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Torah Studies: Behaalotecha

Torah Studies: Behaalotecha


This Parshah opens with the command to Aaron to light the lamps of the menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum that stood in the Sanctuary. The symbolism of the menorah and the act of lighting is the theme of the sicha, together with the example which Aaron’s service represents.

1. Aaron’s Love

Aaron, whose duties as the high priest are described in this week’s Parshah, was known for his love towards every creature. Hillel said of him, in Pirkei Avot,1 “Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures and drawing them near to the Torah.”

What was the feature of his way of life that stands as a supreme example of spreading the spiritual light of Torah? It was that he did not wait for those who stood in darkness to come within the circle of light, but that he went out to them. He went, in Hillel’s words, to his “fellow creatures,” a word including those who had no other merit than that they too, were G‑d’s creations.2 But nonetheless he “drew them near to the Torah” rather than drawing the Torah near to them. He did not simplify or compromise its demands to bring it down to their level. He did not lower the Torah; he raised men.

2. Lighting the Lamps

This facet of Aaron’s life is suggested in this Parshah, which opens with the command, “When you light (literally, ‘raise up’) the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the candlestick.”3

The lamps of the menorah of the Sanctuary are a symbol of the Jewish soul—“The lamp of the L‑rd is the soul of man.”4 And the seven lamps, the branches of the menorah, are the seven kinds of Jewish souls.5 Aaron’s task was to raise up every soul, to bring out the divine within the Jew from its concealment in the subconscious.

The rabbis sought an explanation for the fact that the word “raise up” (behaalotecha) is used, instead of the more obvious “light” or “kindle.” And they concluded that the verse meant that Aaron was to kindle them “until the flame rises up by itself.”6

Aaron’s spiritual achievement was therefore not only to light the flame in the souls of the Jewish people, but to take them to the stage where they would give light of their own accord. He did not simply create disciples, people who were dependent on his inspiration. He engendered in them a love of G‑d that they could sustain without his help.

3. Three Rules

There are three rules which applied to the menorah in the Sanctuary and the Temple.7

First, even a person who was not a priest could light the lamps.

But second, only a priest could prepare the lamps, setting the wicks and the oil.

And third, the menorah could be lit only in the Temple sanctuary.

These rules are similarly the conditions in which spiritual awakening can take place, lighting the lamp of the soul.

First, it is not the prerogative of the priest alone, or of the chosen few, to spread the light of Torah. The task belongs to every Jew, both as a privilege and as an obligation. Hillel’s words, “Be of the disciples of Aaron,” were addressed to every individual.

But only the priest can do the preparation. We may be tempted to think that in pursuit of our aim of drawing Jews to the life of Torah, the end justifies the means; that concessions can be made on our own initiative for the sake of winning commitment. But against this is the warning that not everyone is capable of deciding which interpretations, which lines of influence are valid. This belongs to the priest.

What is a priest? In the time of the Temple, when Jews first possessed their land, the priests had no share of its territory. “G‑d is his inheritance,” his only possession. This was his sanctity. In Rambam’s words,8 “Not only the tribe of Levi, but any man of any place whose spirit is willing . . . to separate himself and to stand before G‑d and to minister to and serve Him,” he and only he is the mentor in whose footsteps we must follow.

And the place where the lamps are to be lit is in the Sanctuary. There are shades and levels of holiness. The Sanctuary is not the only holy place. But this specific task of lighting the flame could not be done in any place of a lesser degree of holiness. We must awaken the spirit of ourselves and others, to the highest degree of sanctity possible.

4. Seven Branches

The menorah in the Sanctuary had seven branches, and these represent the seven kinds of Jewish souls. There are some whose vocation is to serve G‑d with love and kindness (chesed), some with fear and strictness (gevurah), and some who synthesize the two (tiferet). In all, there are seven general paths to the service of G‑d, and each Jew has one which is his own personal direction. But common to them all is the fact that they are alight with the flame of Torah: they burn with love, and they shed the light of truth within the Sanctuary, and from there to the whole world.

There was a peculiarity of the Temple, that its windows were “broad and narrow,”9 on which the rabbis comment,10 “They were broad on the outside and narrow within, for I (G‑d) am not in need of light.” Unlike other buildings, whose windows are designed to admit light, the Temple was constructed to send light out to the world.

The source of this light was the lamps, the souls of the Israelites. And although each of them was unique, with his own special talents to bring to his work, they shared the fact that they were all sources of light.

This is the common goal of the efforts of every Jew, to bring the light of Torah to the world. Their means may differ—some approaching through strictness, some through love. But for those who choose the path of love, the ends and the means are the same: the goal is light, and the way is light. This was Aaron’s path, “loving peace and pursuing peace, loving his fellow creatures and drawing them near to Torah.” And so has been the path of the great leaders of Chabad, lighting the dormant flame in the souls of Jews wherever they were to be found, preferring to be close than to be aloof, to be kind rather than severe, in bringing all our people near to Torah.

(Source: Likkutei Sichot, vol. 2, pp. 314–318 (adapted))

Tanya, Part 1, ch. 32.
Cf. Likkutei Torah, beginning of Behaalotecha.
Sifra to Leviticus 24:2; Talmud, Shabbat 21a; cf. Rashi to Numbers 8:2.
Cf. Talmud, Yoma 24b; Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Biat Hamikdash, ch. 9.
Mishneh Torah, Hil. Shemittah Veyovel 13:13.
Talmud, Menachot 86b; Vayikra Rabbah 31:7.
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Linda and Lou Solomon Kluzynski June 8, 2014

Torah Studies: Behaalotecha by Rabbi Sacks; 2 approaches, same goal In regards to the 2 approaches, one employing strictness and the other love, I consider the former as a type of tough love as compared to the latter, a nurturing love. Both have purpose and effectiveness depending on the spirit of the one being guided.

Also, I especially like the comment by Chana, MI on Fellow Creatures and agree Torah is for EVERYONE. When we consider the lost tribes, we cannot be sure who is Jew or Gentile, but all are G-d created "Fellow Creatures".

I subcribe to the idea that "everyone needs a Rabbi". After many years of religious studies and seeking to know G-D and living in darkness, I have come to Torah studies, and now feel a deep yearning to receive the guidance of a Rabbi to learn more on Truth and Light. Therefore, I agree with Chana, that there is a duty to reveal Torah to the world and that this will hasten the Tikkun Olam and the coming of Messiach.

Linda Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma May 23, 2013

The value of commentary I was thinking this morning, about Hillel and what he said, about what is important, and that the "rest is commentary". I agree, and by now given the lines of commentary generated by articles all over Chabad, that's the "rest of it", but in depth, the very core of the apple itself, has to be, do unto others, with one codicil. And that is, we learn to experience empathy first hand, and then, act in ways that do describe how we would want to be treated, and this expands to everything in the universe, and every one.

I am following a language based story that comes Direct. No intermediaries. A long time ago people kept pushing me toward wise people, as mentors, but I felt I could go, as I had been going, direct to the Source. And so I did, and so can everyone, in a conscious way, each One of us, having a very deep personal relationship with what is Immense.

It is not random that the word for to name in French is very close to our Apple. Because all names and all naming is SACRED. Reply

Eugina Giovanna Herrera New York City, New York May 22, 2013

3 rules & seven branches.. With our Spirituality there are always rules to follow carefully and the seven branches can to inspire our ways of communicating with our G-d always not just (chesed), also knowledge of understanding (binah) and communicating by listening what and whom is saying, in other word, to always communicate with love and kindness to bring in harmony with our spirituality & our G-d always.

Thank you for sharing that is always a blessing to look forward for. Reply

Chana Milwaukee, WI June 7, 2012

Fellow Creatures According to Hillel's own words, the word for "fellow creatures" is "a word including those who had no other merit than that they too, were G‑d’s creations", yet this article ends with an admonition about bringing all "our people" to Torah. Hasn't it always been our responsibility to bring EVERYONE to Torah? If we only keep it to ourselves, we are not fulfilling our obligation. If all of G-d's creations understood Torah, and that it is not for the Jew only, what a changed world we would bring to our children. The Torah is the word of G-d. Is He not truly G-d Almighty? There is no other. His laws are for everyone - even if they don't realize it. We must work at not clutching the Torah to our collective chests as if it belongs to us alone. After all, when we left Mitzrayim, there were TWELVE tribes, AND a mixed multitude. They are also "fellow creatures". If we aren't “loving peace and pursuing peace, loving his fellow creatures and drawing them near to Torah”, we fail. Reply

Rabbi Joseph Aryeh Selevan Town Of Tonawanda, N.Y. June 7, 2012

inspiring people to give off their own light I would like to see more insights on how to inspire people to be self sufficient and how to renew their spirituality. not every person is a natural teacher. Reply

Peter Spiro Srevenson, WA June 7, 2012

Permission, agreement, and praise "Let there be light." God gives permission and the darkness responds by yielding its light.

"And there was light." God divides the light from the dark through consent.

"God saw the light that it was good." God sustains the agreement through praise.

And heaven and earth are built upon this foundation.

Awesome! All done by peaceful means. Day one, and the beginning of all that follows.

Blessings. Reply

Anonymous Weyers Cave, VA June 7, 2012

the 7 kinds of souls Would you please elaborate on the 7 kinds of "jewish souls" ? Thank you Reply

Michelle UK June 7, 2012

Praise G-d for the Chabad Team and for the sharing of His love through them that enables many who see and feel their love unconditionally shared to access and learn through the many mediums and non judgemental ways in which they continue to spread His light out into the world. amen

one of the hardest truths i have had to face is the strictness of tone that renders me both speechless, confused, misunderstood and cast aside... unworthy feelings of misplacement... i pray today that anyone in their past of future life who feels similar is guided to a 'home' like the one Chabad 'offered me', a place where finally i felt in spirit at least... 'i belonged'. G-d bless and love all. may you continue to be a light unto the World for those like me who have led and been a slave to a victimius life, wounded emotionally through many a harsh word that stuck like a thorn in her heart Reply

ruth housman marsfield hills, ma June 6, 2012

the word lamp I do something with words, and it's more than, an obsession, because they come to me, they deconstruct, and they show me something. It wasn't always this way for me, but it seems I had several mystical experiences that led to this.

I see the word Amp, the English word, within lamp, and surely it's exactly as you say, about how light spreads, and this is about soul and the energy present within us all, to acivate and spread the light according to our particular mission in life.

The word light in English has many meanings and I truly believe all meanings are the container for the word itself, and we do need to laugh, often, in the midst of what is so serious in life, because we all fall down, we all experience something of suffering, and we do need to help each other rise above this, for it seems that it is the healing way, and we do deeply speak about tikkun olam in this regard. Thank You for a lovely and informative article. Reply

Steve Finson West Haven, CT June 6, 2012

light There are so many beautiful sichot about"the lamp of G-d is the soul of man" from Mishlei.Thank you for giving us another one! Reply

Anonymous anywhere, earth June 10, 2011

To me, when it says 'raise up', I understand it to be when Jews are 'ascended' or in the 'raised up' state.
Scripture is full of instructions on what Jews are supposed to do in that state. So I think this writing is about raised up Jews. Reply

Judith olam hazeh June 8, 2011

Thank you Rabbi Saks for giving out this beautiful, very applicable teaching. This will be a lesson to refer back to many times. Reply

James Chapel Hill, TN June 10, 2009

Very Nice That was a very insightful writing. I enjoyed reading it and it has filled me with a re-kindled flame of hope. Reply

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