21 Sivan

You will light my candle; the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.” Psalms 18:29

In this week’s portion, Beha’alotecha בהעלתך, the Eternal commands Moshe to tell his brother Aaron to light the candles so that the menorah would light up the Mishkan. This is how our portion begins.

It would be a mistake to read this parashah without connecting it to the last portion Naso נָשֹׂא, in which each tribe, represented by their princes, offered the exact same offerings before the Eternal. But Levi did not present any offering, nor was he called its Prince. Who was the prince of the tribe of Levi? It was Aaron and he was the one who represented his tribe and brought an offering before the Eternal when his tribe would be consecrated for service in the Mishkan (Bamidbar 8:6-14). However, when we read the story quickly we miss the process thinking that it was so logical and easy, especially since we know the outcome.

Bamidbar 8:2 says: “Speak to Aaron and say: When you light the candles, the seven candles shall shine towards the central candle of the menorah.” Everything starts with a “when” after everyone was called to present their offering to the Eternal except for Aaron, and all the tribes were represented except for Levi. I tried to imagine what was going on in Aaron’s mind at that moment.

After much research, I found an idea from our sages in Midrash Rabbah of what might have happened. It is written: “Aaron did not bring an offering…. with the other princes of the tribes, and then he thought: Woe is me! Maybe it’s my fault that God doesn’t accept the tribe of Levi? So, God told Moses: “Go and tell Aaron: Do not fear, you have a greater honor in store for you than this. . .: the offerings will remain in force only while the Temple is standing, but the lamps will always give light”.

I’d like to focus on several words in this portion: Aaron as a leader had made big mistakes in the past. According to Exodus 32, we can deduce that Aaron lacked the character to say NO, to stand up and allow the others to see their mistakes, to such an extent that he not only consented to their errors but motivated them to break the First Commandment.  The Torah states:  “…and Aaron made a  proclamation: Tomorrow there will be a Feast for the Eternal!” This caused them not only to bring offerings to sacrifice to strange gods but also led the people into debauchery (including sexual immorality). It was such a mistake that Moshe questioned his brother as a leader saying: “What did these people do to you that you brought such a great sin upon them?” (Ex. 32:21). Aaron then shirked his responsibility by lying, blaming others, and generating a scandal among his opponents (Ex. 32:24) without taking into account the souls who were cut off from his people that day, over whom Aaron, as the leader in charge, had responsibility.

One might think that Aaron, after a time, should have gotten over his past, but honestly, bearing the burden that a life was lost because of us, I don’t think it can ever be forgotten; it is a wound that will permanently mark us. Yes, we can heal, but there will always be the scar that reminds us of that moment. That is why it is a mistake to think: “time heals all wounds”; I would say if a wound were not treated properly, the only thing that time will do will be to rot and infect the area, but, if the wound is handled with “Proper” (capital P) treatment, it can heal.

Now, Aaron was experiencing a moment of anguish. This could be like being in school when they were choosing the kids who would play on a team and would not play, and we were anxious because they did not choose us. It was a time of stress and anxiety, especially if the sport was not favorable for us. In Aaron’s mind as the Midrash mentions, it was bringing out the darkness of Aaron’s past: would we (as a tribe) not be counted because he was the prince of Levi or for his mistakes?

However, the Eternal gives Aaron balsam for his wounds when he says to Moshe: “When….”This word, according to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, is a relative adverb, which has these meanings: “It refers to time, being a forerunner, the moment in which; in case, or if”. In other words, when there is an action that must happen by the express will of a person at the moment that he decides that the action should happen, without defining a specific time. For example, “plants will flower when it rains”, when specifically, will this happen? We don’t know, but flowering will surely occur if it is preceded by rain. Now, something would happen according to this verse when Aaron lit the lamps, but Aaron did not know what the result of his obedience would be.

Given this, we see several issues: First, the “when” would happen at a time that Aaron chose to act. Second, was the Eternal asking us for something meaningless? Is it not written in Tehilim 139:12 “Not even the darkness would be dark for you, and even the night would be clear as day. The darkness is the same for you as the light!”?

Does God require that we enlighten him?

Wasn’t there a menorah inside the Mishkan that brought in enough light? why light more? Daniel 2:22 says “He reveals the deep and the hidden and knows what is hidden in the shadows. In Him dwells the light!” Therefore, God is not asking us for something that will add value to Him as the Creator, rather He is asking Aaron for something that will make him grow. Third, simply lighting the candle is apparently an easy thing for him to do. How much does it cost to light a candle? We have all lit a candle on Shabbat or when the power goes out; it does not require rocket science. It is not an activity that might “insult” the intellect by being too simple or meaningless. However, there is humility, obedience and emunah like that of a child, which is necessary to believe and trust that a simple task can trigger profound changes.

This “when” might have taken years, or never come to fruition, had Aaron not executed it in the correct way (i.e., so that the seven candles shine towards the central candle” Bamidbar 8:2). The consequence of not acting was that Levi’s consecration as an offering before the Eternal might have never happened, nor would the Eternal’s purpose towards Aaron have been accomplished.

Today, we have been called to light the menorah. Mishlei 20:27 says “The human spirit is the candle of the LORD, searching the innermost being.” I’d like to quote a beautiful idea from the Lubavitcher Rebbe: “The spiritual meaning of the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is that one must be a “lamplighter” who ignites the latent potential within “the soul of man, a lamp of God”….. he continues…. “When the cohen came to light the menorah each evening in the Holy Temple, he found them fully prepared for lighting: earlier in the day, the lamps had been cleaned and filled with oil, and new wicks had been fitted. All he had to do was bring the flame that he carried closer so that his proximity to the lamp would unleash the lighting potential that the lamp already had. Herein lies an important lesson for the spiritual bluffer. Do not think that you are achieving something that in truth, your neighbor could not achieve on his own; do not think you’re giving him something that he doesn’t already have. Your neighbor’s soul is a ready lamp, filled with the purest oil and equipped with everything necessary to turn its fuel into a glowing flame. It only lacks the proximity of another lamp to turn it on. If your own soul is ignited, its contact with the soul of another will awaken its light potential, so that it can illuminate its surroundings and in turn ignite other souls.

Wow! When I read these ideas of the Rebbe, I realized how often I have not acted upon the “when” in my life, because I thought that I would be wasting my time, that nobody would notice, or simply that nobody “would thank me for it”, or my ego made me think “this is a very easy task” or my past mistakes wouldn’t allow me to act, either because of guilt, or because I felt incapable, unworthy or far from the Eternal.

It is incredible that the next topic in our portion is the second chance when the second Pesach (Pesach Sheni) is celebrated, as our RANEBI used to say, God is the God of second chances – of beginning again. Indeed, it is so, because the Eternal has continually given us opportunities when we fail and every so often, God once again opens the door for us to shine! And so, when we shine, we become a lamplighter!

I close with the words I began with – Psalm 18:29 “You will light my candle; Adonai my God will enlighten my darkness.” What is our darkness today – our past – our mistakes – when we lead others to make mistakes – when we can’t handle the guilt – remember God is calling us to start over. The point is: “When will we allow the Eternal to enlighten our souls and when will we trigger the birth of other souls? My prayer is to be like Aaron, simply to obey, to act quickly, and to know that the “when” of the Eternal is the very best for us.

Shabbat Shalom

Mauricio Quintero