, cast
over shadowy desert crests.

He rises swiftly, eagerly,
a joyful smile upon his lips
as, once more, his eyes behold
the splendour of the dawn.

The golden Menorah beckons
in the darkened Sanctuary
his heart glories in its beauty;
deftly, his hands light the lamps.

His mind meanders back
as through a sunlit path
to the glow of that first day –
and his soul still brims with awe.


On the words, “Aaron did so,” Rashi says, “This is stated in order to tell the praise of Aaron – that he did not act differently from what he was bidden.” The commentators expand on Rashi’s words.
Both the Vilna Gaon and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotsk comment on the phrase “Aaron did so” – that he did not act differently, – Aaron’s attitude never changed – his service never became a routine and monotonous burden. Each day for 39 years he brought the same sense of reverence as he had on his first day.

In his book Chanukat HaTorah, Rabbi A Y Heschel* asks, “It is an obvious question: What is so praiseworthy about not having acted differently from what The Holy One blessed be He told him?” He brings a kabbalistic explanation concerning the light that is stored up for the righteous in the time to come, which Aaron was able to draw down to the Mishkan by his constantly holy and elevated intentions when he lit the Menorah.

From the work Miginzei HaChassidut, published in 1948, comes the following story: It is told of Rabbi Baruch of Medzibodzh that once he saw Rabbi Levi Yitschak of Berditchev at prayer and watched, as with great enthusiasm, he swayed and rocked as in, “All my bones shall say…”(Tehillim 35:10). He said to him, “If Aaron the priest would have swayed around and rocked while lighting the menorah, like you do when you pray, he would have spilled the oil and knocked over the menorah! And that’s the meaning of “to tell the praise of Aaron – that he did not act differently from what he was bidden,” that when the Holy One blessed be He told Moses to tell Aaron to light the menorah, despite the great enthusiasm and longing which Aaron must have felt, he “did not act differently” – he held back his enthusiasm, passion and trembling and carried out the commandment with inner enthusiasm and restrained fire in his bones.”

Rabbi Meir of Premishlan notes on Rashi’s comment that Aaron did not act differently “even though Aaron was the high priest and on a very high level indeed, no change could be detected in him: he was not haughty because of his high status, but he acted simply and humbly like one of the people.” And the Kotsker Rebbe adds that Aaron’s holy service could not be detected by any external movement or change. The main thing was the inner working of the heart. The essence of all the great things, says the Kotsker, is hidden and secreted in the heart and is not discernible from outside.

On the phrase, “Aaron did so … as the Lord had commanded Moses,” Rabbi Yehuda Leib Eiger ** adds, “Generally our good deeds: our service of God and the mitsvot that we keep, are lacking, both in intention and in action, and it is almost impossible for flesh and blood to keep a mitsva as it should be kept. That is why we pray, “May it be that this mitsva should be considered as though I kept it in all its details and intentions etc.” But of Aaron it is said, “Aaron did so … as the Lord had commanded Moses,” meaning that he did not change a single detail, not in intention and not in action, and that is the great praise, that there is no human being more elevated.”

*Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Cracow (1595-1663) wrote Chanukat HaTorah, a commentary on the Tanach and sayings of the sages.
**Rabbi Yehuda Leib Eiger (1816-1888) was a leading disciple of the Ishbitzer rebbe and a grandson of Rabbi Akiva Eiger.

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