The concept of uplifting one’s eyes and spirits permeates this parsha of
the Torah. By using the verb b’halotcha – when you raise – in describing
the process of lighting the great menorah/candelabra that stood in the
mishkan/Tabernacle and later in the Temple in Jerusalem, the Torah
emphasizes the necessity of making the ceremony one that is spiritually
uplifting and memorable. It is not enough to merely light the fires of the
menorah. One has to see to it that the lights raise themselves and inspire
others. Rashi, quoting Midrash, states that the priest lighting the
menorah did not discharge his duty until the flame took hold and raised
itself. Raising itself was not only a technical issue but rather an
indication that the lights of the menorah had to serve as an inspiration
for Israel. God does need our lights and flames. But we need them to light
our darkness and anxiety. We may raise the flames by igniting them but
they raise us with their radiance and message of hope and holiness. The
importance of inspiration as a factor in Jewish life and survival cannot
be overstated. The vision and light of the menorah remains the source of
Jewish inspiration and optimism throughout the ages.
Just as the actions of a person can inspire optimism and idealism, so too
does human behavior also contain the ability to breed depression and
negative thinking. Yitro, the father-in-law of Moshe, takes leave of Moshe
and his family and the camp of Israel in order to return home to Midyan.
Yitro has a positive motive for so doing. He is returning to a land of
paganism and idolatry to spread the idea of monotheism and the universal
God there. Nevertheless, Moshe begs him not to leave the camp of Israel.
He tells Yitro that “we are beginning now to travel” to the Land of
Israel. We need your enthusiasm and presence with us for this historic
venture to succeed and go smoothly, is the message that Moshe communicates
to his father-in-law. Moshe is aware that there is great hesitation and
trepidation about the Land of Israel within the camp of the Jews. There
are many who are not anxious to go there and those who sense the
difficulties and problems inherent in the attempt to conquer and settle
the land. The fact that Yitro, Moshe’s own father-in-law, is somehow not
willing to accompany them on this adventure has a depressing effect upon
Israel. Hence the later sad and disastrous events that are described
towards the end of the parsha. Instead of “bhalotcha”- raising and
inspiring Israel in its belief in the Land of Israel and God’s promise to
grant it to them and us, Yitro’s behavior only proves to place a negative
damper on the whole project. Without enthusiasm and inspiration, the Land
of Israel will surrender itself to the Jewish people only with great
difficulty and inordinate pain.
Most of our lives have to be dealt with in a spirit of “b’halotcha.”
Lifted morale, upraised vision and enthusiasm for the holy causes of Torah
and Israel are the necessary ingredients for successful Jewish living.
Naysayers, nitpickers, cynics and pessimists are always our undoing.
Raising our sights will uplift our lives as well.