Lazer Gurkow

The Silent Flame

Hardly any Splash at all

One of the criteria by which professional high divers are rated is their smooth water entrance and the resultant splash factor.

Entering the water at a twisted angle increases the splash factor. Entering the water at a vertical angle minimizes the splash factor. Ironically, the smaller the splash, the higher the rating that the diver receives.

Judaism is no different. There are dynamic, spirited Jews who worship with great fanfare and there are simple, but dependable Jews who worship with silent commitment. Both are important. The spirited Jew provides leadership and inspires the masses. The simple Jew is always there, always committed, regardless of circumstance.

In the eyes of man, the former generates more attention. In the eyes of G-d the latter is equally important. G-d enjoys the spirited Jews for their influence and flair. G-d enjoys the simple Jews for their firm and permanent commitment. Long after the splash disappears and the spotlight fades, the simple Jew continues to worship.

A Crestfallen Aaron

This story takes us back to our ancestors’ desert journey, on the final day of the altar’s inaugural service. Each of the tribal princes had proffered an offering and, as evidenced by the celestial flames that consumed them, the offerings were accepted on high.

The public nature of the offerings and the celestial flames that they ushered forth inspired the masses. Their souls aflame with love; they put the Golden Calf behind them. Their hearts overflowing with gratitude; they dedicated themselves to G-d. Their spirits brimming with enthusiasm; they were wholly and purely inspired to serve.

Aaron, the high priest, was chiefly responsible for the sacrificial rite and should have been at the center of the inaugural activity. Yet he was not given a role and he felt rebuffed.

It was not his personal honor that worried him, but that of the nation. Nine months earlier he had unwittingly led the nation to the Golden Calf. Now that he was seemingly rebuffed by G-d, he worried that he, and by extension the people, were not fully forgiven.

G-d Responds

Aaron’s sentiments were sensed on high and G-d responded with consoling words. Fear not Aaron. You were not invited to inaugurate the altar because your role transcends the altar. You shall kindle the lights of the sacred candelabra.

At first glance G-d’s response seems curious. Why would the lights transcend the celestial response stimulated by the offerings? One might further ask, why did G-d not console Aaron with the incense offering, which surely transcended the inaugural offerings? The incense was offered up on a golden altar that stood in the inner sanctum while the inaugural offerings were placed on a copper altar that stood in the courtyard?

G-d could also have consoled Aaron with the promise of worship on Yom Kippur. Aaron, as high priest, was permitted to enter the inner sanctuary, the most sacred chamber in the temple, on this most sacred day. This service surely transcended that of the inaugural offerings. Why did this service not constitute sufficient consolation for Aaron?

The Power of a Candle

A candle produces light and warmth, but that is not its only strength. The secret of the candlelight is that it overcomes the deepest and greatest darkness. No matter how dark the night, it recedes before the candle. No matter how deep the gloom, the candlelight soothes, comforts, and offers direction.

The candle is not spirited nor dynamic. It does not inspire the masses nor does it galvanize the nation. It is small and unassuming, but in its glow everything is softened. Sharp edges are blunted, faith and hope are quietly restored.

The candle is powerful because it is not concerned for itself, its purpose is to serve others. A flame gives of itself and is not diminished in the process. One flame can ignite a thousand candles and remain as powerful and illuminating as ever before.

The Enduring Flame

This is why the candles were miraculously made to burn for eight days and nights during a time when the altar could not ignite the celestial flame.  This is why the candles continued to burn long after the temple was destroyed. The sacred lights of the temple continue to burn today in the guise of the Chanukah lights.

The Chanukah lights commemorate the miracle that enabled the temple lights to burn. The Chanukah lights do not succumb to the darkness of the diaspora or to the gloom of exile. They merrily continue to burn, long after the temple and its altar were destroyed.

This is why Aaron’s inaugural calling surpassed that of the tribal princes. Attractive and inspiring as their offerings were they were only as enduring as the altar itself. Aaron was invited to kindle a light. A light that burned long after the darkness of night had descended. A candle that continued to burn long after the candelabra was destroyed.

The Simple Jew

Quiet Jews worship G-d the way a candle radiates light, intent only on fulfilling their purpose. Humble and unassuming, they serve out of obedience. They are not suffused with ecstasy or filled with bliss. They do not tremble in awe or exult in enthusiasm. They are not aglow with joy or aflame with love. They simply are. They serve G-d because G-d wants to be served.

This kind of service is long lasting. Long after the love has expired and the fear has dissipated, long after the ecstasy has calmed and the joy has relaxed, these Jews will continue to serve. These Jews will be in a position to re-kindle the spiritual light of those, who have expended their own energy.

This was the nature of Aaron’s powerful contribution.

About the Author
Rabbi Lazer Gurkow, a renowned lecturer, serves as Rabbi to Congregation Beth Tefilah in London Ontario. He is a member of the curriculum development team at Rohr Jewish Learning Institute and is the author of two books and nearly a thousand online essays. You can find his work at