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Between Naso and Behaalotcha

Parashat Behaalotcha opens with the commandment to light the menorah. The previous parasha, Naso, ended with the gifts of the princes. Rashi, quoting a midrash, asks why this was so:

“Why is the section treating the candelabrum put in juxtaposition with the section dealing with the offerings of the princes? Because when Aaron saw the dedication offerings of the princes, he felt distressed because neither he nor his tribe was with them in the dedication, whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, ‘By your life! Your part is of greater importance than theirs, for you will kindle and set in order the lamps every morning and evening.’” (Rashi on Bamidbar 8:2)

Ramban, however, disagrees with Rashi’s answer. He questions why would the lighting of the menorah be a consolation for not bringing the offerings like the other tribes, considering that the kohanim regularly bring incense and the daily sacrifices. His answer, based on a different midrash, is that the commandment of the menorah was a consolation for Aharon because it would later be associated with the holiday of Chanukah, which in contrast to the sacrifices would continue to be observed even after the destruction of the Temple.

While the Ramban’s answer makes a nice drasha (especially because the princes brought their offerings for the dedication (“chanukah”) of the altar). But it seems even further removed from the plain meaning of the text than Rashi’s answer. The events of the Chasmonaim were centuries away from the time of the Torah, and if it’s referring to the lighting of the Chanukah candles – that’s not even something associated only with the kohanim!

While Rashi and Ramban disagree about what Aharon’s consolation was, they both quote midrashim saying that he was distressed. This is by no means an obvious conclusion from reading the text. A more direct explanation of why the commandment of the menorah came here, as mentioned by the Daat Mikra, is that after the dedication of the mishkan was complete, it was time to light the menorah. So why did the midrashim assume that Aharon was upset?

I think they got this idea from looking at the end of Parashat Behaalotcha. There we read that Aharon (and Miriam) complained that Moshe should not be viewed as the exclusive prophet, since God had spoken to them as well (Bamidbar 12:2). And although that happened at the end of Behaalotcha, it seems that the impetus for it may be found at the very end of Naso. There we read:

“When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the Voice addressing him from above the cover that was on top of the Ark of the Pact between the two cherubim; thus He spoke to him.” (Bamidbar 7:89)

In this verse, we read that Moshe could go (at will) into the Tent of Meeting to speak with God. This is different from all other prophets, who needed to receive revelation from above. As it says at the end of Behaalotcha:

“When a prophet of the LORD arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the LORD.” (Bamidbar 12:6-8)

This was the reason that Aharon was distressed. And so although Rashi might have given a different reason for Aharon’s resentment, his answer certainly is appropriate. While Moshe did have a unique opportunity to enter the Tent of Meeting to speak to God freely, Aharon, and his descendants, would enter the mishkan regularly to light the menorah. That is an amazing privilege, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Just as we saw in the transition between Bamidbar and Naso, here too is a case where the Torah presents an ideal vision of how different people should accept their distinct roles with grace. Sadly, we see that both Aharon and Miriam, and later Korach and his assembly, did not learn that lesson.

About the Author
David Curwin is a writer living in Efrat. He has been writing about the origin of Hebrew words and phrases, and their connection to other languages, on his website balashon.com since 2006. He has also published widely on topics relating to Bible and Jewish philosophy.
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