This week’s Torah portion tells of the command given to Aharon the Kohen to light the Menorah in the Mishkan. The verses write: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to Aharon and say to him, ‘When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah.” Aharon did so; he lit the lamps toward the face of the menorah, as the Lord had commanded Moses.”(Bamidbar 8:1-3). The inclusion of the words “Aharon did so” are further discussed by Rashi, explaining that Aharon followed God’s commandment to the exact letter of the law. Writes Rashi, “This shows Aharon’s virtue that he did not change from God’s command” [Sifrei Beha’alothecha 1:5] (Commentary to 8:3). The necessity for this explanation is altogether puzzling, for we know that Aharon was the first Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and one of the Jewish people’s most righteous leaders. Would it not be understood that he would not deviate from God’s direct command, but that he would act in accordance with it? What is the deeper message to the phrase “…he did not change…” within Rashi’s explanation? Surely there is more to the surface-level text, and a lesson that we can take from it into our own lives.
There is a fascinating article by Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb entitled “In Praise of Aharon.” Here he quotes three explanations detailing the greatness within the fact that Aharon fulfilled the deed exactly as he was commanded. Its message offers a unique view on the character of Aharon, as well as a contemporary message for our generation living in the Land of Israel today.
Firstly, Rabbi Gottlieb explains in the name of Rabbi Efrayim Greenblatt’s “Rivevot Ephraim al Ha-Torah” that upon further consideration, not deviating from what was explicitly commanded by God was actually a significant accomplishment for an individual such as Aharon. As is well known, Aharon was a man who loved and pursued peace, who dedicated his life to the mission of bringing people closer to one another and to the Torah. (Pirki Avot 1:12) He was a leader for all the Jewish people –husbands and wives, scholars and laymen, the righteous and the not so righteous. In all matters, Aharon was straight and guided the people in the true path of God without changing or compromising his own spiritual and religious outlook on life. When a person is engaged in educating and mentoring a wide variety of people, it can sometimes be tempting to temper down one’s views or actions in order to make the topic more palatable to that particular audience. Rabbi Greenblatt explains that the above verse is coming to teach that despite whatever pressures or temptations he may have felt, Aharon “did not change.” With this understanding in mind, it becomes clear why the verse goes out of its way to praise his conduct. (In Praise of Aharon)
Continuing his article, Rabbi Gottlieb quotes the Hassidic master, the Sefat Emet, who offers an entirely different explanation. The Sefat Emet suggests that the praise of “he did not change” is in fact referring to the enthusiasm and love which Aharon maintained while performing the mitzvah of kindling the menorah, day in and day out. Rabbi Gottleib writes, “…The first time we perform a mitzvah there is a natural excitement and joy, which comes from doing something new. But for most people most of the time the passion wanes with the passage of time and as the mitzvah is performed repeatedly. The greatness of Aharon is that he overcame this instinct; he was able to approach the Menorah each day with the same level of excitement that he felt the very first time he lit it.”(ibid) Seeing the daily mitzvot with fresh eyes and a passionate heart were among Aharon’s most admirable qualities.
Rabbi Gottleib’s final explanation is that of Reb Meir of Premishlan, who teaches that the verse “he did not change” is a tribute to Aharon’s humility. Aharon was the High Priest of his generation, his daily responsibilities included the most holy work in the Mishkan. His lofty position within society was unparalleled, yet despite this he stayed as authentically true to himself and as grounded as ever. Unlike many other prominent men, he did not allow his success to change him, hence Rashi’s verse “he did not change.”
In light of these explanations we can now truly appreciate the greatness of Aharon. Whether it was his uncompromising religious standards, his sustained passion and dedication for mitzvah observance, or his almost super-human quality of humility we can now clearly understand that the phrase “he did not change” alludes to truly great praises of Aharon HaKohen. These qualities not only served Aharon well, but they are also ones that should be at the forefront of our collective consciousness while carrying out the mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel in our times.
Firstly, we must strive to channel Aharon’s unwavering adherence to Jewish values and religious standards whilst extending an arm of welcome and love to all segments of society. Today, the fabric of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel is that of many stripes and colors. The need for unity is great, and undoubtedly the successful continuation of our people is dependent upon our ability to live together as one harmonious nation. There is much room for individuality and self-expression within the social and political spheres, however we must always remember to let Torah true principles and values be our guide. We must make Aharon our example — reach out and love all, but always stay true to our convictions.
Secondly, never allow the spark of enthusiasm for mitzvot in general, and the Land of Israel in specific, to burn out. Those of us who have merited to return home to Israel vividly remember the unbridled joy felt upon on our first day in our homeland. Picture the photographs taken on the tarmac, the emotion of new olim is palpable. However, as daily life pressures sink in and challenges come to the forefront, it is common to find that enthusiasm wane. One must exert concentrated effort to view daily life in Israel like Aharon did the daily mitzvah of lighting the menorah—each day is a blessing, each day is a unique opportunity to rededicate oneself to the service of God.
Finally, we must always remember to remain humble. Living in the Land of Israel is a unique opportunity, and those who choose to root their homes and lives on its soil are indeed privileged to be able to fulfill the will of God in such an all-encompassing way. But this should never give way to arrogance, instead we should learn from Aharon and remain forever grateful and humble for having been given the chance to fulfill this special mitzvah.
In this merit may we see the renewed kindling of the Menorah in our rebuilt Beit Hamikdash, speedily in our days.