Thursday, June 16, 2016

Beha'alotcha 76 - The Menorah provides protection from external influences

A major concern for any educator or parent is to protect ourselves, our children and students from negative external   influences. The lighting of the 7 lamps of the Menorah by Aaron which appears at the beginning of our parasha provides the guidance and insight needed to deal with outside influences.

Sefer Bamidbar, the book of Numbers deals with the journey of the nation in the desert as a camp. In the center of the camp was the sanctuary- Mishkan  where the Divine Presence – shechina resided  amongst them.  The nation, participated in the inauguration of the Mishkan and the Altar through the voluntary sacrifices and donations brought by  the tribal leaders. Aaron was not inspired to bring offerings and donations, so he and the tribe of Levi did not participate in the dedication of the Altar and sanctuary חנוכת המזבח- . When Aaron saw that the offerings of the tribal leaders were accepted by God, it was too late to join in, as the donation of the leader of the tribe of Ephraim was counted as the 12th tribe. Aaron was grieved and despondent that he and his tribe did not participate in the inauguration ceremony  in expressing the nation's joy and appreciation of the sanctuary.  God comforted Aaron and said that he will be given the mitzvah of dedicating the Menorah and preparing, arranging and kindling the lamps of the Menorah. This  mitzvah was greater than the dedication of the  Altar by the tribal leaders and their  donations and offerings. The nation would also   participate by bringing the oil for the lamps and  so Aaron would be their representative in lighting the Menorah. Unlike the sacrifices of the tribal leaders, the lighting of the Menorah had an element of eternity and was thus greater than the dedication offerings. Aaron would have plenty of opportunities to be the representative of holiness and God's emissary in the service in the Sanctuary, but only the kindling of the Menorah in the inauguration service of the sanctuary חנוכת המשכן would provide Aaron the opportunity to represent the nation.
God instructs Moses to tell Aaron that when he lights the lamps of the Menorah, the 3 wicks on each side of the menorah's central shaft should be inclined towards the center light and not towards the outside - Numbers 8:2 .דַּבֵּר אֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ אֶת הַנֵּרֹת אֶל מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה יָאִירוּ שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת:  The reason was that the divine presence – shechinah lit up the sanctuary, so there was no need for the light of the Menorah. The Menorah was there for man's benefit and elevation – בהעלתך  . The Midrash describes a blind man being walked home by a friend. When they enter the blind's man home, the friend asks the blind man to switch on the lights. The friend could have done it himself, but he wanted to give the blind man an opportunity to reciprocate and express gratitude. The Midrash says that the lighting of the Menorah was an expression of man's gratitude for the light that God shines on our lives through his Mishkan and Torah. It is an elevation for man, and for his merit that man expresses his gratitude to God   by engaging   in the learning of God's Torah and spreading God's light in the world. Aaron and the priests are the teachers of the nation, who will become a ' light unto the nations' and bring the world closer to God. מלאכי ב:ז- (ז) כִּי שִׂפְתֵי כֹהֵן יִשְׁמְרוּ דַעַת וְתוֹרָה יְבַקְשׁוּ מִפִּיהוּ    The prophet Malachi says of the priests , that ' the lips of the priest will preserve knowledge and they will seek Torah from his mouth'. Another Midrash also talks about God not needing the light of the Menorah and  the mitzvah to light the lamps is for our benefit. 
' See: when a person builds a house, he makes windows in the house, since he wants the light to enter.  So he makes the windows narrow on the outside, and wide on the inside.  Why?  In order that the light will enter from outside and illuminate inside.  But when King Solomon built the Temple, he did not make the windows like this.  Rather, he made them narrow on the inside and wide on the outside, in order that the light would emanate from the Temple and illuminate outwards. The light of the sanctuary and the temple –מקדש depends on the participation of the nation in the kindling of the Menorah lamps. The Light of the Menorah is symbolic of God's wisdom and Torah. It is the nation through its teachers who become the messengers of God, and it is through their actions, prayers and learning that the temple maintains its sanctity and holiness and remains a place for God's presence and a center for people to access God's holiness. The purpose of the Menorah is to bring light to the world and not to light up the sanctuary and temple.
The Netziv in his commentary on the Torah – Emek Davar  Numbers 8:2 and Exodus  37:19 says that the Menorah is symbolic of God's wisdom as expressed in creative and new thoughts in Torah and its  intricate discussions -  chidushei and pil'lpulei ha'torah. The seven shafts represent the '  7 branches of wisdom ' which are included in the oral law. One needs an appreciation of the ' 7 branches of wisdom to get an understanding and appreciation of the Torah. The Torah waters, enriches and gives context to wisdom and wisdom waters and enriches knowledge and the intellect which enables one to know and understand the complexity and fine points of God's word. שהתורה משקה בחכמות. והחכמות משקים הדעת לדעת ולהבין דקדוקי דבר ה'  The complexity of modern halacha requires in many instances knowledge of science, medicine and the social sciences etc.
We have discussed above how the lighting of the Menorah lamps and the structure of the windows of the temple were designed with the purpose of illuminating the outside world and bringing the light of the Torah to others. The way we can protect ourselves and children from outside influences is that we become people with a message, people who can make an impact on others and influence the outside world rather than being influenced. The second way we protect our children from external influences is by providing them with a healthy attitude to ' wisdom', knowledge and learning in general. We teach children to look at the world and any learning whether formal or informal, scientific, religious or socio-moral learning using the lenses of the Torah, in order to see the world through the eyes of the Torah. The Mishnah tells us that a wise man is one who learns from every one and all life experiences. We show how our general learning and life experiences inform our Torah and how our Torah learning informs our general learning and life experiences. In this way, we manage to integrate all learning and life experiences into a Torah outlook that reflects also our personalities, our chelek –part in the Torah and our unique way of looking at the world. A well rounded and integrated personality is one who can impact on the world and be learning all the time. If the role of the Jewish people is to be a light unto the nations and help the world solve its problem using Torah principles and values, we need people who are informed by both the wisdom of the Torah and wisdom in general. In this way, we will see the realization of the eternal message of the kindling of the Menorah lamps and the illumination of the world with the light of the Torah.

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