1. This week’s parshah begins with the discussion of the continuation of the events that took place on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, a year after the Jewish people left Egypt.1 The Torah begins describing this special day, the day of the assembly of the Mishkan at the end of Parshas Pekudei. Throughout most of Chumash Vayikra and the beginning of Chumash Bamidbar,2 the date was Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

The second part of this week’s parshah discusses the manner in which the Jewish people would journey in their travels in the desert. There is a connection between these two narratives: After the Jewish people assembled the Mishkan, a cloud (symbolizing the Divine presence) rested on the Mishkan. When that cloud lifted and set forth towards a new location, the Jewish people broke camp and traveled in its wake. Thus the manifestation of the Divine Presence in the Mishkan determined the path of the Jew’s travels. Therefore the details of the manner in which they traveled are mentioned immediately after the Torah finishes discussing the assembly of the Mishkan and its service.

Significantly, the Torah discusses the Jews’ journeys in the same parshah as the lighting of the Menorah. Furthermore, the name of the portion — which communicates its content — is also associated with the kindling of the Menorah. This indicates a connection between all the elements of the parshah with the Menorah. Although this connection is not openly apparent, by focusing on the inner meaning of the service of the Menorah, we can understand its connection to the Jews’ journeys.

To explain: Rashi relates that the kindling of the Menorah is greater than the initiation of the altar. The Ramban explains this statement, noting that the service of bringing sacrifice on the altar was applicable only as long as the Beis HaMikdash existed. In contrast, the service of lighting the Menorah will never cease. Even after the destruction of the Temple, we continue this service by kindling the lights of Chanukah, illuminating the darkness of exile. Therefore the lighting of the Menorah is considered as a fundamental service of the Mishkan, and that is why it is singled out.

All of the mitzvos of the Torah are applicable forever. Even those mitzvos which cannot be fulfilled in actual deed have continued relevance in a spiritual sense and their lessons guide our daily lives. This is especially so regarding the Mishkan, for our Sages tell us that we were told to make a Mishkan — a dwelling place for G‑d — within each and every Jew. Nevertheless, the kindling of the Menorah stands out as a service which we fulfill in a physical manner as well — even in a time when there is no Beis HaMikdash, and even in a place which is not only outside the parameter of the Beis HaMikdash, but outside of Eretz Yisrael. Furthermore, the service of a Kohen is not required. Every single Jew can light his own Menorah regardless of the time or place in which he lives.

This reflects the central importance of the spiritual service reflected by G‑d of the lighting of the Menorah in our efforts to create “a dwelling place for G‑d” in this world. “The soul of man is a lamp of G‑d” and it shines brightly when illuminated with the “candle of mitzvah and the light of Torah.”

This pure light affects not only the body in which the soul is enclothed, but also the people, places and objects with which we come in contact. Just like the light of the Menorah which spread outward and illuminated the entire world, so too, our goal is to bring this light into the whole world. Olam — the Hebrew word for “world,” (עולם) relates to the word helam (העלם), meaning “concealment.” Our goal is to shine G‑dly light within the concealment that characterizes this world and thus reveal that the world is really G‑d’s dwelling.

Although the Menorah was lit by the priests, every Jew is a part of the “kingdom of priests”3 and therefore can kindle his individual Menorah as the Menorah was kindled by Aharon the Priest. Aharon lit the seven branches of the Menorah, which signify seven different approaches that characterize the divine service of different segments of the Jewish people. Furthermore, all the lights faced the center of the Menorah, indicating a sense of unity. Similarly, after every individual kindles the Menorah within his soul, these individual lights must be forged together a single, united Golden Menorah.

2. The connection between the lighting of the Menorah and our divine service in its totality is expressed even in the details of this mitzvah: a) As mentioned above, it was Aharon the Priest who kindled the Menorah. This indicates that our service of kindling our individual Menoros must reflect Aharon’s traits. In this vein, the Mishnah tells us to “be a disciple of Aharon [by] loving peace, pursuing after peace, loving the created beings and bringing them closer to the Torah.” This implies that we must love even such people whose only redeeming quality is that they are G‑d’s creations. b) Aharon was commanded to light, not one candle, but seven, implying an involvement with the seven different approaches to serving G‑d mentioned above. Similarly, each and every one of us has the ability to affect and add illumination to Jewish people from different walks of life. At first glance, a person may feel that he can only relate to a limited number of Jewish people. This is, however, an improper assessment of his potential. When a person applies himself in this direction, his capabilities increase. As we gain experience dealing with many people, we grow until eventually we are able to affect more and more people.

There is a further implication from the fact that all seven candles are lit every day. This implies that light has to be — and can be added — to the divine service of every Jew on every day. Even if one has reached a high level, one can and must strive to improve. And even if one is on a low rung, the possibility of growth is not beyond one’s reach. c) Rashi notes that the word Behaaloscha (loosely translated as “when you kindle”) literally means “when you raise up,” implying that the candle should be lit until their light extends upward independently, i.e., the candle must burn on its own without requiring another candle to assist it. Similarly, our divine service must be strong enough for it to continue independently without requiring influence from other people.

In a deeper sense, the above can also refer to the relationship between our bodies and our souls. Our bodies should be permeated with the light of Torah to the extent that their light rises up independently, i.e., without the influence of the soul. The Talmud tells us about a person who trained his body so that when he was saying the prayer of Modim, his body bowed down as a natural response. He did not have to think about it and command his body to act; it was a reflex reaction. Similarly, our divine service should be so much a part of our nature, that independently, our bodies should be prompted to study Torah and fulfill mitzvos.

This concept also applies in our relationship with others. Our efforts should be directed, not only to illuminating their souls with the light of the Torah and its mitzvos, but also to teaching them to shine independently. Even when they no longer receive direct influence from their teacher, they must continue to generate light.

We see this concept reflected even in the educational practices of the world at large. Parents educate their children to live a righteous and moral life. Their ultimate goal, however, is that their children will live a moral lifestyle independently without adult guidance, raising their own family and supporting them.

Indeed, this approach is so much a part of nature that it is even manifest in the animal kingdom. Offspring are protected and fed until they are trained to protect and feed their own family.

And this is the responsibility of every teacher: To teach their students until the students’ souls are aroused to the extent that they too can serve as mashpi’im and kindle their own set of seven candles. d) As mentioned, the candles must be “raised up.” Although fire by nature rises upward, the fact that the Torah mentions this detail in connection with the kindling of the Menorah also provides us with a lesson: Even after our lives are illuminated with the Torah and its mitzvos, and furthermore, we have become capable of independently generating such light, we cannot continue on a plateau. Rather we must strive to rise upward, “going from strength to strength.”

3. There are two dimensions to our divine service: a) preparing ourselves to be a dwelling place for G‑dliness. This is accomplished by kindling “the lamp of G‑d, the soul of man,” through “The candle of mitzvah and the light of Torah.” This dimension resembles the services carried out within the Mishkan itself. 2) Radiating “the light of Torah” to the world at large. Just like the light of the Menorah shined forth from the Beis HaMikdash into the outside world, so too the light of our souls must affect all of our worldly and mundane activities. Although they are not directly concerned with the Torah and its mitzvos, they should also permeated with the goal of bringing to fulfillment the G‑dly purpose for this world.

There is an order in which these two services should be performed. Before we reach out to others, we must first kindle the light of our own souls and make them a fit dwelling for G‑d’s presence. After this is accomplished, we can devote ourselves to the task of creating a dwelling place for G‑d in the world at large.

This sequence is alluded to in the order of the subjects discussed in this week’s parshah. The kindling of the Menorah is mentioned first and then the journeys of the Jewish people. Only after the souls of the Jews have been illuminated can our people accomplish the purpose intended in their journeys through the world.4

We previously explained that the lamps of the Menorah must be kindled until they shine independently. Similarly, our divine service must be so much a part of our nature that our bodies serve G‑d independently. The ultimate expression of this rung comes in the second phase of divine service mentioned above, when a person’s service is carried out within the world at large. As long as a person is involved directly in the sphere of the Torah and its mitzvos, he is motivated by the holiness of the Torah. The true challenge is when one is outside the parameters of holiness.

And the guidance for such endeavors comes from this week’s Torah reading which relates that the Jewish people’s journeys followed the Aron, the Holy Ark. In a personal sense, this means that a person’s motivations must not stem from his own desires. He must follow the Aron, go wherever G‑d is leading him. This level of total self-nullification is the ultimate expression of the concept of the body serving G‑d independently.

Furthermore, as mentioned above, our divine service must be constantly “rising upward,” proceeding forward with constant growth.5 And this thrust toward constant growth must also become a natural function of an individual’s personality. Although everyone has a tendency to desire to relax and resist further change and growth, when a person “follows the Aron,” G‑d’s desire (which includes a will for constant growth) has become his.

To apply the above in our own divine service: Every individual goes through periods in his life when both of the phases of divine service mentioned above apply: We undergo periods of education when our primary task is to light our candle until it burns independently and shines forth powerful light. And we have times when we “journey forth” into the world at large, traveling to different locals because of our jobs, or because of different factors in the world at large.

We must realize that these journeys are controlled by Divine Providence. The Baal Shem Tov teaches that the 42 journeys of the Jewish people in the desert are a paradigm followed by each and every person throughout his life. Our lives are characterized by journeys and resting periods. This is especially applicable in our generation where so many people have fled or traveled from country to country.

This week’s parshah teaches us that we must realize that these journeys — their length and the interim between them — are all determined by G‑d’s will. As it is written (Tehillim 37:23): “From G‑d, the footsteps of a man are established and he shall desire G‑d’s path.” And the Baal Shem Tov explains that a Jew must realize that wherever he goes, his path is not determined by personal reasons. Rather, it is G‑d who is leading him from place to place. The real purpose for his move is to spread G‑dliness in that place.

The Previous Rebbe explains that, just as we spend so much time and effort looking for our financial sustenance, so too we must concentrate all our efforts to find our spiritual sustenance. In an ultimate sense, what is this sustenance? To play our part in transforming this world into a dwelling place of G‑d.

This is also what the verse means “and He shall desire his path.” There are two paths in life: one is natural, the second, above nature — the way of Torah and mitzvos. If a person seeks the way of Torah and Mitzvos, spiritual sustenance, he can be assured that G‑d “will desire his path” — because it really is His (G‑d’s) path. Consequently G‑d will grant to him his material needs in a manner that transcends the natural order.

To take this concept one step further: The term “His way” can be interpreted as referring to G‑d’s way, but also to the individual way chosen by the person himself. As explained above, ideally our bodies should serve G‑d independently. Correspondently, in the present context, G‑d’s way should really be our personal way; it should be what we desire as well. And this will call forth a similar response on G‑d’s part. Our desires for our material needs will be accepted by Him and become His desires, as it were.

While the Jewish people journeyed through the desert, it was clearly evident that every step they took was directed by G‑d’s will. At present, by contrast, concentrated thought and divine service are necessary before one comes to the realization that all of our footsteps are decided by G‑d. On the other hand, there is an advantage in our generation, for we can reach this understanding independently without being compelled to come to this realization by the presence of the cloud of G‑d leading the way.

To bring this concept into practical terms: When we prepare ourselves to go on a journey, we must have two opposing approaches: We should not rely on miracles and therefore, must prepare ourselves as would any other responsible individual. Simultaneously, however, we must also realize that in reality it is G‑d who is leading us. And there is no contradiction between these two approaches: G‑d’s desire which leads a person to a particular place, for a spiritual purpose, enclothes itself within the framework of the natural world. (And that is why a person feels various different motivating factors for any journey he undertakes.) Accordingly, it is proper for a person to undertake all the preparations for the journey predicated by responsible behavior, for this is also G‑d’s desire.

And if a person conducts himself in such a manner, his life becomes a fit vessel for G‑d’s Hashgachah Peratis to become manifest within. Just as G‑d’s cloud destroyed all the snakes and scorpions in the desert and prepared a smooth and level path on which the Jews could travel, so too, G‑d will remove any obstacles that stand in a person’s way.

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4. This week we read the second chapter of Pirkei Avos. The first Mishnah of that chapter states: “Rabbi says, ‘What is the just path that a man should choose for himself? That which is honorable to himself and brings him honor from man.’ ”

At first glance, it is difficult to understand the intent of the Mishnah’s question: It is written, “All of the precepts of G‑d are just.” Thus, obviously, the just path for a Jew to follow should be the lifestyle prescribed by the Torah!6 What is Rabbi’s question?

This difficulty can be resolved as follows: There are many levels in Torah observance. There is a just path, a path which is juster than the just, and indeed, myriad levels of observance. Pirkei Avos intends to teach those dimensions of Yiddishkeit that are beyond the letter of the law, pious conduct that is not an obligation, but an expression of a person’s internal development. After a person has perfected his adherence to the letter of Torah law, he should progress to a higher level. And this is the Mishnah’s question, “What is the just path that a person should choose for himself,” i.e., we are speaking of a person who has already perfected himself in the observance of the path which G‑d has chosen for him and is seeking a higher rung of pious behavior. Such a path, a person must choose for himself.7

The Mishnah answers that a person confronted with this choice should choose a way “that is honorable to himself” — that he realizes that is good for him — and which “brings him honor from man” — is also appreciated by the people around him.

The two levels mentioned above, the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos correspond to the two levels of divine service alluded to in this week’s parshah, lighting the lamp of one’s soul and spreading that light throughout the world at large through our journeys.

To conclude with a directive for action: Since it is now Shabbos Parshas Behaaloscha, it is the fitting time for us to examine how well we are living up to the spiritual counterpart of that parshah. Firstly, our G‑dly soul should increase its illumination through the light of Torah and mitzvos. And this should be reflected in our relations with others. We must make a strong decision to increase in our efforts to spread Torah.

The Previous Rebbe said, “Just as every person must recognize his own shortcomings in order to correct them, so too must he recognize his positive qualities in order to express and develop them.” Once we realize our positive qualities, we will be more aware of the potential we have to affect others. This in turn will strengthen and develop our ability.

This will also lead to progress in the second phase of service, appreciating G‑dliness in the aspects of our life that are not directly related to the Torah and its mitzvos. Ultimately, we should realize that both services are interrelated, and even our physical body will come to serve G‑d in a natural manner.

And this will evoke blessings from G‑d who will satisfy our natural needs in a manner which transcends nature, granting “an abundance of children, health and parnassah,” a healthy body and a healthy soul and many long years.

And this will lead to the period of ultimate blessing in the Era of the Redemption. At that time, we will merit to see Aharon, the High Priest kindle the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash. May this take place speedily, in our days.