When you first join a club, you obey all the club rules; you never make excessive noise and never smoke in public places. Yet, seniors at the club play fast and easy with rules, why is that? On your first day of high-school, you study the student-hand-book and memorize each rule; you would never dream of breaking them. But by the time you are a senior, you break the rules with impunity. What changes?
Moses instructed Aaron to kindle the lights of the candelabra in the Tabernacle. The Torah makes a point of telling us that Aaron followed Moses’ rules to the letter. Why does the Torah need to tell us this, why should we suspect Aaron of deviating from the rules?
If you look carefully, you will find a discrepancy between Moses’ instructions and Aaron’s actions. Moses told Aaron, “When you raise the lamps, the seven lamps shall be lit toward the face of the menorah.” But here is how Aaron’s actions are depicted. “Aaron did so; he raised the lamps toward the face of the menorah, as the Lord had commanded Moses.”
Did you catch the subtle deviations? Moses instructed Aaron to light the lamps toward the central stem of the candelabra, but Aaron raised the lights toward the central stem. Lighting the lamps means to put match to wick. Raising the lamps means to keep the match to the wick until the flame rises by itself. The second deviation is that Moses instructed Aaron to tilt the lamps toward the central stem as he lit the candles. However, the verse seems to imply that Aaron, tilted the lamps toward the central stem after the flames were raised.
This raises the suspicion that Aaron deviated from Moses’ instruction. The Torah therefore assures us that Aaron complied with and even exceeded his instructions. Not only did Aaron ensure that the lamps were facing the central stem when he first lit them, he diligently continued to light them until they were rising spontaneously. Furthermore, he worked to ensure that the lamps would continue to face the central stem even after they were lit and burning spontaneously.
Aaron was not instructed to be so diligent, yet he considered it important enough to do it on his own. What can we learn from this? What lesson does this teach us about enhancing our Judaism?
In today’s age, until Mahisach comes speedily in our times, we don’t have a temple or a candelabra. Yet, this Torah portion has relevance to us because when we don’t find relevance in the literal meaning of a verse, we learn to seek relevance in its metaphoric meaning. And the metaphor is timeless.
There is a lamp within each Jew, called a neshamah, a soul. Collectively, the Jewish people are a candelabra, comprised of a variety of lamps. Each lamp has a distinct shade and a unique level of intensity. Our task is to kindle our internal lamp. But it is not sufficient to kindle our lamp at the beginning of our journey, we must continue to progress spiritually until our lamp raises light of its own accord. Until our flame rises on its own.
The Club Rules
When we first light our lamp and are freshly inspired, we are enthusiastic about each aspect of the tradition. I have noticed that when people are first inspired to attend services, they arrive punctually and often even early. After a while, they notice that others show up late, and they too become tardy. At first, they are careful to spend their time at synagogue focused on prayer. Then they notice that the veterans at the service spend a lot of time in casual conversation, and they too grow lax about conversing during prayer.
It is the same in every club. When we first join, we are mindful of the rules and don’t break them. When we discover that we won’t get ejected for breaking a rule, we stop taking the rules so seriously. We rationalize it by telling ourselves that rules are meant to be broken and that every rule has an exception. Besides, if everyone else breaks the rules, why shouldn’t we?
Aaron teaches us that it is easy to point our lamp toward the central stem, a euphemism for being faithful to club rules, the Torah’s laws, when our flame is first kindled. When we are new to the club, we are naturally inclined to obey club rules. There are many reasons for this. It could be because we want to impress our fellow club members. It could be because we fear that breaking club rules carries dire consequences. It could be because we are simply inspired. So, when we are new, we follow the club rules with exactitude.
The trick is to continue to follow the club rules after we become accustomed to the club. When we no longer need to impress the club members, when we learn that breaking the club rules doesn’t get us ejected from the club, and most important, when we notice that other members break the club rules with impunity, we are inclined to become lax. Because familiarity breeds . . . laxity.
Aaron comes along and teaches us to be aware of this natural inclination and to work against it. When your flame rises of its own accord, when you are no longer new to the club and have become a veteran member, make sure to continue to point your lamp toward the central stem. Remain consistent. Don’t break the rules even if others appear to do so without consequences.
Because in truth, there is always a consequence. When you break a rule, you cause a subtle change in the fabric of your religion. It slowly shifts from being G-d’s religion to being your religion. You obey the rules that you like and break the rules that you don’t like. This is not Judaism; it is a religion of your making. Your lamp might be burning intensely, but it is not facing G-d’s central stem.