The Mystics allegorize God with light or fire. Prior to the creation, there was Him alone, “Ohr Ein Sof,” an infinite and endless light. To fashion a world and individual beings, He concealed this all-pervasive light, for if His oneness were fully manifest, then it would be impossible for anything other to be, just as there can be no individual flames in the orb of the sun. He therefore “contracted” Himself, so to speak, in order to create a place of darkness where His light was not apparent.
He then clothed tiny fragments or “sparks” of Himself within “kelipos/shells” so that they would consider themselves distinct and individual. Each of His creations is therefore an individual flame of His infinite fire. The candles of the menorah represent these diversified beings, each one of us a discrete flame with particular qualities and traits, as it is written in Proverbs, “Ner Hashem nishmas Adam/the candle of God is the soul of mankind” (Proverbs 20:27).
At the beginning of Parshas Behaaloscha, Aaron the High Priest is instructed to kindle the lights of menorah in the Tabernacle. But rather than the common term used for lighting candles, “l’hadlik/to kindle,” the verse employs a peculiar term, “behaaloscha,” which literally means “when you raise up,” or “when you cause to ascend.” As each of us is a fragment of Godly fire, we are here to illuminate our surroundings by revealing the divine light that is buried within us. Yet the “shells” that conceal each individual flame are difficult to crack, and the darkness that pervades this lowest world is thick and persistent. Therefore our light can remain concealed, and the Godliness that underlies all of us, and all of reality, often remains unseen.
To assist us in fanning our flame and piercing the darkness, God assigns Aaron the task of “raising up” the candles. The personalities in the Torah are not merely historic characters, but they are representatives of various energies that persist throughout time. Aaron, the Sages teach, represents “ahava/love,” as he is described in the Mishnah as “ohev es habrios/one who loves the creations” (Avos 1:12). Exploring the secrets of the menorah, the Alter Rebbe explains that it was specifically Aaron who was tasked with the kindling of the candles because it is only with love that the flames within each of us will be raised up and elevated to their full potential for illumination.
The common modern perception of the human is that we are base, lowly, animalistic beings. Indeed, we are frail and imperfect, and we stumble frequently. We are often selfish and sometimes unkind, and though it is the nature of a person to rationalize and defend her/his actions and decisions, there is a gnawing sense of guilt and shame that lingers within us. Most of us suppress these emotions. We busy ourselves with all manner of habits, distractions, and preoccupations in order to shield ourselves from feeling the raw pain of being “only human.” Some of us develop toxic behaviors and/or addictions in order to numb our anxiety. Others of us torture ourselves with self-doubt and insecurity, or torment our loved ones with anger and aggression. We suffer, and we make others suffer with us, because we believe ourselves to be irredeemable and unworthy of love. The flame within us dwindles, and life feels empty, dark, and cold.
Yet the reality of our existence is that we are fire. We are Godly light that has merely been temporarily concealed. And, the Alter Rebbe reminds us, this concealment is the work of our Creator Himself. He is the One who fashioned the shells that individuate us. He is the One who formed darkness first, and only afterwards light, as we read at the opening of Genesis, “Now the earth was astonishingly empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep…. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:2-3). It was God who garbed us in animal bodies and saddled us with selfish, animalistic tendencies. It was He who gave us both a “yetzer hara/evil inclination” and a “yetzer tov/good inclination,” compelling these two opposing forces to coexist within one conflicted being.
The Sages ponder the questions of why God would conceal Himself in this way, and why He would desire to create a being with such wanton proclivities and stark contradictions. Their answers are profound and complex, and volumes have been written on the question of the divine why. In short, one explanation that has been provided by the mystics is, “Teva hatov l’heitiv/It is the nature of one who is good to do good” (Emek HaMelech, Shaar Aleph). God created the world because He desired to give. It is the nature of one who is good to do good, and therefore in order to express His natural goodness, God required a recipient to whom He could convey His generosity. In order for there to be a recipient other, there must be a concealment of God’s infinite Oneness, as explained above. And in order for the other to conceive of her/himself as other, s/he must believe that s/he is not God, and therefore s/he must appear to be unGodly.
Of course there is far more to say on the immense subject of God’s motives and desires, but the concept encapsulated here is that He concealed Himself and created us because of His infinite and unimaginable love. What this means is that God loves you as you are! He loves you flaws and all. He created your flaws, and in spite of your failings, He still loves you!
It is this awesome awareness that will enable us to “rise up” even though we fall and fall again. If we believe that we are wicked, hopeless, and unloveable, then we eventually stop trying to be anything more, and we will dwindle and dim. But when we understand that we are divine fire, we will glow with an unceasing passionate desire to burn brighter and rise higher. This is the spark with which Aaron ignites us. “Behaaloscha es haneiros,” God commands him – raise up all of my candles with your attribute of love. Cognizant of God’s essential and incessant adoration for us, though we will inevitably sputter and flicker at times, we continue to rise and stretch toward the heavens. In so doing, we will reveal the Godly light within us and around us, and will thereby fulfill our task of illuminating every dark corner of the creation.