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, “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. 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.”
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.” And the seven lamps, the branches of the menorah, are the seven kinds of Jewish souls. 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.”
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.
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, “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,” on which the rabbis comment, “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))