Torah Inspiration A Light Matter?By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d spoke to Moshe, saying: Speak to Aharon and tell him, "When you light
(beha'alosecha) the candles" (Bamidbar 8:1)
As the many commentators point out, there are a few ways to phrase the
above instructions regarding the light of the Menorah; beha'alosecha is not
one of the normal ones. This forced Rashi to comment:
"Because the flame rises upward, an expression denoting ascending is used
for lighting the lamps, implying that one must light them until the light
ascends on its own." (Rashi)
But that is where pshat ends and drush begins. As the Talmud points out,
the Menorah, the symbol of wisdom, and particularly that wisdom which
emanates out from the Oral Law, stood at the south side of the Mishkan. For
this reason, the Talmud says, anyone wishing to increase their wisdom
should face south when praying (Source).
Therefore, the lighting of the Menorah was also symbolic of the lighting of
the fire of inspiration in the hearts of the Jewish people, so that they
would wish to pursue wisdom on their own. For, as the Pri Tzaddik points
out on many occasion, this was the role of the kohen, and particularly the
Kohen Gadol: to cause the Oral Law to enter the heart of every Jew, and to
inspire each and every Jew to pursue his own connection to the Oral Law.
Thus, the Torah tells Aharon HaKohen: when you ignite the Menorah, that is,
the symbol of individual and national connection to the Oral Law, make sure
that it is a flame that can stand on its own, one that reaches Heavenward
by itself. You may have to initiate the flame, but, after that, the flame
must be able to rise independent of any further effort on your part.
What is the basis of such a command? Better yet, what is the basis of such
inspiration, because, in the answer to this question lies the very
foundation of chinuch-banim -- education of children. Because, ideally,
more important than the transmission of Torah concepts in the early,
formative years of a Jewish child, you want to teach a child to find his
own personal source of inspiration to pursue Torah at all costs. For, if a
child is inspired to learn Torah, he or she will learn it the rest of his
or her life, and gain the necessary wisdom.
However, Torah without such inspiration translates into a departure from
any serious learning of it in the early adult years (or even earlier), or,
the pursuit of Torah greatness, but for the WRONG reasons -- such as
personal honor. That's called making the Torah one's own crown, and the
Talmud does not speak to favorably about that direction in learning:
Anyone who uses the crown of Torah (uses the honor of Torah to his
advantage) will be uprooted from the world. (Nedarim 62a)
And, somehow, that inspiration has to be rooted in a genuine personal
desire to feel "close" to G-d.
Š The seven lamps should give light over against the face of the Menorah Š
" Š The wicks of the three on the east side should face toward the central
one, and, likewise, the three on the west side Š" (Rashi)
-- while the central is pointed straight up, toward G-d. It is as if to say
that the other six lights of the Menorah (which correspond to the six days
of creation and the six millennia of history), are all just to "launch" us
in the direction of G-d. Therefore, the essence of good chinuch (education)
is facilitating the child's own desire to feel the presence of G-d,
something that must be inspired, because it must be pursued with one's
Inspiration is something we feel when we see the worthiness of an act, and
the importance of our being involved in carrying it out. The more noble the
cause, (at least as it appears to us, the more inspiration we are likely to
feel. All of a sudden, some kind of inner mechanism kicks in during a
moment of inspiration, and we find ourselves motivated like never before.
The ideal form of inspiration is the kind that we feel when we catch a
glimpse of G-d's master plan, and how we can contribute to its completion.
Somehow, it doesn't make a difference whether or not we succeed. All that
counts is that we try, give it our best shot, because that will make G-d
happy that He made us, and gave us the opportunity to be involved in His
world. In reaching for G-d, we realize, we are, in fact, reaching our
Aharon HaKohen understood this, which is what gave him the ability to
function in the extremely holy position of High Priest. The Menorah
symbolized this, and this is why the lighting of it was associated with
Aharon himself, though, as the Ramban points out, any kohen could have
fulfilled the mitzvah.
And, thus, it was Aharon's job to transmit this message to the rest of the
nation, to "light their fire," so-to-speak, so that each and every Jew
could hook into that master plan, and feel a sense of destiny being
attached to it. This would then result in a great desire to be a partner in
G-d's plan for creation, bringing the person closer to G-d in the process,
and closer to their own personal level of greatness and fulfillment.
On the day the Mishkan was assembled, the cloud covered the Tent of the
Testimony. In the evening until the morning, it appeared as if fire was on
the Mishkan. That was the way it usually was: the cloud covered it [by
day], and there was the ap-pearance of fire by night. When the cloud rose
from above the Mishkan, then the Children of Israel marched on; where the
cloud stopped, the Children of Israel camped. Thus at the command of G-d
the Children of Israel traveled, and at the command of G-d they camped ...
As we have mentioned before, life in the desert was meant to be preparation
for life in Eretz Yisroel. This is why the Torah emphasizes information and
lessons that otherwise would make no difference to us, since we have long
left life in the desert. For, within the context of the "big picture," we
are still in the "desert," and will remain there until Moshiach comes to
In fact, America has long been called a "desert." There is a famous story
of how Rabbi Aharon Cutler, zt"l, after World War II, when trying to decide
whether to take refuge in Eretz Yisroel or America at the time, did what is
called the "Goral HaGra." Someone who is knowledgeable "randomly" opens the
Chumash, and interprets the relevant verses that appear for pertinent
information regarding the question; it is a lesser form of Ruach HaKodesh,
which is a lesser form of prophecy.
Rabbi Cutler, upon opening the Chumash, just "happened" to turn to the
verse that says, "G-d said to Aharon, 'Go into the desert toward Moshe Š'."
(Shemos 4:27). Rav Aharon understood this to be a reference to Rabbi Moshe
Feinstein, zt"l, who had already been living in New York at the time (and
who was actually born on Moshe Rabbeinu's yahrzeit), desperately trying to
build up the American Orthodox community. Rabbi Cutler's fateful move to
the "Desert" resulted directly in the building of one of the biggest and
most famous yeshivos in this century, "Lakewood Yeshivah," and he is
credited with the rebuilding of the Orthodox Jewish world after the Holocaust.
However, in a broader sense, the "desert" refers to the corridor of time
between the moment we left Egyptian slavery and the moment we enter the
Final Redemption under the leadership of the Moshiach, who, the Arizal
says, will have the soul of Moshe Rabbeinu. And the verses above are
telling us how to navigate the desert of each and every generation, on our
way to personal redemption, and, G-d willing, national and world redemption.
Thus at the command of G-d the Children of Israel traveled, and at the
command of G-d they camped ...
We Jews "travel" and "camp" at the command of G-d. When G-d says "Move!" we
pick up and move; when G-d says "Stop!" we put our things down and settle
down, until the Divine command comes to move on.
And thus we have wandered through the annals of history until this very
day. The question has never been, "Will we have to move again?" but rather,
"WHEN will we have to move again?" And judging from history, we have never
really been ready to move when the call came, with the exception of a few
individuals and groups who merited to read the writing on the wall before
it became official news. This is why we have been forced to abandon
generations' worth of wealth to the non-Jews who have pushed us out,
seemingly unwitting messengers of Heaven Above.
But, a person may argue, life in THAT desert was much different than life
in THIS desert. During the forty years of wandering, the clothing never
wore out, bread fell from Heaven, and making money was never an issue. We
did not live among the non-Jews, and never had to work among them either.
Therefore we never had to "fit in" to their society, which, in THIS desert,
has created all kinds of demands upon us that has made life as a Jew difficult.
So, recently, someone wrote me, based upon a previous parshah sheet, and
asked the question that most asked by people entertaining the possibility
of making aliyah: How will I survive financially in Eretz Yisroel? While on
my most recent trip, another question came up: Why should I live in Israel
when doing mitzvos is so much easier for me here in America?
The answer is the same to both questions, which we can arrive at through a
parable. How does a wife feel about receiving flowers every year on her
anniversary -- if her husband happens to be a florist? Is it the flowers
that convey the message of the husband's love and concern for his wife on
their anniversary, or, the effort expended by the husband in sending the
"According to the effort is the reward" (Pirkei Avos 5:22), the rabbis tell
us, and that is particularly true about mitzvos. Mesiros nefesh --
self-sacrifice -- for G-d is the currency of the World-to-Come, not just
the execution of the commandments. The more of us we put into our mitzvos
and our pursuit of holiness, that is, a closer relationship to G-d, the
greater the statement of love we convey to G-d.
When it comes to parnassa, it is the hand of G-d that supports us on either
side of the ocean. "All is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of
Heaven" (Brochos 34b) is true ANYWHERE in the world. What changes from
Chutz L'Aretz to Eretz Yisroel is the willingness of a Jew to live with the
reality of the Divine hand in his or her life.
The illusion of self-dependency in Chutz L'Aretz is exactly that: an
illusion. And, being an illusion, it becomes a test, one than can easily be
failed an entire lifetime -- one gift horse that, perhaps, ought to be
looked at "in the mouth."
On the other hand, life in Eretz Yisroel may not be as materialistic as it
may be outside of Israel, but that is not a curse, but one of the biggest
blessings a person can enjoy in this world. For, it makes it far easier to
be able to "move" or "camp" at the word of G-d, especially at a moment's
Moshe heard the people crying with their families near the entrances of
their tents (Bamidbar 11:10)
"Families gathered together and cried to make public their complaints. Our
rabbis said [that they complained] regarding families, that is, the family
relationships that were forbidden to them." (Rashi)
However, one may ask, was this the first time they heard about the
forbidden relationships? Did they not hear about the prohibitions of
incestual relationships over a year ago?
That is the Sifsei Chachamim's question, and he answers something very
interesting that has relevance to every generation. He says:
"Prior to the arrangement of the camps according to tribe, all Jews
intermingled Š But now that each tribe was by itself, the women of one
tribe did not come near the [men of] another tribe [and therefore avoiding
marriage among relatives became more difficult]. (Sifsei Chachamim)
In other words, the Sifsei Chachamim is explaining, it was a shidduchim
problem they had cried about. They had been frightened by the lack of
potential spouses, on the one hand because they were cut off from the women
of other tribes, and, on the other hand, because they were forbidden to
marry some of the women from their own tribes. The introduction of the
tribe-by-tribe order greatly reduced the possibility of finding wives, and
that they felt was reason enough to cry!
Were they wrong? The Torah seems to say so. However, considering the
following Talmudic passage, maybe they had what to worry about:
Rabbah bar Bar Chanah said in the name of Rebi Yochanan: Pairing people
[for marriage] is as difficult as splitting the sea was! (Sotah 2a)
However, concludes the Talmud, that difficulty is referring to second
marriages, for, as the Talmud adds:
Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Forty days prior to the formation of
the embryo, a Heavenly voice goes out and states, "So-and-so will marry
In other words, when it comes to the first marriage of individuals, long
before the man and woman are even of age to consider the possibility of
being married to each other one day, they have been paired up in Heaven,
something, Rashi explains, that is a function of mazel (destiny). In such
cases, it is never a matter of TO WHOM, but, one of WHEN, and therefore,
theoretically, the tribes had little to cry about if they were being
married for the first time, and that is true in EVERY generation -- no
matter WHAT desperate news the shadchanim deliver.
However, when it comes to second marriages, says Rashi, the spiritual
quality of one's actions plays a role in the mating process, and, it is
very unlikely that one will meet his true soul-mate and spiritual equal.
Therefore, just like splitting the sea went against its "natural"
existence, so, too, are second marriages against the natures of the spouses
(somewhat), which means more work to make them work out.
This is why there is a comparison being made to the splitting of the sea.
For, just as the sea had to be split -- a great miracle to be sure --
without sufficient merit to warrant such a miracle, so, too, must the
miracle of a compatible marriage be executed without sufficient merit of
the individuals involved. That requires even more trust in G-d than normal,
something we humans don't like to rely upon, ESPECIALLY when it comes to
getting married. And, the more we have to wait to find our partners, the
more desperate the situation appears to us, and the more we doubt G-d's
That's really what the tribes were crying about. More available women and
men meant less need for Divine precision, less need for trust in G-d. But
this is just a parable for all matters of daily life, particularly when it
comes to earning a living -- particularly when it comes to earning a living
in Eretz Yisroel.
The terminology that "it is easier to earn a living in [choose your country
of preference]" means: there is less need to rely on G-d to take care of me
and my needs. "There are more opportunities in Š" people will say, meaning
that there is less need to rely on Heaven's precision in finding one that
works for them.
The truth is, it is G-d Who helps the Jew find his job, be it in Eretz
Yisroel or Chutz L'Aretz. So what's the difference, then? The difference is
that, whereas in Eretz Yisroel it is G-d who helps the person find his
matching profession at any given point in time, perhaps through a
messenger, in Chutz L'Aretz, He may work through a messenger, who works
through a messenger, who works through a messenger, and so on.
In other words, outside of Israel, one runs a tremendous risk of not seeing
the hand of G-d sufficiently in his or life, and, as a result, he or she
fails to sufficiently praise G-d for His help. On the other hand, daily
life is clearly a miracle in Eretz Yisroel, and, as a result, words of
praise continuously flow from the mouths of many Jews here. Each word of
praise is another building block in the eternal "home" of the Jew in the
It is interesting to note that a wife, in the Torah, is referred to as
"bread," the symbol of one's livelihood (Bereishis 39:6; Rashi). She is
also called "house," symbolic of the home she is to build around her
husband, which is why she walks around her husband under the Chuppah seven
Why seven times? To symbolize that she must help her husband to draw down
the Divine Presence from the seventh and farthest level of Heaven -- the
ultimate expression of Hester Panim -- the Hiding of G-d's Face. It is the
woman's role to foster the values that make a home fitting for the Divine
Presence to visit, and within which to dwell.
Why counter-clockwise? To symbolize her need to be willing to go against
societal pressures and natural tendencies, when they interfere with
building a true Jewish home. And, a true Jewish home is built upon trust in
G-d; the more trust in G-d plays a role in the family life, the more Jewish
the home will be. And when this is not the case, G-d forbid, then "family
matters" become something to cry about.
How can I repay G-d for all His kindness to me? (Tehillim 116:12)
This is the second half of the tehillah we began to discuss last week. The
theme of this section is giving thanks to G-d for all the good He does for
us, in spite of the fact that they are too numerous to count and repay.
Fortunately G-d understands and appreciates that human limitation, and
accepts our desire to do so as compensation for what we cannot repay.
I will raise the cup of salvations and I will invoke the Name of G-d Š (13)
According to Rashi, this is not a simple imbibing of wine to celebrate
personal redemption. This verse refers to the Wine-Offerings that are
destined to be brought along with the Thanksgiving-Offerings when we return
to Eretz Yisroel at the end of this long and final exile. Just as Dovid
HaMelech made vows while on the run to bring sacrifices upon his safe
return to Eretz Yisroel, so, too, will the returning exiles feel compelled
to bring offerings to thank G-d for their return to Eretz Yisroel.
Please G-d, for I am Your servant, the son of your handmaid, You have
released my bonds Š (16)
Š Because the slave who is the son of a handmaid is far more submissive
than one who was born free, and later became a slave (Rashi). As the Sforno
explains, a person born into freedom remains a free spirit even if he is
forced into slavery. Only the fear of punishment and the possibility of
reward reigns his will in and brings his actions in line with the will of
However, a slave, the son of a slave, has no will but His master's; it is
the only world he has even known. Dovid HaMelech is conveying the extent to
which we must be willing to depend upon G-d to succeed in life. We may
think that we're in control, but ultimately, without G-d's help, we cannot
release ourselves from our bonds.
And, there is no greater bond than the one the yezter hara has over us. In
fact, all external troubles are just physical manifestations of spiritual
weaknesses we have as individuals, and ultimately, as a people. If we can
become free of the shackles of the yetzer hara, then, all physical
obstacles and entanglements become nothing more than passing thoughts. This
is true of all the enemies of the Jewish people throughout all the ages.
Hence, Dovid HaMelech's plea to G-d: Because of my very lowliness and my
inherent human weaknesses, I am imprisoned forever by that which binds me.
Unless, of course, You help me. And, it is this very recognition that
begins and brings about the process of personal and national redemption,
and what resulted, ultimately, in Dovid's right to be the "father" of
Moshiach, whenever he finally arrives, may it be in our time. It is this
that allows to grow beyond the yetzer hara, in order to become an
independent light reflecting the light of G-d.
Have a great Shabbos,