Yehudah Avner, who served on the staff of five Israeli prime ministers, once asked the Rebbe, "As a Jewish leader, what are your ambitions?"

"Yehudah," said the Rebbe, "what we call a candle is merely a piece of wax with a string down the middle. When does it really become a candle? When a flame ignites the string." The Rebbe continued: "The wax is the body of a human being, and the wick is the soul. When the flame of Divine wisdom ignites the soul, the person becomes complete. That is what I try to do—to ignite souls."

At the end of the meeting, Mr. Avner quipped: "So, has the Rebbe lit my candle?"

"No," answered the Rebbe with a smile, "But I have given you the match…"

A Lasting Flame

Have you ever seen a soul?

Does anyone even know how one looks, if it does at all?

King Solomon may have been the first to ascribe imagery to the soul, when he poetically waxed it a candle.

"The candle of G‑d is the soul of man," he said.1

King Solomon may have been the first to ascribe imagery to the soulThis metaphor fired up the mystics' imaginations, and it led Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi to connect the sparks with his suggestion that the seven-branched candelabra in the Holy Temple was but a physical manifestation of a spiritual source of light, made of seven different types of souls.

Aaron, then, who lit the Menorah, represents one who lights souls.

G‑d said to Moses, "Speak to Aaron and say to him: 'When you kindle [beha'alotcha] the lamps…'"2

The word beha'alotcha is understood to mean "kindle." Literally translated, though, it means "raise." Aaron was meant to "raise the lamps."

Raise the lamps? As in "keep the lamps in high places, away from children"?

Probably not.

So what does the unusual language come to teach?

An illuminating message:

If the verse were to use the word "kindle," Aaron's obligation would consist only of bringing fire to wick. If the fire then petered out, so be it. After all, the flame had been kindled, according to G‑d's command.

The word "raise," however, obliges Aaron to "hold a fire to the wick until the flame rises by itself."3 Aaron was commanded to light the lamp in a way that ensured it would remain lit.

The word "kindle" refers to the act of lighting; the word "raise" tells us about its purpose: that the flames become self-sufficient.

Technically, the Torah's concern here is about the longevity of the lamps and souls we light; mystically, the Torah's concern relates to their character and quality: that they develop enough passion to burn on their own.

We can inspire them, or teach them to inspire themselves. We can be their wings, or teach them to fly.4

What's in It for Me?

We can inspire them, or teach them to inspire themselvesThe Rebbe was once discussing with a chassid the progress of a mutual acquaintance who was on his path towards Jewish observance. The chassid suggested that the Rebbe recommend to this person that he begin to grow a beard as his next step upwards.

"Coming from you," the chassid said, "there is no doubt that he will take it upon himself, if for no other reason than to please the Rebbe..."

"But if he agreed," replied the Rebbe, "he'd be wearing my beard, not his own."

As they say: Give a man a fish, and you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish, and you have fed him for a lifetime.

(Parenthetically: Teach a man to sell fish, and he eats steak.)

When lamp-lighting, educating, parenting, or just giving advice, the point is to bring others to realize their own potential.

This is especially true regarding the education of children.

A teacher's role is not just to transmit knowledge or data, but to give students the tools with which to learn on their own.

And the greatest gift a teacher can give his or her student, more important even than tools for learning, is a love for learning.

For children can be kindled or raised.

On a similar vein, Maimonides teaches that lending money is greater than giving charity.

But isn't that illogical? The lender gets his money back while the charity-giver doesn't!

Maimonides, however, is not discussing the provider, but the recipient. From his perspective, lending keeps him on his feet; begging keeps him off of them.

In sum:

To help someone is to put them on their feet—not on your shoulders.