And HASHEM spoke to Moshe saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and say to
him’, “When you kindle the lamps, towards the face of the Menorah shall
the seven lamps cast light.” (Bamidbar 8:1-2)
When you kindle: Why was the passage dealing with the kindling of the
Menorah put next to the passage dealing with the contribution and
offerings of the princes? Because when Aaron saw the inauguration of the
princes he felt badly because neither he nor his tribe (Levi) was with
them in the inauguration. The Holy One Blessed is He said to him, “I swear
by your life that your role is greater than theirs for you kindle and
prepare the lamps!” (Rashi)
Why was Aaron feeling so down about his tribe’s lack of participation in
the inauguration? From a puerile perspective we can appreciate the
dynamics of jealousy, but from when considering the greatness of Aaron the
High Priest, the brother of Moshe, a superior spiritual specimen, how does
it make sense? Somehow is Aaron is meant to be consoled that his
contribution is greater than theirs. This too sounds awfully infantile to
the untutored ear. Who cares whether or not somebody else’s gift was
bigger or better than another!?
When Rashi describes the nature of that service which is greater than the
others, it looks like the order of activities is backwards. First it
speaks of kindling then it talks about preparing the lamps. Isn’t the
action done in the other way? First prepare the candles and then light
them! Why is it listed the other way around?
Let us imagine that a certain Yeshiva makes a huge and elegant dinner to
honor the dedication of their brand new building. Many dignitaries and
honored guests assemble to dine on the finest of culinary delights and to
revel in the aura of well orchestrated rhetorical oratory. Many masterful
speeches are delivered to shower the generous donors with well deserved
honors. The room wakes up with applause and laughter time and time again.
Ornate awards, artwork, and trophies are presented to each of the honorees
in proportion to the measure of their magnanimity. Everyone is granted a
special honor scroll for a keepsake and door prizes to remember the
special occasion are distributed.
After the all the grandiose festivities one table filled with the teachers
and the students of the Yeshiva is noticeably quiet. They were
conspicuously absent from the program and they had been the recipients of
zero verbal or material attention that evening. The Master of Ceremonies
then approaches that group and sensing their sense of dislocation from the
festivities reminds them, “Now that the building has been dedicated and
the fixed costs of doing business have been put in place, now that the
dinner and the fanfare is over, your daily role as lifetime teachers and
learners takes over.”
It’s not that Aaron was honored with lighting the Menorah once and that
his was his swipe at glory. No! His job and the job of the Kohen- class
was a teaching job. It’s not done with one major speech, or a single
swing of the bat. Rather every day requires new preparation and
rededication to the constancy of the cause.
Aaron was anxious to make a contribution. He was perhaps concerned about
the phenomenon known as the “edifice complex”, that the correct values had
been exchanged and overwhelmed by the grandeur of the building itself.
Now, it might be taking on more significance than the purpose for which it
was originally intended. Then a real and true internal memo was sent to
Aaron and to us for all time. Learning and teaching Torah may not seem as
glorious as other activities but it certainly makes all the others
worthwhile, and the secret of success is not in the fanfare of the
lighting but in the gritty and quiet trenches of daily preparation.