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Aharon's Gift

Be'halot'cha (Numbers 8-12 )

by Rabbi Zvi Belovski

The sidrah opens with a brief description of the Menorah in the Mishkan and the command that Aharon and his descendants are charged with its lighting. This follows directly after the lengthy description of the offerings brought at the dedication of the altar, described at the end of Parashas Naso. The connection between these events is the subject of a well-known midrash:

We find above that all of the tribes brought offerings, except for the tribe of Levi. Who was the prince of Levi? None other than Aharon, and Aharon did not offer together with the other princes. He said, "Perhaps the tribe of Levi is not acceptable because of me." God said to Moshe, "Go and say to Aharon, I have prepared you for greater things than that!...As for the sacrifices, they are only applicable when the Beis HaMikdash stands. But the lights are everlasting...and all of the berachos which I gave to you so that you may bless My children will also never be canceled." (Midrash Tanchuma, Beha'alosecha 5)

It is not clear to me why Aharon was satisfied with the lighting of the Menorah, whereas he appears not to have been happy with the twice-daily incense, which the verses consider praiseworthy, or with the animal and daily flour offerings or the Yom Kippur service, all of which could be performed only by him. He could enter the Holy of Holies, stand in God's Temple, and utter blessings in His name. Indeed, the whole tribe of Levi were servants of God...It is also well known that when the Beis HaMikdash is not extant and the sacrifices are canceled, lighting the Menorah also becomes defunct. Rather, this midrash hints at the Chanukah of the Chashmonaim [the Chanukah familiar to us], which applies even after the Destruction... (Ramban, Bamidbar 8:2)

Thus, in place of the temporary offerings which the other tribes brought, Aharon was promised something which would be everlasting. The dynasty of the Chashmonaim, who were kohanim and thus descendants of Aharon, fought against the Greco-Syrians in the time of the second Beis HaMikdash. They rededicated the defiled Sanctuary, and when they came to relight the Menorah, a miracle occurred in which one day's quantity of oil burned for eight. In the merit of the Chashmonaim, Jews throughout the world have celebrated Chanukah ever since.

* * *


My holy father explained the essential difference between kohanim and levi'im. The task of the Levi is to connect earth to heaven. His role in the Beis HaMikdash is as a singer. Through his beautiful melodies he inspires the people to turn heavenwards, lifting them from their physical limitations to the spiritual world. The kohen, on the other hand, connects heaven to earth. He draws the presence of God into the Beis HaMikdash, the fire onto the altar, and infuses the world with the Divine. Perforce, the Levi's service is performed in public, whereas that of the kohen is practiced away from the public eye, reflecting its intensely holy nature.

This helps us to understand the complaint of Aharon recorded in the midrash. He was, as the text takes pains to point out, the prince of the tribe of Levi, even though he himself had been promoted to the rank of kohen. As their leader, he wanted to have a part not only in his distinct Divine service as a kohen, but also in the separate, Levitical style of worship. He had already been promised exclusive rights to all of the special sacrificial duties in the Beis HaMikdash - the heaven-to-earth connection. Now, to match the princes of every other tribe, he asked for a role within his own tribe - the rights to an act or service which reflected the modality of earth to heaven. In response, God promised him the lights of the Menorah (or whichever menorah we decide the midrash is describing). That the act of lighting the Menorah is a Levitical type is apparent from examining its presentation in the verses:

When you light [literally, "raise up"] the lights, the seven lights shall throw light toward the face of the Menorah. (Bemidbar 8:2)

When you light - [Rashi notes that this word really means "raise up" and comments that] since the flame arises, the word for "raising" is written in the context of the lighting, for one needs to light [hold the taper next to the wick] until the flame arises on its own. (Rashi loc. cit.)

As we see, the Torah goes out of its way to indicate that not only must Aharon light the Menorah, but the flames must rise heavenwards before the act of lighting is considered complete. This symbolizes Levi's style of worship - raising the physical toward God, igniting enthusiasm for matters spiritual in the hearts of the people. So the lighting of the Menorah is a Levitical activity carried out by a kohen.

It is interesting to note that the Menorah's connection to the kohen is preserved by the fact that unlike acts performed by the Levi, it is lit deep within the Beis HaMikdash, away from public view. This may underscore the statement of Chazal which claims that lighting the Menorah is not actually classified as an act of avodah - proper kohanic service. For although it is performed by a kohen, the lighting has a distinct earth-to-heaven flavor, distinguishing it from other kohanic obligations. We now appreciate why the lighting of the Menorah satisfied Aharon's request, whereas any of the other privileges which he enjoyed in the Mishkan did not.

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Using the concepts gained thus far, we can begin to understand the Ramban, who noted that since even the lighting of the Menorah was canceled when the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, the promise made by God to Aharon referred to the menorah of our annual Chanukah.

It is of great significance that the menorah of Chanukah is the only vestige of the Beis HaMikdash service which remains with us. The Divine service, as we have already briefly mentioned, is an intensely holy matter, one which expresses the deepest and most spiritual of concepts. As such, it must be performed in a private, secluded domain, behind the walls of the Beis HaMikdash.

When exile occurs, the whole order of things alters, and the profundity and confidential nature of the Divine service is under threat. This is reflected by the Hebrew word for "exile," galus, which finds its root in the word galui (revealed). Exile for klal Yisrael is a time when the forces of evil attack the most sacred parts of Jewish life, threatening to profane and reveal that which is concealed. The risk is too great, and so the Divine worship in the Beis HaMikdash is interrupted. Of course, the kohanim cannot perform their sacred duties, as this would be particularly inappropriate outside Yerushalayim and the Beis HaMikdash. Only when the spirituality which the kohanim bring down from on high can rest in the correct place, within the secluded domain of God's house, can there be any role of this sort within klal Yisrael.

None of this, however, applies to the earth-to-heaven approach of the Levi. Since his role need not be played out in a spiritually private place, he can inspire people to turn to God in any circumstances. This means that the lighting of the menorah, which is of a Levitical nature, can endure throughout the exile. Its intense and holy light can continue to illuminate Jewish life wherever klal Yisrael may be. In fact, the explicit aim of lighting the menorah of Chanukah is to publicize the great miracle which happened in the time of the Chashmonaim. While all other aspects of the service in the Beis HaMikdash are damaged and nullified by galus, the lighting on Chanukah actually thrives on exposure to the outside; the deeper the exile and the greater the grip of the anti-spiritual forces, the more effective its message.

We can well understand why Aharon was comforted by the offer of the lamps of Chanukah, for in the merit of his descendants the Chashmonaim, klal Yisrael have the radiance of their light until this day.

Excerpted from Shem MiShmuel by the Sochatchover Rebbe, rendered into English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski, published by Targum Press. Click here to order.


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