Speak to Aaron and say to him: “When you raise light in the lamps . . .” (Numbers 8:2)
Aaron did not bring an offering (for the Sanctuary’s dedication—see previous Parshah) with the other princes of the tribes, and so he thought: Woe is me! Perhaps it is on my account that G‑d does not accept the tribe of Levi? G‑d therefore said to Moses: “Go and say to Aaron: Fear not, you have in store for you an honor greater than this . . . : the offerings shall remain in force only as long as the Temple stands, but the lamps shall always give light . . .”
(Midrash Rabbah; Rashi)
Were not the lamps of the menorah also extinguished with the destruction of the Holy Temple? But this alludes to the Chanukah lights, which were instituted in the time of the Second Temple by the Hasmoneans, descendents of Aaron, and which did not cease.
It is written, “Nor does darkness obscure for You; the night shines as the day, darkness is as light” (Psalms 139:12). Yet to us He says: “When you raise light in the lamps”!
To what may the matter be compared? To the case of a king who had a friend. The king said to him: “I want you to know that I shall dine with you. Go then and make preparations for me.” His friend went and prepared a common couch, a common candelabra and a common table. When the king arrived, there came with him ministers who encompassed him on this side and that, and a golden candlestick preceded him. His friend, seeing all this pomp, felt ashamed and put away all that he had prepared for him, as it was all common. Said the king to him: “Did I not tell you that I would dine with you? Why did you not prepare anything for me?” His friend answered him: “Seeing all the pomp that accompanied you, I felt ashamed, and put away all that I had prepared for you, because they were common utensils.” “By your life!” said the king to him, “I shall set aside all the utensils that I have brought, and for love of you I shall use none but yours!” So in our case. The Holy One, blessed be He, is all light; as it says, “The light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:22). Yet He said to Israel: “Prepare for Me a candelabra and lamps.”
When a person builds a house, he makes the windows narrow on the outside and wider on the inside, so that the light from the outside should optimally illuminate the interior. But when King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem he made the windows narrow within and wide without, so that its light should emanate to the outside and illuminate the world.
This is to teach us that the lamplighter must hold the flame to the wick until a flame arises of its own accord.
The spiritual significance of the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is that one should be a “lamplighter” who ignites that latent potential within “the soul of man, a lamp of G‑d” (Proverbs 20:27).
Here, too, the endeavor must be to kindle the lamp “so that a flame arises of its own accord.” In teaching and influencing one’s fellow, the objective should be to establish him or her as a self-sufficient luminary: to assist in developing his talents and abilities so that his lamp independently glows and, in turn, kindles the potential in others.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
When the kohen came to kindle the menorah’s lamps each afternoon in the Holy Temple, he found them fully prepared for lighting: earlier in the day the lamps had been cleaned and filled with oil, and fresh wicks had been inserted. All he had to do was bring near the flame he carried, so that its proximity to the waiting lamp would unleash the potential for illumination which the lamp already holds.
Therein lies an important lesson to the spiritual lamplighter. Do not think that you are achieving anything that your fellow could not, in truth, achieve on his own; do not think that you are giving him something he does not already possess. The soul of your fellow is a ready lamp, filled with the purest oil and equipped with all that is required to convert its fuel into a blazing flame. It lacks only the proximity of another lamp to ignite it. If your own soul is alight, its contact with another’s soul will awaken its potential for light, so that it may illuminate its surroundings and kindle other souls, in turn.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Imagine standing in the Sanctuary, before the holy menorah, and to be capable of actually lighting the lamps—to place the wicks in position, and to fill the lamps without spilling the oil on the floor! This was truly an exceptional achievement on the part of Aaron.
(Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev)
We find that Moses experienced more difficulty in understanding the construction of the menorah than he did in that of all the other vessels of the Sanctuary. So G‑d said to him: Take a talent of gold, cast it into the furnace and take it out again, and the menorah will assume shape of its own accord. Thus the verse says (Exodus 25:31): “Its cups, its knobs and its flowers, shall come out of it . . .”
Moses smote [the piece of gold] with a hammer, and the menorah took shape of its own accord. For this reason it says, “of hammered work it shall be made” (tei’aseh)—implying that it shall be made of its own accord.
The menorah represents the people of Israel, G‑d’s “light unto the nations.” Its many components attest to the fact that the Jewish nation is comprised of different tribes, and includes individuals from all walks of life.
But even as the menorah’s form expresses the diversity within Israel, there are two laws which point to the menorah’s integrity. One law concerns the making of the menorah; the second law, the manner of its lighting.
An artifact of the menorah’s complexity is usually fashioned by first molding each of its parts on its own and then welding them together. The menorah, however, was hammered out of a single piece of gold, originating as a single object and remaining a single object through the various stages of its construction, until the finished product.
This represents the fact that while there are nations that are a coalition of variant groups, each formed by its own ancestry and experience but welded together by common interest and habitat, this is not the case with the Jewish people: all souls of Israel are of a single essence, and their division into distinct individuals is merely their investment into different bodies and physical lives.
The second law is that although the menorah sheds its light with seven lamps, they must all be turned toward the central stem, in keeping with G‑d’s instruction to Aaron that “the seven lamps shall give light toward the face of the menorah.” This expresses the truth that although the soul of Israel shines not with a single light, but by means of a seven-lamp menorah representing the various prototypes of human character (the seven sefirot), at the same time all lamps of the menorah face the body from which they extend, emphasizing their singular origin and their singular goal.
In other words: we all come from the same place, and we are all oriented toward the same goal. The differences are only in order to better express our Source and to more completely achieve our goal. Which makes them not differences, but the ultimate expression of oneness.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
The menorah also represents the Torah, the source of divine light in the world. This is alluded to in the menorah’s design, which is detailed in the 25th chapter of Exodus. The menorah had 7 branches, 11 knobs, 9 flowers and 22 goblets, and was 17 handbreadths in height. These numbers represent the five books of the Written Torah: the first verse in the book of Genesis has 7 words, the first verse of Exodus has 11 words, the first verse of Leviticus has 9 words, the first verse of Numbers has 17 words, and the first verse of Deuteronomy—22 words.
The events related in this chapter occurred in the first month of that year, while the events of the first chapters of this book (Numbers) occurred in the second month. This teaches us that the Torah does not necessarily follow in chronological order.
Why, indeed, does not the Book of Numbers open with this chapter? Because it is a disgrace for Israel. For in the forty years that the Jewish people were in the desert, this was the only Passover offering they brought.
The reason that our ancestors brought no other Passover offering that G‑d did not allow them to. G‑d had instructed that the annual Passover offering should be observed only “when you come into the land that G‑d shall give to you” (Exodus 12:25); the Passover observed in Egypt and the one held in the desert in the following year were exceptions to this rule, specifically commanded by G‑d. So why should the fact that they brought no other Passover offerings in the desert be regarded as a “disgrace”?
The answer lies in the story of the “Second Passover” itself. A group of Jews had found themselves in a state which, according to Torah law, absolved them from the duty to bring the Passover offering. Yet they refused to reconcile themselves to this. And their impassioned plea and demand, “Why should we be deprived?” swayed G‑d to establish a new institution, the “Second Passover,” to enable them, and all who will find themselves in a similar situation in future generations, to “present G‑d’s offering in its time, amongst the children of Israel.”
Therein lies the “disgrace” in those thirty-eight Passoverless years in the desert. Why did the Jewish people reconcile themselves to the divine decree? Why did they accept this void in their relationship with G‑d? Why did they not petition for an opportunity to serve Him in the full and optimum manner that the mitzvot of the Torah describe?
For more than nineteen hundred years now, our Passovers have been incomplete. We eat the matzah and the bitter herbs, we drink the four cups of wine, ask and answer the four questions; but the heart and essence of Passover, the Passover offering, is absent from our Seder table. For G‑d has hidden His face from us—has removed the Holy Temple, the seat of His manifest presence on physical earth, from our midst.
The lesson of the “displaced” ninth chapter of Numbers is clear: G‑d desires and expects of us that we refuse to reconcile ourselves to the decree of galut and its diminution of His manifest involvement in our lives. He desires and expects of us that we storm the gates of heaven with the plea and demand: “Why should we be deprived?!”
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
Who were they? Rabbi Ishmael says that they were the ones carrying Joseph’s coffin. Rabbi Akiva says that they were Mishael and Eltzafan, who contaminated themselves for the bodies of Nadav and Avihu (cf. Leviticus 10).
Rabbi Yitzchak says: If they were Joseph’s pallbearers, they had ample opportunity to purify themselves; if they were Mishael and Eltzafan, they had ample opportunity to purify themselves. So who were they? People who contaminated themselves for the sake of a met mitzvah (a “charity case” who has no one to attend to him).
The meaning of the “Second Passover” is that it is never too late; there is always a second chance.
(Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch)
Because the Second Passover represents the power of teshuvah—the power to “return” and rectify past failings and transform them, retroactively, into merits. This cannot derive from Torah itself, since Torah, which defines what is desirable and undesirable in the eyes of G‑d, cannot regard a failure to fulfill a divine command as something “positive.” The mitzvah of the Second Passover could come only as the divine response to the profound yearning of a soul superseding “Torah,” as it were, crying out for attachment to G‑d from a place so deep within itself that it transcends failing and merit, and can therefore reach back to transform the failing into merit.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
The Sanctuary was a formidable structure, consisting of hundreds of foundation sockets, wall sections, pillars, tapestries and furnishings; a work crew of several thousand Levites assembled the Sanctuary at each camp, and dismantled and transported it when the divine command would come to move on. Yet the “Tent of Meeting” was erected at every encampment—even if only for a single day!
This teaches us that each and every one of our “stations” in life is significant unto itself. A person may find him- or herself in a certain place or in a certain situation for a very brief period, and it may seem to him that he is merely “on the way” to some other place. Yet there is always something in that place or situation to be sanctified—something that can serve as a “Tent of Meeting” between heaven and earth.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
This is in keeping with the common saying: Use your local grain for sowing, even if of a lesser quality.
Though Jethro returned to Midian, his children remained with the Jewish people, as related in the Book of Judges (Judges 1:16).
They ran from Mount Sinai like children let out from school.
For this section, G‑d placed symbols above and below . . . because it ranks as a separate book.
(Talmud, Shabbat 115b)
“Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars” (Proverbs 9:1). Bar Kappara interpreted this verse as referring to the Torah and its seven books. But surely there are only five? Bar Kappara considered the portion from the beginning of the book of Numbers until the verse “It came to pass when the ark went forth” as one book; the two verses “It came to pass . . .” and “When it rested . . .” as another book; and from there to the end of Numbers as yet another book. By this count, we have seven.
“The edge of the camp” are the lowly fringe, the “mixed multitude.” Rabbi Shimon ben Menasia says: the officers and leaders.
(Rashi; Midrash Tanchuma)
Shall we say that they asked for the flesh of animals? But surely the manna changed in their mouth into any taste they desired, as it says, “He gave them their request” (Psalms 106:15), and “He gave them that which they craved” (ibid. 78:29). Shall we say that they had no oxen or cattle? But surely it is already written, “A mixed multitude went up also with them; also flocks and herds” (Exodus 12:38). Shall we assume that they had eaten them up in the wilderness? But surely it is written (on the eve of their entry into the Land of Israel forty years later), “Now the children of Reuben . . . had a very great multitude of cattle” (Numbers 32:1). Hence, they were only looking for an excuse to complain.
Rabbi Shimeon concluded that they did not lust for meat, but for sexual vice.
(Rashi; Midrash Rabbah)
Rav and Shmuel differed as to the meaning of this. One says it means fish. The other says it is an idiom for forbidden sexual relations. . . . This is also the meaning of what is says further on, “Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families”—they were weeping over the incestuous relations that were now forbidden them.
(Talmud, Yoma 75a)
Pharaoh did not even give them straw (cf. Exodus 5), and they said that they received free fish! If they would have known about the manna beforehand, they would have claimed to have already eaten it at Pharaoh’s table . . .
“For nothing”—without the responsibility of the mitzvot.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe illustrates the deeper significance of the “free fish” of Egypt with the following parable:
A wealthy nobleman was once touring his estate, and came upon a peasant pitching hay. The nobleman was fascinated by the flowing motions of the peasant’s arms and shoulders, and the graceful sweep of the pitchfork through the air. He so greatly enjoyed the spectacle that he struck a deal with the peasant: for ten rubles a day, the peasant agreed to come to the mansion and enact his hay-pitching technique in the nobleman’s drawing room.
The next day the peasant arrived at the mansion, hardly concealing his glee at his new line of work. After swinging his empty pitchfork for over an hour, he collected his ten rubles—many times over his usual wage for a week of labor. But by the following day, his enthusiasm had waned. Several days later, he announced to his master that he was quitting his new commission.
“But I don’t understand,” puzzled the nobleman. “Why choose to swing heavy loads in the winter cold and summer heat, when you can perform such an effortless task in the comfort of my home and earn many times your usual pay?”
“But Master,” said the peasant, “I don’t see the work.”
A person derives pleasure from material things only by comparing what he has to what his neighbors have. So although they could enjoy every taste in the world in the manna, they derived no pleasure from it, since everyone had it . . .
(Rabbi Yonatan Eibeschutz)
Moses was unable to lower himself to the task of providing Israel with meat—his soul was far too lofty to deal with so mundane a need.
(Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch)
While they were still in Egypt, they had had seventy elders, as it says (Exodus 3:16), “Go and gather the elders of Israel together.” But these new elders were those who were then the Israelite “officers” whom Pharaoh set over the children of Israel.
When the children of Israel failed to meet the quota of bricks set by Pharaoh, the taskmasters would beat the officers, as it is written (ibid. 5:14), “The Israelite officers were beaten. . . .” These officers allowed themselves to be beaten for the people’s sake, and did not hand them over to the taskmasters, saying: It is better that we be beaten, and the rest of the people should not be harmed.
Therefore, when G‑d said to Moses, “Gather to Me seventy men,” and Moses said, “My Master, I do not know who is worthy and who is not worthy,” G‑d said: “Those whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them.” Those officers who gave themselves over to be beaten over the brick quotas, they shall now be elevated to this greatness.
Moses thought: What shall I do? If I bring five from each tribe, the total will not amount to seventy: there will only be sixty. If I bring six from each tribe, there will be two more than seventy. If I bring six from one tribe and five from another, I will introduce jealousy between the tribes.
What did he do? He took seventy-two ballots, and wrote on seventy of them “elder,” and two ballots he left blank. Then he mixed them up in an urn and proclaimed: “Come and draw your ballots.” A man who drew out a ballot inscribed with the word “elder” knew that he had been appointed an elder. And one who drew out a blank knew that he had not been appointed, and the superintendent would say to him: “There is still a ballot in the urn inscribed with the word ‘elder’; had you been worthy of being appointed, you would have drawn it.”
The seventy elders correspond to the seventy biblically ordained holy days of the year: 52 Sabbaths, seven days of Passover, eight days of Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Shavuot.
Should you object that while one sage permits, another prohibits; while one disqualifies, another declares fit; while one rules that a thing is unclean, another rules that it is clean; while Rabbi Eliezer condemns, Rabbi Joshua acquits; while Beth Shammai disqualify, Beth Hillel declare fit—to whom, then, shall we listen? Says G‑d: Nevertheless, it is all given from one Shepherd.
Was Moses’ prophecy perhaps diminished? No. This is comparable to a burning candle from which many candles are lit, yet its own light is not diminished. So, too, Moses lost nothing that was his.
On the most basic level, this is the difference between physical and spiritual giving. In physical giving, the giver’s resources are depleted by his gift—he now has less money or energy than before. In spiritual giving, however, there is no loss. When a person teaches his fellow, his own knowledge is not diminished—if anything, it is enhanced.
Upon deeper contemplation, however, it would seem that spiritual giving, too, carries a “price.” If the disciple is inferior to the teacher in knowledge and mental capability, the time and effort expended in teaching him is invariably at the expense of the teacher’s own intellectual development; also, the need for the teacher to “coarsen” and simplify his ideas to fit the disciple’s mind will ultimately detract from the depth and abstraction of his own thoughts. By the same token, dealing with people of lower moral and spiritual level than oneself cannot but affect one’s own spiritual state. The recipients of this “spiritual charity” will be elevated by it, but its giver will be diminished by the relationship, however subtly.
Indeed, we find an example of such spiritual descent in Moses’ bestowal of the leadership upon Joshua. In contrast to the appointment of the seventy elders, where he was told to “emanate” his spirit to them, Moses is here commanded to “take Joshua the son of Nun, and lay your hand upon him . . . and give of your glory upon him” (Numbers 27:18–20). Here the Midrash comments, “Lay your hand upon him—like one who kindles a candle from a candle; Give of your glory—like one who pours from one vessel into another vessel.”
In other words, there are two kinds of spiritual gifts: a gift that “costs” the giver nothing (“emanation,” which is like “kindling a candle from a candle”), and a gift that involves a removal of something from the giver in order that the recipient should receive something (“pouring from one vessel into another”).
There are times when we indeed sacrifice something of ourselves for the benefit of a fellow. But there are also times when we commit ourselves to our fellow so absolutely—when the gift comes from a place so deep and so true within us—that we only grow from the experience, no matter how much we give of ourselves.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
The literal meaning of Kivrot Hataavah is “graves of lust”: not only the “people that lusted” were buried there, but also the lust itself . . .
When the elders were appointed, the people of Israel lit candles and rejoiced for the seventy elders who had been elevated to greatness. When Miriam saw the candles, she said: “Fortunate are these men, and fortunate are their wives!” Said Tzipporah to her: “Do not say ‘Fortunate are their wives,’ say ‘Woe unto their wives!’ For from the day that G‑d spoke to Moses your brother, he has not had relations with me.”
Immediately Miriam went to Aaron, and they took to discussing the matter, as it says, “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses about the woman”—about his separating himself from the woman. They said: “Moses is a prideful one. Did G‑d speak only with him? He has already spoken with many prophets, ourselves included; did we separate from our spouses?”
Thus the verse attests, to refute them: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than all the men that were upon the face of the earth.”
G‑d appeared to them suddenly, when they had not yet purified themselves [through immersion in a pool of water] following marital relations, and they began calling, “Water! Water!” This was to teach them that Moses did right in separating from his wife, since the Divine Presence revealed itself to him constantly, and there was no preset time for divine communication.
G‑d said to them: “The prophets of whom you spoke, in dreams and visions did I communicate with them. Not so is My manner with Moses My servant. And it was I who told him to separate from his wife.” (Where did G‑d say this? Following the revelation at Sinai [when all the people were commanded to separate from their wives for three days], G‑d said to Moses: “Go and say to them: ‘Return to your tents’; but you stay here with Me.”)
Was she then a Cushite? She was a Midianite! Rather, it means that her beauty was obvious to all, as the blackness of a Cushite is obvious to all.
In sleep, when the soul frees itself to a certain degree from the confines of the body, it can begin to perceive the divine essence that hides behind the material world. Moses, however, was able to see G‑dliness even when awake—for him the material world did not conceal.
(Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov)
When Moses began to pray at the shore of the Red Sea, G‑d said to him: “Moses! My children are in dire straits, and you stand and pray profusely? . . . There is a time to pray at length, and there is a time to pray briefly . . .
Once a certain disciple went down [to lead the prayer] before the ark in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer, and he spun out the prayer to a great length. His disciples said to him: Master, how long-winded this fellow is! He replied to them: Is he drawing it out any more than our master Moses, of whom it is written (Deuteronomy 9:25): “The forty days and the forty nights that I threw myself down before G‑d in supplication”?
Another time it happened that a certain disciple went down before the ark in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer, and he cut the prayer very short. His disciples said to him: How concise this fellow is! He replied to them: Is he any more concise than our master Moses, who prayed, as it is written: “I beseech You, O G‑d, heal her now”?
(Talmud, Berachot 34a)
There are prayers that are answered after a hundred years . . . there are prayers that are answered after ninety years . . . and there are prayers that are answered after seven days.
(Midrash Yalkut Hamachiri)
Miriam waited a short while for Moses, as it is written (Exodus 2:4), “His sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him.” Therefore Israel was delayed for her seven days in the wilderness, as it is written, “The people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.”
(Talmud, Sotah 9b)