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A Long Pole

A Long Pole

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Here’s the problem: you’re here, and you want to be there (“there” being someplace better, loftier, more spiritual than “here”). But you’re not there, and won’t be there for a good while, perhaps ever.

So, do you act as if you’re already there? Or do you tell yourself that here’s just fine, and who needs there anyway?

You can become a hypocrite, or you can come to terms with your limitations. But there’s also a third way—the way of the Long Pole.


In the outer chamber of the heichal (sanctuary) in the Holy Temple stood the menorah—a five-foot-tall, seven-branched candelabra of pure gold. Every morning, a priest filled the menorah’s seven lamps with the purest olive oil; in the afternoon, he would climb a three-step staircase to kindle the menorah’s lamps. The seven flames burned through the night, symbolizing the divine light which radiated from the Holy Temple to the world.

Actually, it did not have to be a priest (kohen) who lit the menorah—the law states that an ordinary layman can also perform this mitzvah. But there is also a law that restricts entry into the sanctuary to priests only: ordinary Israelites could venture no further than the azarah, the Temple courtyard.

These two laws create a legal paradox: a layman can light the menorah; but the menorah’s designated place is inside the sanctuary, and a layman cannot enter the sanctuary.

Technically, there are solutions: a layman can light the menorah by means of a long pole, or the menorah can be carried out to him by a kohen and then replaced in the sanctuary. But the inconsistency remains: if the Torah believes that an ordinary person should be able to light the menorah, why doesn’t it place the menorah in a part of the Temple accessible to ordinary people? And if the sanctity of the menorah is such that it requires the higher holiness of the sanctuary, why does the Torah permit someone who cannot attain this level to light it?

This paradox, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe, is intentionally set up by the Torah in order to convey to us a most profound lesson: the lesson of the long pole.

The lesson of the long pole says that we should aspire to spiritual heights that lie beyond our reach. Not that we should presume to be what we are not—that would be like an ordinary person entering the sanctuary—but neither should we desist from our efforts to reach that place. Even when we know that we ourselves will never be “there,” we can still act upon that place, influence it, even illuminate it.

At times, this means that someone from that higher place reaches down to us. At times, it means that we contrive a way to reach beyond what we are at the present time. In either case, we are what Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch calls a “lamplighter”: a person who carries a long pole with a flame at its end and goes from lamp to lamp to ignite them. No lamp is too lowly, and no lamp is too lofty, for the lamplighter and his pole.

By Yanki Tauber; based on the teachings of the Rebbe.
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Ilana Jerusalem February 6, 2014

Beautiful What a wonderful, inspiring article. Reply

Anonymous london February 6, 2014

well put concise and beautiful

addresses so many of us and our young adults

yashar koiach yankee

a shliach in london Reply

Itche Brooklyn December 7, 2010

Re: Gerald Nilsen Rambam Avoda, Bias Mikdosh 9, 7 Reply

Gerald Nilsen Moorhead, MN December 23, 2008

Lamplighter I found your article on the Lamplighter very intriguing. But I do have a question: Where is the citation that specifically states that a non-priest can light the Candlestick? I am very curious. Is it found in tradition or is it a part of Holy Writ? Reply

Anonymous Texas June 12, 2008

In The Same Boat As Joel Joel, your comment is inspiring. I'm on my journey as well. There is limited resources where I live and I'm not even sure a Rabbi is around to help me. I continue to read and listen to whatever I can find. The internet has been extremely helpful. Reply

Anonymous New Bern, NC June 11, 2008

THANK YOU Thank you Mr. Tauber for the inspirational lesson; there are so many things that I know that G-d wants me to do, but these goals can only occur one step at the time.

Thank you, Mr. Paker for your wonderful note; our stories are very similar. In spite of challenges all around, you have inspired me to continue on the path waiting before me. Reply

Nathan Abraham South Hadley, MA May 27, 2007

Joel, You Inspire - Plain and Simple Hello Joel,
Dr. Posner captured it so well - "You have the right attitude--the humility and the fire as well."

If there is any "measuring stick" - it's with God who put a soul in each one of us. What you are writing - and doing - is clearly moving - You are "Pole Vaulting" with your having picked advancing your closeness to God. As a Jew, it is an inspiration to read that you have chosen to do it "on this field." Reply

Moss Posner M.D. Fresno, CA June 19, 2006

anti-dote to anti-Semitism? Dear Joel: You have the right attitude--the humility and the fire as well. Please do not lose heart. Your very attitude is an example for us Jews, as it will be for more Jews once you have completed your studies.
I wish more of us were so committed--or at least appreciative of what we have. Reply

Joel Parker Roswell, GA, USA June 3, 2004

Between being a Jew and being a Gentile This message speaks volumes to my situation. I'm not yet a Jew. In fact my aspirations of becoming Jewish involve many steps in the process of going from here to there. Should I try and eat Kosher? I ask myself and think so. Should I try and celebrate Shabbat? likewise I ask myself and reply affirmative. Am I permitted to follow the Torah now? No, technically I am not, and I do not claim to be. Yet, most of my friends think I'm crazy, as does my family. I can contribute to a Jewish congregation and learn today what I'll be obliged to practice tomorrow. I have a particular shortcoming, in my view, which is that I was not born Jewish. However, that does not stop me from taking steps to learn and illuminate the soul within. Being Jewish is a practice like playing an instrument or healing patients with medicine. One does not start out in a comfortable place at the outset, and this is normal. However, admitting that there is another place I'm going to requires that I take a step. Reply

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