In the Parshah of Vayeishev we read how Tamar, Judah's daughter-in-law, was informed that Judah was about to come to the town of Timna to shear his sheep. In the words of the Torah: "And it was related to Tamar saying: 'Behold, your father-in-law is coming up to Timna to shear his flocks.'"1

The Torah does not detail the nature of a person's going and coming if not absolutely germane to the content of the narrative. For example, though Abraham was taking his son Isaac up a mountain (in the story of the Akeda) the verse simply says "And he went to the place etc." and again "And he came to the place."2 Why then, does the verse specify the ascent, " ...is coming up to Timna..." in the story of Tamar?

Rashi, in an innovative interpretation of the above verse, explains that Timna was one of those relatively few towns located on the slopes of a mountain. (A city built on the slopes has drawbacks both in building and development and in strategic defense — and has yet an additional disadvantage in that the various parts of the city are one on top of the other in terrace fashion.) He states, "...you ascend to it from one direction and descend to it from the other."

It is now clear that the expression of ascent is pertinent in the story of Tamar. For since Timna was on the mountain-slopes, Tamar, who was planning to go and meet Judah, could not have known from which direction her father-in-law was approaching the town if her informer had failed to say "...coming up to Timna..."

Man's service of G‑d is like ascending a mountain.3 A mountain climber cannot stop mid-way on the steep slope, for in that position it is almost impossible to prevent himself from losing his footing and falling; he must climb steadily upwards without pause. Similarly, in ascending the "mountain of G‑d"4 a constant upwards movement is vital, not only for the purpose of going higher, but also to ensure that one does not fall lower. One should not be satisfied with his present spiritual level, for such complacency is the beginning of descent.

The Chanukah lights lend particular emphasis to this teaching. Every night of Chanuka a new light must be added, for spiritual affairs must always be in ascendancy.5 If one failed to add an additional light on the fourth night of Chanuka (for example), he has not merely failed to ascend higher on that day — he has slipped down from the previous day's level. Yesterday he lit three candles, an increase from the day before; he fulfilled the Mitzvah, commandment, with the extra devotion ("Hidur") required; he was on the upswing, in ascendancy. Not so today. His level has fallen. To observe the Mitzvah today with the same devotion as yesterday, he must increase his commitment!6