HASHEM said to Moshe saying, “Speak to Aaron and say to him: When you
kindle the lamps, toward the face of the Menorah shall the seven lamps
cast light.” Aaron did so… (Bamidbar 8:1-2)
Aaron did so: To teach you the praise of Aaron that he did not change.
What’s so great that Aaron lit the lights? Anybody could do that! Why
would he do differently from what he understood with perfect clarity G-d
had told him to do?
The Sefas Emes offers an answer that not only did Aaron not deviate in the
behavior of lighting the first time but for all forty years in the desert
he maintained the same high degree of intensity and enthusiasm as if it
was the first and only time. Our question is, “How does one dream of doing
that?” Aren’t we naturally dulled by repetitive experiences? How can an
action remain fresh and alive after so many years?
Here’s a story my wife, for some mystical reason, likes me to tell. There
was a young married man who was learning Torah for many years. He was
climbing in learning and stature. As his beard grew long and began to gray
his coat became longer and his hat brim widened. One day when his wife
asked him to take out the garbage he insisted that it was not befitting
his honor to do such a thing anymore. His wife protested and he agreed
that he would ask the head of the Yeshiva what should be the proper
The young scholar spelled out the problem to the elder Rabbi who
understood right away the seriousness of the situation. He told the young
man, “You are right! It is certainly not befitting your honor anymore to
take out the garbage!” Satisfied, the young scholar shared the news with
his wife during dinner time that evening. She was a bit surprised but if
that’s what the Rabbi decided she would have to accept it.
Just then, a knock came to the door. It was the head Rabbi of the
Yeshiva. “What was he doing here, now?” They wondered. He asked where the
garbage was and proceeded to carry it out of the house. They were
aghast. “What is the Rabbi doing?” asked the man. “I’m taking out the
garbage!” was the Rabbi’s reply! “I thought you told me it wasn’t fitting
my honor to take out the garbage!?” the man asked in wonderment, to which
the Rabbi answered, “It’s not befitting your honor! This is too big of a
job for someone who is concerned about his own honor! I’ll take out the
The Talmud in Tractate Yuma relates how the young Kohanim, the children of
Aaron, would compete daily for the opportunity to remove the ashes from
the Altar each morning. This prize amounts to not more than the act
of “taking out the garbage” but in the context of the Holy Temple it is
suddenly tinged with excitement! I think we can understand why.
About violations the Chovos Halevavos writes, “Don’t look at the smallness
of the violation but rather at the greatness of HASHEM against Whom you
have sinned. Don’t rejoice that no person recognizes or has discovered
your ill-intentions but rather you should mourn that the Creator knows
what you have hidden.” When it comes to doing Mitzvos this phrase has
equal application. No job is too small for the truly great person. If the
stage of the event places one before the gaze of the Creator then no job
is insignificant and deed at risk of become dull even through repetition.
Our sages have already cautioned that, “All your deeds should be done for
the sake of heaven!” (Pirke Avos) The Kotzker Rebbe redoubled the warning
that your- “for the sake of heaven” -intention should also be “for the
sake of heaven”. Therein is found the greatness of Aaron’s lifetime
achievement and our daily challenge.