The Menorah - A Lesson in Parenting
Lighting the menorah – the great candelabra – in the Temple seems to be a
very straight forward, cut and dried matter. One needs little skill or
training apparently to light a candelabra. Yet the Torah’s emphasis in
this week’s parsha insures that a deeper meaning is also present to this
seemingly mundane and simple act.
Rashi already indicates the presence of this deeper idea by his comment
that the obligation of the kohein was to keep his fire at the candelabra’s
wick, “until they caught and burned brightly on their own.” This is a rule
not only in lighting a menorah but also in life generally – in raising and
educating children and students, in inspiring others with ideals, skills
It is a rule in the home, the classroom, the workplace and anywhere else
in human life where people intersect and influence one another. It applies
in those areas of life that are also subject to this challenge - that the
wick has to catch fire and rise on its own.
The ability to let the “wick” catch fire and flame eventually on its own
is a necessary trait in successful parenting and teaching. It is always
difficult to let go of a child and a student. One becomes so emotionally
involved that letting go becomes increasingly impossible. But the truth is
that only by letting go and allowing the “wick” – child, student, etc. –
to flame on its own is one’s parental and educational responsibility
fulfilled. We cannot live another person’s life for that person. We can
only attempt to provide that other person with the wherewithal to succeed
The other side of the coin in this matter is equally valid and important.
The kohein may not remove the flame from the wick prematurely. He must
make certain that the flame of the wick will not sputter out when he
removes his flame from the wick.
The responsibility of parents and teachers remains as long as the child or
student is still unable to flame on its own. Many times in life it is
difficult to light the flame in others. It always seems never to catch and
flame on its own efforts and abilities. The tendency therefore is for
the flame giver to despair and eventually give up on the effort.
Students are expelled from schools and parents and children remain
distant. No two instances in life are alike and there are therefore no
real general rules that can be imposed in such situations. Yet it must be
obvious to all that infinite patience and untiring efforts must first be
expended before reaching a point of impasse and no return.
Some people are late bloomers and thus the flame has to be kept to their
wick longer than usual. These are all naturally individual judgments and
uncertain decisions. Perhaps that is why the Torah emphasizes this
seemingly ordinary act of lighting the menorah in the Temple because it
represents the ambiguities that lie at the heart of many basic issues in
life, family and community affairs.
Rabbi Berel Wein