There is a moment of tension and crisis in the lives of all humans when one
switches from dependence on others – parents, teachers, mentors, etc. – to
self-reliance and independence. This transition is not usually accomplished
easily or painlessly. And, truth be said, there are many who never
accomplish this transition at all and remain in a stage of abject dependency
all of their lives.
This moment of transition usually begins in one’s adolescent years, with the
tug of war between parents and authority figures on one hand and the young
trying to find their own way of life and achievements. It is very difficult
for parents and teachers to witness their children or students making
mistakes that these authority figures could have prevented.
But making mistakes is an integral part of life’s developmental process. I
have always felt that one learns much more from one’s mistakes than one does
from one’s apparent successes and triumphs. How to bear up under frustration
and disappointment, how to be resilient in the face of failure and tragedy –
this is the stuff of Jewish life and history. And all of this is the subtle
message that we are taught at the beginning of this week’s parsha.
Rashi explains to us that the priest that lit the lights of the great
candelabra in the Tabernacle/Temple held the lit taper to the wick of the
lamp “until the new flame rose by itself.” The message here is clear. When
the flame is able to rise by itself, the taper used to light it should be
removed. The new flame has to burn by itself. The next generation has to be
able to make its own way on its own.
Jewish history records many different eras in our long story. All of the
generations faced similar challenges and difficulties – the constant problem
of being a moral voice and a small demographic minority. Yet they all also
faced difficulties and challenges that were particular and peculiar to their
times and locales.
Though the general strategies of Jewish survival – Torah and observance,
moral behavior and optimistic attitude and resilience – remained the same,
the tactics of survival and Jewish success changed and adapted. The flame
had to rise by itself or the taper of the previous generation’s presence and
help would inexorably disappear.
Part of the challenge of our current society is its over-reliance on past
generations – financially, morally, intellectually, tactically and socially.
Recreating a fantasy laden past and justifying current policies that have
already been proven to be less than constructive only compounds the problems
that we truly face. The new flame is not allowed to rise and be able to burn
on its own. The task of the past is to instruct, strengthen and ignite the
new flame and not to stifle it by its overbearing presence.
Where this line is to be drawn is the stuff of wisdom and foresight,
responsibility and probity. The great High Priest Aharon was entrusted with
this task. His love of others was the guarantee that he would light the
future lamps correctly while using the older taper he held in his hands.
Rabbi Berel Wein