By Dr. Meir Tamari
When Aharon saw that all the princes brought sacrifices, except those of the tribe of Levi, his mind was weakened. Their sacrifices were accepted even though they brought spontaneously and as a result of an outpouring of religious ecstasy, rather than of a command. He, being the essence of the mind, felt that perhaps, he and his tribe of Levi had not been forgiven for the sin of the Golden Calf. Hashem told him his contribution was greater than that of the princes. Their contribution, together with all the other sacrifices would cease when the Temple was destroyed, whereas his lighting of the menorah would continue even after the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash and even into the Galut. This midrash ( Devarim Rabba,15) is problematic since we know that the service of the Menorah ceased together with the rest of the temple service. Nachmanides, explains that the promise of G-d referred to the lighting of the candles of Hanukkah.
There is a halakhic explanation as to why the Menorah and the sacrifices could not continue after the destruction of the Temple. The sacrifices, including the incense, were totally the service of the Cohanim alone. So too, the arranging of the Menorah, the oil and the wicks are considered to be defined as the work of the priest and forbidden to non-priests. Therefore they could not be continued without the Bet Hamikdash or in the Galut. However, the actual lighting of the Menorah was not considered to be a priestly service and so, was halakhically permitted to anyone. From this we can learn that lighting the menorah and later the candles of Hanukkah, were not restricted to the Temple as were the sacrifices and the other avodot of the Cohanim. Therefore they could be continued even in Galut.
There is, however, a spiritual connotation to the actual lights of the Menorah that distinguishes them from the sacrifices, and makes it possible to be performed even in the exile. The lights were the symbol of the religiosity and spirituality that grow from below [earthly] to the upper levels [in heaven] above. Rashi comments that the lights of the menorah were turned upward. Therefore they represent a worshipping that brings forth the human expression of ecstasy, whereby people's eyes see upward. This is the work of the Levites through song and prayer, both of which are open and public expressions, and therefore could be continued in the Exile. The worship of the priests, however, was hidden as it was performed within the walls of the Temple and in areas where strangers could not come. The high priest on Yom Kippur went unaccompanied into the very most recesses of the Kodesh HaHedoshim, the Holy of Holies; as we read, “That which is performed in secret, comes to atone for the sin[of lashon harah] committed in secret” (Yoma, 44a). Jerusalem, the site of the Temple, is surrounded by hills, another expression of the hidden nature of the Temple service. This worship is meant to bring spirituality down from heaven, to the world below and could only be performed within the confines of the Bet HaMikdash. It is true that the korbanot of the princes were the expression of their spontaneity and ecstasy, and should therefore have been possible outside of the Temple. However, they and the incense that are symbols of spirituality, were an integral part of the priestly service that limited them to the Bet HaMikdash. The lights of Hanukah, which were the service of the Hasmonean priests, were a reward for their voluntary actions and outpouring of dedication to HaShem. This continued the service of the Levites and therefore could exist even in the Galut.
These differences between the avodah of the Cohanim and that of the Levities, relate to the spiritual differences between Eretz Yisrael and all the countries of the Galut. Galut is rooted in ‘gilui’ that is something uncovered and public. This makes possible the ecstatic worship from below, that urges one upward to Heaven. So there is a role for the lights even in Galut. However, just as the public domain, reshut Harabbim, halakhically can only serve to acquire ownership up to 10 tefachim, hands breadths high, so too we limit the types of worship that apply to the Golah. These countries have a ‘tumah’, impurity, which seeks to attach itself to the purity of Divine worship. In contrast, Eretz Yisrael has a sanctity that does not permit evil and impurity to attach themselves to our Divine worship. It is a land that, “the eyes of the Lord are on, from the beginning of the year till the end of the year”. Avraham leaves his birthplace because there the Tumah of the Galut can attach itself to him. Even in Eretz Yisrael, he announces to ‘Bnei Chet’, that he is a stranger and a sojourner, so that the tumah of the Canaanites should not have a connection to him and attach themselves to his worship. Therefore, the hidden worship like that of the Kohanim, that seeks to bring down blessing from on High, has no place outside the confines of Eretz Yisrael.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Project Genesis, Inc.
Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.