Rashi at the beginning of this week’s sidrah explains why parshas Beha’alosecha begins with Hashem commanding Aaron about the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah:
When Aaron realized that neither he nor his tribe had been included in the inauguration of the Mishkan [Tabernacle], he was disturbed that they had been left out. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: I swear, your portion is greater than theirs, for you have the mitzvah of cleaning out and lighting the candles [of the Menorah].
The last section of parshas Naso contains a detailed description of the offerings of the twelve tribal princes, from which Shevet Levi, the Tribe of Aaron, is conspicuously absent. This is the source of Aaron’s concern, for which Hashem consoles him that the daily Menorah service is even greater.
Why did Hashem console Aaron by reminding him about the Menorah service? There were many daily services performed in the Mishkan, and later in the Mikdash [Holy Temple], that were done only by the Kohanim – the daily offering of two sheep, the incense service, the daily meal offering – why didn’t Hashem console Aaron with the mention of these? It seems the source of Aaron’s distress must have been the fact that his tribe was excluded from the inauguration service, but if so why would he be consoled by the mention of the Menorah, which was no more inaugural than any of the other services?
In order to answer this question, says the holy Or HaChaim, let us first examine exactly what the mitzvah of cleaning out and lighting the lamps involved. The Gemara (Menachos 88b) quotes the opinion of Rav Sheishes that although the Menorah was sculpted out of one piece of solid gold, the lamps which held the oil were separate from the Menorah and were removable. Every day, Aaron would remove the lamps from the Menorah, clean them out with a sponge, refill them with oil and insert their wicks, and replace them into the Menorah. According to R’ Elazar, the lamps were part of the Menorah itself. He says that in order to clean the lamps, Aaron would bend the branches of the Menorah downwards [the gold was sculpted thinly in order to facilitate this], and then reshape the Menorah by bending them back up.
The Or HaChaim then says an amazing thing:
Had I been there, I would have proved from the Torah that Rav Sheishes was right!
How so? When the Torah describes the construction of the Menorah, it makes no mention of the fact that all the lamps had to tilt towards the middle branch. It is only mentioned here, after the Menorah was already built. If the lamps were part of the Menorah proper, shouldn’t the instructions to bend the outer branches towards the middle branch have been found in the Menorah’s construction, and not here after the fact? This can only be understood if we assume the lamps were separate.
Also, when the Torah describes how the various vessels were packed up for transportation when they would travel in the desert, it says, “And they [the Levi’im] shall take a garment of turquoise wool, and cover the Menorah, and its lamps, and its tongs, and its scoops, and all the vessels of its oil…” If the lamps were part of the Menorah itself, there would be no need for the Torah to mention them separately!
This, then, explains Hashem’s answer: While the Tribal princes had but one opportunity to inaugurate the Mishkan, you, Aaron, will do so every day of your life! For the mitzvah of lighting the lamps involves dismantling and reassembling the Menorah – which means that Aaron rebuilt the Menorah each and every day. With each lighting of the lamps, Aaron was really performing his very own inauguration service.
Even according to R’ Elazar, since the Menorah was completely deformed when its branches were bent downwards, by reshaping the Menorah, Aaron was in fact rebuilding it from scratch. Even according to his opinion, we can understand how the lighting of the lamps was in fact Aaron’s personal daily inauguration.
Perhaps his words can help shed light on a perplexing comment of Rashi. After describing Aaron’s mitzvah to light the lamps, the Torah adds, “Aaron did so – he lit the lamps [facing] toward the middle branch. (8:3)” Rashi comments:
This teaches us the praise of Aaron, she-lo shinah – he never did otherwise.
Is this the best the Torah can do to sing the praises of Aaron, by telling us that he never did differently – that he did things just like Hashem told him to? While we certainly don’t consider ourselves Aarons, one hopes we too would be capable of performing a relatively simple service just the way Hashem told us to.
By having the Menorah constructed in such a manner as to require its daily refabrication, Hashem was doing more than consoling Aaron. He was also teaching him what true enthusiasm for a mitzvah is. Just like today’s Menorah was never the same as yesterday’s – it was always in a sense brand new – so too we must approach each mitzvah as if it were 0the first time we ever had the chance to do it; as if we had just received the commandment from Hashem!
“Aaron did so,” means that Aaron internalized the Menorah’s construction. He approached his mitzvah with the freshness and vigour of something being done for the first time. This teaches us the praise of Aaron, says Rashi, she-lo shinah – the Hebrew word shanah also means to repeat or review (karah ve-shanah – he read and reviewed it). Aaron’s service was never a mere repetition of yesterday’s. It was never “ho-hum, let’s light the Menorah again.” Like the Menorah, which required daily inauguration, Aaron’s enthusiasm towards his job never waned.
While the concept is simple enough, it is deceptively difficult to retain a fresh and energetic attitude toward our mitzvos, especially those we perform daily. Contrast the feelings with which we approach uncommon mitzvos such as sitting in the sukkah or the Pesach seder with the way we feel when performing the “humdrum” mitzvos we do every day like birkas ha-mazon, tefilah, or putting on tefillin; it’s all too easy to let our observance become a matter of rote and repetition. The only way to preserve a childlike enthusiasm towards our mitzvos is through constant Torah study, which always gives us new insights and perspectives into the beauty of the mitzvos we perform.