My father was a very quiet person, he spoke rarely and always thoughtfully. The only times he spoke at length and in detail was when he was speaking and teaching Torah. I recall only two exceptions, Pesach nights following the Seders – when he would talk to us about his youth and what he lived through – and one other time, shortly before he passed away. I came from Amherst to visit him. During that day I was alone with him in his hospital room and he told me more than I can recall hearing from him in his entire life. In retrospect I understand it was likely that he felt he would never have a chance to speak with me again.
One of the things he told me stands out, and I believe I saw it come to life again last night as I joined thousands dancing and celebrating my nieces wedding in the center of Moscow.
My father spoke about his father, my namesake, a giant Torah scholar and Chossid. My father described the way his father’s hands would tremble when he would light the menorah on Chanukah – “it was like watching the Kohen Gadol light the Menorah in the Bet Hamikdash”. “That” my father said “was when I saw the words of the passuk וגילו ברעדה – they rejoiced in trembling awe -come to life”. Last night I think I finally realized what my father meant.
These Shabbatot we read about the Mishkan and it’s vessel. Prominent among them is the Menorah. In an oft quoted talk the Rebbe once explained, why it is that Rambam in Mishneh Torah, his Code of Law, in his illustration depicting the Menorah, draws the three decorative goblets on each of the Menorah’s branches, turned over facing downwards not upwards. The Menorah is the source of light, symbolic of the light of Hashem and His Torah. That light is meant to illuminate the world. For that reason the windows in the Bet Hamikdash were angled in a manner, not as usual with windows, to reflect the light outside in, but angled the other way, to reflect the light inside to the world outside.
Similarly the goblets on the menorah, the Rebbe explains, were not angled upward as receptacles receiving, they were angled downwards pouring out their contents to others giving. That’s what the Menorah symbolizes and teaches. It’s not enough to have the light of Torah to appreciate it and enjoy it. Building a Bet Hamikdash in ourselves means shining and sharing that light with others.
There is one thing I never understood about that explanation. Yes if there are going to be goblets on the Menorah it makes sense that they are the kind of goblets that pour not just receive, but why did the Menorah need goblets altogether? Just look at the Menorah, any menorah, that’s what they do, they give light. And if the message that the light is meant to be shared is not clear enough, then the angle of the Bet Hamikdash’s windows made that message explicit. What do the goblets add?
A great teacher once pointed out something very powerful about our first Rebbe, Moshe Rabeynu. In the description of Moshe passing on his leadership, the Midrash describes it in one place as כמדליק מנר לנר , like lighting from candle to candle. In another place the Midrash describes it as כמוריק מכלי לכלי as if pouring from vessel to vessel. The difference is of course obvious when lighting one candle from the other the first candle is not at all diminished by having lit a second candle. On the contrary the light is increased. When pouring from one cup to the other, however, the cup pouring is apparently losing.
It’s not all that hard to convince people to teach what they know, to inspire with what they have, to share the light they’ve received. The rewards are immediate and the returns are everlasting. The more you teach the more you learn. The more you inspire the higher you can soar. The more light you give the brighter you shine. That’s the way it is supposed to be.
But it’s a funny thing about Hashem and the world he’s created. It seems that not always are things the way they’re supposed to be. We live in a world where standing in place and shining a light won’t quite reach every corner. The world Hashem created still has, for reasons known to Him alone, some very dark and very cold places.
Yet even those places, the Rebbe teaches us again and again, Hashem wants us to warm them up and brighten them. That can’t be done by simply standing in place and lighting a candle. You need to go there and you need to actually pour from your “cup”. You need to go out into the cold, into the darkness and bring Hashem’s light there as well. Even if it costs you.
Dancing last night with thousands at my nieces wedding the contrasts between the repressive persecuting Soviet Union of thirty years ago and the flourishing Jewish communities in the CIS today could not have been starker. When the Rebbe sent my little sister and her husband – today the Chief Rabbi of Russia – into the Soviet Union 25 years ago, they moved into a hovel of an apartment with crumbling ceilings, moldy walls, rats unafraid to walk on ceiling pipes in daylight. Kosher meat and prepared foods where almost unattainable. Every step was a struggle every accomplishment a battle.
But no battle was more devastating than the fight for the life of their daughter Chaya. At six and a half she took suddenly ill and despite emergency evacuation to Israel Hashem took her back to Him. They came prepared to sacrifice and sacrifice they did.
We danced last night at my niece Frady’s wedding in downtown Moscow. A Moscow that has Jewish schools with thousands of students, shuls, Jewish Centers, elegant kosher restaurants and more. Yet hovering over every dance was my niece Chaya’le. I know she was smiling rejoicing with her parents with her siblings and with us, but I confess I was crying.
Sure I was singing, dancing rejoicing – but inside? I’m not my grandfather – I haven’t yet got that וגילו ברעדה thing. I was dancing with tears. I want the world where it’s וגילו בשמחה rejoicing with joy.
I don’t know what the Menorah in the third Bet Hamikdash will look like. Will it be with goblets or will it be without? I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s light will shine clear, it will shine forever, and it will shine where ever and the joy that we’ll have will be full, pure and complete.