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Parshat Beha’alotcha – Light


‘Speak to Aaron, and say to him: When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the candlestick.’ (Bamidbar 8:2)

There are differing opinions on whether the lights of the menorah must face the center of the menorah, which essentially means that the wicks of the candles must positioned in such a way that they lean towards or are placed close to the central column of the menorah. The Zohar, (Parshat Beha’alotcha), in order to explain the meaning of this verse, quotes another verse, namely, “it is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it”. There are two items that we refer to as a tree of life. One of these is the Tree of Life that stands in the Garden of Eden, whose fruits have the ability to bestow eternal life to those who eat them, and the other is, of course, the Torah. What is the connection between these two concepts, the menorah and the tree of life?

If we fast-forward to the battle between the Hasmoneans (Maccabees) and the Hellenistic invaders, the Syrian-Greeks, we see that, although it manifested itself in physical terms as a military struggle between these two powers, the war between the Jews and the Greeks was really based on an essential kulturkampf between the Hellenistic concept of the world, and the Torah, between an essential knowledge of and attachment to the natural world, and a faith in the Infinite G-d. According to our Sages, the natural world, and the transcendent realm are associated with the numbers seven and eight, respectively. The miracle of the oil, where a one-day’s supply of pure olive oil remained lit for eight days, served to affirm the victory of the Jews over the Greeks, of faith over human intellect.

Rashi (loc cit) points out that this commandment concerning the menorah was given to Aharon, who felt bereft having witnessed a twelve day-long ceremony of offerings made by the heads of each tribe, while he, the High Priest—arguably the top of the Jewish pyramid—was not called upon to do so. In response, as it were, Aharon’s feelings were assuaged by the gift of this commandment of the menorah. According to the Ramban (loc. cit), the messaged conveyed here was one of reassurance: just as Aharon would be responsible for the menorah in his time, his descendants the Hasmoneans would continue to bring the light of the menorah into the world, long after the gifts of the tribal heads were offered and consumed upon the altar.

Amongst the halachic requirements of the Chanukah menorah are that the candles should be placed at a height that renders those who see them to be conscious of them (above 7 hand-breadths, interestingly), and that the candles should be kept burning until every stratum of humanity—even those people who scavenge for scraps of wood in the marketplace after closing time—has seen them (Shabbos 21b-22a, Shulchan Aruch 671:6, 672:1) . What message do the Chanukah lights bring that is so important for everyone to see?

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto states, in his classic work Derech Hashem, that “the function of Chanukah is to cause the inherent holy illumination of those days (from 25 Kislev-2 Teves) to radiate during that time” (Derech Hashem 4:8:3). The act of kindling the lights of Chanukah reminds us that the light of Torah, the infinite light of the Will of G-d, necessarily triumphs over “enlightenment”, the developed understanding of the natural universe. As the verse in Mishlei states, “for a mitzvah is a lamp, and the Torah is a light” (6:23).

This brings us back to the passage in the Zohar. In reality, there is no difference between the Tree of Life that stands in the Garden of Eden and the “tree of life” that is the Torah. They are both called by this term because they bestow life upon the one who “holds fast to it”. Holding fast to the Torah, according to Rabbi Doniel Frisch zt”l (Matok M’Dv’ash, his commentary on the Zohar), means remembering what we learn. It is not coincidental, although it is fascinating to note, that the Talmud mentions a connection between olive oil and memory. The best way to remember is to internalize the Torah that we learn and practice it.

By learning G-d’s precious Torah and fulfilling its statutes—whether you are Jewish or Noahide—not only do we merit life in the World to Come, but also real life in this world, life lived according to transcendent values. Each one of us has a share in this Torah, no matter what our level of erudition is. In fact, the Zohar continues to say that even a person who simply mouths the words of Torah that he learns is akin to an ill person who discovers a remedy that, although he does not understand what it is or how it works, nevertheless is cured by it.


By Rabbi Tani Burton

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