2 When you kindle the lamps: Spiritually, lighting the lamps of the menorah means igniting our own souls and the souls of others, as King Solomon says, "The lamp of God is the soul of man." The flame of a candle constantly flickers upwards, as if yearning to leave the wick behind and ascend to the heavens. The soul shares this nature, constantly striving to break out of the boundaries imposed on it by the body and the physical world and reconnect with its spiritual source.
At times, however, this nature recedes and becomes dormant. The soul is so blinded by its surroundings that it forgets its natural thirst for Divinity. This is why the lamps must be kindled. They must be reminded of their innate desire to ascend.
The seven lamps signify the seven basic types of souls, each having its particular path in accomplishing God's purposes based on one of the seven basic emotions. Just as the seven lamps are all part of one candelabrum, all the diverse types of Jews form one collective body. Still, because our Divine mission is the purpose of our existence, our separate paths in achieving it make us separate "lamps"; what we do defines who we are.
However, there is a deeper level of the soul, where it has intrinsic value beyond its Divine mission. At this level, the soul is an end in itself rather than merely a means to an end, and there is therefore no differentiation of souls based on the differences in the way they achieve their Divine mission. The Torah therefore first refers to the lamps in general, rather than to a specific number, for the elevation it requires us to seek is intended to reach the level where we are all one.
Aaron was disappointed that God did not command him to participate in the inauguration of the Tabernacle. Inasmuch as we have all been called upon to make ourselves, our lives, and our world into a sanctuary, a home for God, we can learn from Aaron's example: we should aspire to participate in every pursuit that furthers this goal, in Jewish education or in specific activities aimed at kindling the spark of Divine consciousness in ourselves or others.
True, no one can be directly involved in everything. But we should nevertheless be so consumed with our Divine purpose that we are disappointed that we are limited in this way.
Furthermore, Aaron became disappointed only after the inaugural rites were finished; as long as they were still going on, he entertained the hope that he would be able to participate. In our case, the "inauguration rites" are still in full swing: until the Temple has been rebuilt and reality brought to its ultimate perfection, we still have the opportunity to participate in the process. Whenever we see others involved in making the world into God's home, we should take it as our cue to join them in whatever way possible.
This is especially true in our generation, the last generation of the exile and the first generation of the Redemption: every redemptive act can be considered a step toward consecrating the third Temple. Can anyone miss an opportunity to contribute to constructing and consecrating the holy Temple?!
The stool in front of the menorah: In order to kindle the lamps, Aaron had to climb up this stool. This teaches us that when we kindle the spark of Judaism in ourselves or in another person, we benefit spiritually: we ascend a level. This ascent affects not only our head, our intellect and consciousness, but our whole body—all aspects of our life. In fact, we ascend even before we actually affect the other person; the very decision to help others affects us first.
Thus, helping to rectify the world at large and prepare it for the messianic Redemption is more than just an act of altruism. It is an essential aspect of our own self-refinement and preparation, as well.
Just as Aaron lit all seven lamps of the menorah, so was he known for his ability to relate to all types of people, even those whose only redeeming feature was the fact that they were God's creations.
Although the priests are the ones who usually light the menorah, laymen are allowed to light it, as well. This teaches us that it is not only the "Aarons"—the religious professionals—that must light the human menorahs of our world. Every person has the responsibility to seek out people whose souls are not yet aflame with the light of holiness and to ignite them.
Nevertheless, the Torah instructs Aaron to light the menorah. This means that in order to ignite another person or enlighten some aspect of reality, we must emulate the high priest—whose entire focus and reality was God and the Torah—and that we are given the power to do so.
When you kindle the lamps: Literally, this would be translated "when your raise the lamps." "Raising" a flame means holding the fire to the wick until it is burning steadily on its own. Spiritually, this means that when we light the flame of the human menorah—our own soul or the souls of others—we should not just deliver some quick inspiration and then move on. We should remain near, coddling the flame of the soul to a steady and self-reliant glow.
When you kindle the lamps: This phrase can be read to mean "When you ascend with the lamps." In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon compares the commandments to an oil lamp: "For a commandment is a lamp." The lamp-apparatus comprises several parts: the vessel, the oil, the wick, and the flame. Nonetheless, the essence and purpose of the lamp is not its physical apparatus but the light that shines from it. Similarly, the physical requirements and activities involved in fulfilling God's commandments are the vessel, while the essence of the commandments is the fervor, the love, and the awe that performing them leads us to. Thus, performing God's commandments illuminates our lives with the flame of Divinely-oriented emotion. Submitting ourselves to God's will purifies our hearts, melting away our love for worldly pleasures in the heat of our love for God and our fear of worldly perils in our fear of displeasing Him.
Still, the emotional relationship with God fostered by the performance of His commandments is not the consummate end of the spiritual life. Praiseworthy as they most certainly are, love and fear of God nonetheless focus us on our side of the relationship—our rapture, our passion, our awe, our assiduity. A higher form of relationship with God is one in which we are focused on Him rather than on ourselves. Therefore, the Torah tells us:
When you ascend with the lamps: "When you ascend the ladder of spiritual life through performing the commandments"—
toward the center of the menorah: i.e., "focus on the inner dimension of your love and fear, God Himself. Then"—
shall the seven lamps shine: i.e., "your focus on God will illuminate your seven emotions with true, selfless spirituality." Every commandment is an opportunity to connect with God, and that connection must be our clear focus and goal. Through achieving that connection, we are able to truly illuminate every facet of our emotional makeup.
2-3 Moses only told Aaron to light the lamps such that all the flames "shine" toward the "face" of the menorah, i.e., that the wicks point toward its center branch as soon as they are kindled. Once they are burning on their own, however, it was apparently not important which way the wicks faced. Yet, when Aaron lit the menorah, he "raised (kindled) the lamps toward the face of the menorah," meaning that he ensured that the flames continue to face the center of the menorah even after they were "raised"—i.e., burning steadily on their own.
Aaron's behavior demonstrates an important lesson in our relationship with God. At the beginning of our relationship—at the flame's initial ignition—it is easy to face the center, to keep our eyes on God's exact instructions. But once we become more advanced—once the flame is "raised" and burning steadily—we might imagine that we, too, are authorities on spirituality, on the proper method of accomplishing God's purposes. Aaron realized that even after he had raised the flame—after he had reached lofty heights in his Divine service—it is important to follow God's exact instructions with the simplicity and devotion of a beginner.
7 We are ritually defiled: These Jews understood why they could not bring the sacrifice together with everyone else; they prefaced their words by saying, "We were defiled." But they still cried, "Why should we be left out? We want to be able to achieve the same connection to God as everyone else. We know that our impurity precludes this, but we insist on participating nonetheless."
In a deeper sense, they not only felt excluded from the same positive experience as everyone else; they felt that their very essence was at stake.
Furthermore, according to some opinions, these people became defiled by burying a dead relative, which is a religious obligation. Why then, they argued, should they be excluded?
Their cry caused God to grant us the holiday and the opportunity of the second Passover, a second opportunity for redemption.
We must learn from their example. Because we are living in exile, we, too, are spiritually defiled, and cannot bring the Passover offerings. But if we truly cry out to God—demanding the opportunity to connect with Him, feeling that the missed opportunity to serve Him jeopardizes our very being, and reminding Him of His responsibility for our impurity—He will surely redeem us from exile and afford us the opportunity to connect with Him fully.
Allegorically, "tending to a dead relative" means helping someone who is spiritually "dead." When we encounter such a person, our first priority is to revive his intrinsic connection with God through the Torah and its commandments. Of course, this encounter will require us to temporarily abandon our own, loftier pursuits while we take care of our fellow's more basic spiritual needs. But the holiday of the second Passover assures us that God will return this "lost" time and allow us the fullest expression of our own relationship to Him, also.
The theme of the second Passover is that it is never too late; it is always possible to set things aright. Even if one was spiritually impure or spiritually distant from his proper destination, God still gives him an opportunity to change the past and correct the wrongs.
There are two methods of serving God: the path of righteousness and the path of teshuvah ("return"). When we are on the path of righteousness, we fulfill our Divine mission straightforwardly: we shun all sources of defilement and do what is required of us. But because we are fulfilling God's mission in the context of the finite, material world, elevating it and ascending through it, we must operate methodically, systematically. We must play by the rules: we cannot carry out a specific step unless we have completed all the prerequisites, and every step must build on the previous one rather than oppose it.
If, however, we have strayed from the path of righteousness, it is not enough to merely avoid impropriety; we must address the fact that we have succumbed to the forces of evil and use this fact to strengthen the weak point in our relationship with God. When we do this, we transform the power of evil into holiness and our previous sin into a source of merit, thereby obtaining God's forgiveness for our misdeed. This ability to change that which is already done and to overcome wrongs that have already been perpetrated is drawn from a source of transcendent spirituality, a level beyond merit or iniquity. It taps the essential relationship between man and God, which is not predicated on our obedience to His will. This connection can never waver, for it is intrinsic in nature; the essence of the Jewish soul is one with God whether we obey His will or not.
The path of righteousness is reflected in the regular Passover celebration. Anyone who wishes to offer or eat the Passover sacrifice must be pure. There must not be any leaven—or the spiritual impurities it represents—to contravene Divine consciousness. And, even with all of that, it takes a full seven days to fully and methodically integrate the spiritual energies of the holiday.
The second Passover, on the other hand, embodies the approach of teshuvah. Because it is an exercise in transcendence, it does not require the methodical preparation required by the regular Passover. The leaven need not be banished, since we are ready to elevate it, too. Earlier impurity no longer matters, for it cannot destroy this intrinsic connection. And one day is enough, for this connection transcends time as well as behavioral issues.
If, as we have explained, the second Passover embodies a higher degree of Divine service, why is it reserved for those who became defiled? Why could one who brought the sacrifice on the first Passover not enjoy the sublimity of the second? How was he to achieve the advantages of transcendence?
As we have explained previously, a "sacrifice" (korban) is a way of "connecting" (karev) to God. A person who achieved the intended intensity of connection to God by offering the Passover sacrifice in its proper time would achieve—through continuing to grow systematically—the second level of service as well, and did not require a special "jump." Over the course of the month following the first Passover, the original connection would initiate ever more sublime degrees of connection. Hence, such a person did not require any further catalysts to ensure this growth. It was only those who had deviated from the proper path and had never begun a proper journey of growth that needed to skip directly to the transcendent mode. They required a catalyst, an offering to be brought in the second month, because without that "jump" they would have remained helpless and unchanged.
Although until we regain control of the Temple Mount, we are not obligated to offer the Passover sacrifice on the first Passover, we still celebrate the second Passover because of its spiritual meaning. We celebrate the added capacity to achieve a higher degree of spiritual connection and its lesson of hope: No matter what may have happened in the past, no matter what we may have spoiled, it is never too late. We still have the ability and opportunity to change not only our futures, but even the effects of our pasts.
23 At God's bidding they encamped: After each encampment, the Israelites would pack up the Tabernacle and move on to the next stop dictated by God. Upon arrival, they would set up the Tabernacle anew, keeping God's mandate to maintain the Tabernacle functioning. They never knew how long they would stay in a given place—it could have been a day, it could have been a year. This made no difference to them. They kept the Tabernacle working regardless.
This teaches us an important lesson. We naturally tend to consider significant only the periods of our lives that occur in relatively permanent geographic and emotional settings. If we will be somewhere for a year, we make sure to utilize that time and place to its fullest potential. But when we find ourselves in temporary situations, we often write them off as unimportant and fail to utilize them fully. The lesson from the Israelites in the desert is twofold: first, the journeys we go through in life—both geographical and emotional—are dictated by God. Of course, we can and should make our plans based on our own perception of our lives' goals. But at the same time, we must realize that God sees the big picture and knows when it is in our best interest to stay or move on to the next station in life—and He arranges things accordingly. Second, we should treat the smallest situation with the same care as the greatest one. Since God is beyond time and place, when we connect with Him, with His essence, even for one moment, that moment lasts for all of time. Whether a personal journey lasts a decade or a day, we can make it into a Sanctuary, imbued with the eternal permanence of the Divine presence.
9 If you go to war: Allegorically, the war we are constantly fighting is the war against our evil inclination. This fight is particularly intense during prayer, when the evil inclination tries to distract us from concentrating on God and deepening our relationship with Him.
The allegorical "trumpet" we sound in order to enlist God's help against the evil inclination is our heart-broken cry, the silent tears we shed over being so spiritually weak that we are vulnerable to the evil inclination's strategies. When we beseech God to have mercy on us, He comes to our aid and rescues us from our enemy.
But we see here that we must blow the trumpets not only while in the thick of battle, but also when we have overcome the enemy, and even on joyous festivals. Blowing the trumpets on these occasions reminds us that our victory over the evil inclination is never final and we should never let our success get the better of us. The evil inclination is always devising new ways to ensnare us, and we must be constantly on guard, constantly enlisting God's help and mercy.
The sacrifices mentioned here reflect the two basic stages in how we approach God. (As we have seen, "drawing close" to God is the true meaning of the Hebrew word for "sacrifice," korban.)
The first stage is the ascent-offering, whose meat and fat is totally consumed on the altar. First, we must submit ourselves totally to God. The second stage is the peace-offering, part of whose meat is eaten by those who offer it. After we have established the basis of total submission to God, we can (and should) enhance our relationship with Him by understanding as much about Him and His will as we can, igniting our enthusiasm for the Torah and its commandments.
In our daily lives, the dynamic of the ascent-offering is expressed in our morning prayers, the basis for the rest of the day. In prayer, we surrender our sense of self and cling devotedly to God. The dynamic of the peace-offering is expressed as we pursue our personal affairs throughout the day, always bearing in mind that all we do must be done for the sake of heaven and in order to enhance our Divine consciousness.
 You shall blow…and it shall be a remembrance…I am God: The verses that mention shofar-blowing manifest the sefirah of binah—the intellect; the verses that mention God's remembering us manifest the sefirot of the emotions; the verses that mention God's sovereignty manifest the sefirah of malchut—expression.
The Torah alludes to these three sets of verses in descending order, the order in which God's beneficence flows through these sefirot as He constantly recreates the world. In our prayers, however, we recite these sets of verses in reverse order, as we ascend from this world into the spiritual realms.
33 The ark...traveled ahead of them: In all of their travels in the desert, the Israelites were preceded by the ark and the cloud of God, which led the way and cleared their path of potentially harmful elements. And so it is in the long history of the Jewish people: throughout our journeys, whenever we follow the ark—the light of the Torah—we find spiritual and physical rest. We are protected from the emotional and physical dangers of the world and can find true meaning in our existence.
35 Arise, O God! May Your enemies be scattered: When the people would set out to travel, Moses would invoke God's protection to defend them from their enemies. To do this, Moses would "remind" God that whoever attacks the Jews does so because they are God's people. Thus, the Jews' enemies are in essence God's own enemies, and any attack against them is in fact directed toward Him.
Furthermore, since the Jews are His chosen people, God should protect them even if they do not deserve it. The attacking armies will not know that they defeated the Jews because they were spiritually weak; they will only see that God does not protect His chosen people. God, Moses proclaimed, must protect His people simply because they are His, regardless of how well they are fulfilling their contractual agreement to obey His commandments.
Moses therefore prefaced His plea for God's protection with the words, "Arise, O God," implying that God should look at the higher, essential connection He has forged with His people, that transcends the contractual relationship He has with them through their observance of His commandments.
This is the allegorical reason why this passage is sandwiched between the two accounts of the people's failings immediately after setting out from Mount Sinai.
[35-36] Arise, O God: These two verses are framed in the Hebrew text by two inverted letters (two nun's). The sages point out that these two letters divide the Book of Numbers into three parts: (1) everything from the beginning of the book until the first nun, (2) the two verses between the two nun's, and (3) everything from the second nun until the end of the book—effectively making the Torah into seven books, rather than the usual division into five.
The number 7 signifies all seven emotions (chesed, gevurah, tiferet, netzach, hod, yesod, and malchut), while the number 5 signifies only the first five of these. The seven emotions are divided into five and two because the first five constitute the real "content" of the emotions, while the latter two are the emotions' drives for actualization and expression. The first five emotions are the emotions per se, while the latter two emotions are the emotions' outward orientation toward others. As such, the latter two emotions represent an extension outside the self, a descent into a lower level of Divine consciousness in order to express the Divine emotions there. Relatively, then, the five primary emotions signify self-refinement while the latter two emotions represent refining the world.
Seeing the Torah as five books is thus seeing the whole Torah as God's will and wisdom; dividing it into seven books emphasizes how the Torah includes the lower states of consciousness—the rebellions that occur after the second nun and Moses' rebuke in the Book of Deuteronomy.
The seven books of the Torah parallel the seven lamps of the menorah that Aaron is commanded to kindle at the beginning of this parashah. Seeing the Torah as including the less complimentary episodes of the sixth and seventh "books" parallels Aaron's charge to kindle all seven types of souls—even the lowest—with the light of the Torah and its commandments.
The interface between the four initial "books" of intrinsic holiness and the two latter "books" of elevating lower consciousness is the fifth "book": the two verses describing how the Ark of the Covenant led the way in the desert and neutralized the forces of evil. By allowing ourselves to be guided by the Torah, we gain the power to overcome the dangers inherent in elevating the realms of lower consciousness and can safely transform them into holiness.
1 The people sought a pretext: These words read literally in the Hebrew, "The people were like complainers." They were only like complainers, and not real complainers, because a Jew, whose essence is one with God's essence, can never really complain against God. Even though they in fact complained, their complaint was only their expression of their deep yearning to become closer to God; their dissatisfaction with their present understanding of His ways.
5 Because their flavors are considered harmful to nursing infants: We see here that God did not allow an entire people to enjoy the tastes of these good foods on the chance that some nursing babies would be harmed by this. This demonstrates how every member of society must assume responsibility for the well-being of each individual, even if that individual is only a baby. And if this is true regarding physical well-being, then it is surely true with regard to spiritual well-being. In particular, this teaches us that we should go to all lengths to ensure that every Jewish child benefit from the highest quality Jewish education possible.
21 The people in whose midst I am number six hundred thousand on foot: There are two words for "I" in Hebrew; the one used in this verse (anochi) is the rarer one and the one used by God at the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai: "I am God, your God, who took you out of Egypt, a house of bondage." By using this word for "I," Moses alluded here the importance of every single Jew, even those who might be considered to be the "feet" of the people. The "I" of God was revealed at Mount Sinai in the collective merit of each and every one of the 600,000, even the "feet"-people. As our sages teach, were even one Jew missing at Mount Sinai, the Divine Presence would not have revealed itself.
Similarly, we must relate to everyone we meet as an integral part of the ultimate plan to reveal Godliness in the world.
34 "Graves of the Craving": The simple meaning of this name refers to the calamity that occurred there—it was a place where the Jewish people suffered both a spiritual and physical downfall. Yet, it, too, is one of the forty-two stops along the journey of the Jewish people from Egypt to the Land of Israel. All of these, teaches the Ba'al Shem Tov, are steps of a spiritual journey; in fact, they are stepping stones that every Jew must experience during his passage from the constricts of materialism to the apex of holiness. In this context, the name "the Graves of Craving" means that this is the stage in Divine service where improper desire is completely vanquished and buried. This degree of spirituality is so intense that the possibility for material cravings and desires no longer exists.
1 The Cushite woman: According to some sources, Zipporah was dark-skinned, and is therefore referred to here as a "Cushite," even though she was from Midian. In the book of Proverbs, the Torah is depicted as man's wife (to whom he should remain loyal, not allowing himself to be enticed by other women/paths). In this allegorical context, the "dark-skinned woman that Moses married" alludes to the "dark" method of studying the Torah and deriving laws from it. This is the lengthy, complicated method of argumentative dialectics (pilpul), employed chiefly in the Babylonian Talmud, which keeps us in the "dark" until we reach the conclusion. In contrast, laws are derived in the Jerusalem Talmud in a relatively straightforward manner. For this reason, our sages apply the verse "He placed me in darkness" to the methodology of the Babylonian Talmud. Indeed, our sages say that God originally taught this analytical method of analyzing the Torah only to Moses, but Moses, in his generosity, later taught it to the rest of the people.
3 Moses was exceedingly humble, more so than any other person on earth: Humility is not the result of underestimating one's true worth. Moses understood very well that he was an extraordinary individual who had been chosen by God to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt and receive the Torah. As we have seen, his unique nature was evident to all when he was born and the house was filled with light. However, Moses also understood that his special character was a gift from God. He thought that had these lofty traits been given to someone else, they would have been able to reach an even higher level than he did.
Humility is often misunderstood as simply the lack of boastfulness: we are humble if we feel superior to others but just don't tell anyone about it! True humility, however, is learned from Moses in our story. He is fully aware of his greatness, but attributes it not to himself but to God. Moreover, this allows him to respect others and see them in a positive light, as God has blessed them, too, with their own unique qualities.
13 "Please God, please heal her": Rabbi Dovber of Mezerich points out that the Name of God Moses used when praying for Miriam was Kel, the first of the thirteen attributes of God's mercy. In turn, God responded with an a fortiori argument, the first of the thirteen principles with which the Torah is expounded. This exemplifies the general rule that the insight we gain in studying the Torah is commensurate with the quality of our morning prayers, before studying.
15 The people did not travel until Miraim had returned: This verse contains a message for all of Jewish history. Without "Miriam," without the Jewish woman, the Jewish people cannot travel on their journey toward their destiny. All the Moseses and Aarons in the world cannot replace Miriam. Women must therefore take an active role in all aspects of Jewish life, especially the education of the next generation, the means by which the Jewish people proceed further toward their destined goal. Without Miriam, neither the Jewish nation, the ark, nor the Clouds of Glory can proceed.