Volume 1 Issue 23
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
You've gone a long way...Aaron!
No one likes to be left out. Imagine that you were a governor of a small
but very idealistic province. You had been a founding member of the
republic. You stood by the leadership in times of crises and supported it
on every issue. And now you sit together with the governors of the other
twelve colonies as they present an inaugural gift for the dedication of the
Capitol building. Each governor is called up and presents a gift as a
cherished memento. You, or a representative of your province, are not
called. How would you feel?
At the dedication of the Tabernacle each tribe sent its Nasi,
(prince) to bring an initial offering. Aaron the leader of the tribe of
Levi, that represented the clergy of Israel, who stood up to the
idol worshippers during the sin of the Golden Calf, was not asked to
present an offering. Aaron was quite upset and G-d knew it. Last week's
portion ended by enumerating the sacrifices that every other Nasi
brought in honor of the inaugural event. This week we begin the reading
with G-d's pacification of Aaron. The portion begins as G-d tells Aaron,
"when you will light the candles." Rashi quotes the Sages: "When Aaron saw
the gifts of all the other princes and realized that neither he, nor his
tribe of Levi, were included to present a gift, he was upset. G-d told
him, 'do not fret. Your lot is greater than theirs is. You will arrange and
kindle the Menorah.'"
Nachmanides is taken aback at this form of appeasement. Why, he asks, is
lighting the Menorah a greater act than those of the princes of the other
tribes. Second there are greater and holier services that could have been,
and are, given to Aaron -- the incense for example. What's so special about
lighting the Menorah?
Nachmanides explains the words of the Sages: It is an allusion to the
Menorah that will be rekindled by the Hasmoneans in conjunction with the
miracle of Chanukah. "Your children," Aaron is told, "will light a special
Menorah thousands of years in the future." That is how Aaron was appeased.
I am troubled. How do you appease someone's lack of participation by
assuring him that one day, his great-great-great grandchildren will
initiate something very special?
The answer lies in the essence of our eternity. People may do what seem to
be monumental actions, but in truth they are fleeting. They may begin with
a boom but they end in a puff of smoke that dissipates with the gentle
breezes of time. Then there are seemingly minor acts, simple ones that have
eternal impact. Those are the greatest gifts.
Rabbi Shlomo Hyman, the first dean of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, had a most
amazing way of teaching his students. Unlike the dry lectures given by many
brilliant scholars, he would shout with almost breathless rapture as he
explained the Talmud and it's commentaries. His eyes would sparkle and his
arms would wave has he orchestrated Talmudic theory. After the class he
would almost collapse from the exhaustion.
One particular snowy day back in the early 1940's only four boys came to
class. Nevertheless, Rabbi Hyman delivered his dissertation as if the room
was packed with hundreds of students. Beads of sweat rolled down his face
as he argued points of law to the disbelieving four boys. As he paused to
catch his breath, one of the boys mustered his courage and beseeched the
Torah Giant. "Rebbe, please -- there are only four of us." Rabbi Hyman's
eyes widened. "You think I'm giving this class for four boys? I am giving
this class to hundreds of boys. I'm giving this class to you, your
students, their students, and their students!
Aaron's contribution wasn't only the lighting of the Menorah in the
Tabernacle. It was the inspiration his children and grandchildren received
for eternity. His actions inspired the lighting of the Menorah as the
Temple was rededicated during the days of the Hasmoneans. It sparked the
secret lighting of the Menorah in caves during the Zoroastrian era. It
propelled the lighting of Menorahs carved from rotten potatoes on eight
freezing December nights deep in the bunkers of the Warsaw ghetto. It
aroused the love for the lighting of the Menorah by Jews across the globe,
whose only attachment to Judaism is the memory of eight colored candles
glowing brightly in their parent's homes. The gift that Aaron brought to
the inauguration didn't dissipate into historical oblivion like the gifts
of the twelve princes. It lasted for eternity. Remember; not everything we
do for Judaism can be monumental. But when our actions have eternal
ramifications, they are the greatest gifts of all.
Rabbi Shlomo Hyman, 1893-1944 was a Rosh Yeshiva in Vilna before becoming
dean of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath in 1936.