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Behalotecha

This week’s Torah reading which begins with the command to Aaron to kindle the Menorah, the candelabrum in the Sanctuary.  The Menorah symbolises the Jewish people, for the purpose of every Jewish person’s existence is to spread Divine light throughout the world, as it is written: “The soul of man is the lamp of G-d.”  With “the light of the Torah, and the candle of mitzvot,” our people illuminate our surrounding environment.

 

The Menorah extends upward in seven branches, which symbolise seven different paths of Divine service.  And yet it was made of a single piece of gold.  This shows that the various different qualities that characterise the Jewish people do not detract from their fundamental unity.  Diversity need not lead to division, and the development of true unity comes from a synthesis of different thrusts, every person expressing his own unique talents and personality.

 

Not only does the Menorah point to the importance of every individual, the manner in which it was kindled underscores the need for independent effort.  This concept is reflected in the literal meaning of the phrase the Torah uses when relaying G-d’s command to kindle the Menorah: “When you raise up the lamps.”  Rashi explains that this means the priest should apply the flame to the wick “until the flame rises on its own,” and shines independently.

 

Interpreting this concept allegorically, each of the expressions Rashi uses reflects a fundamental concept.

 

“The flame” - Every person is potentially “a lamp.”  This, however, is not enough.  He must realise his potential and become a flame, producing radiant light.

 

“Rises” - A person should not remain content with his current level, no matter how refined.  Instead, he should seek to proceed further, searching for a higher and more complete degree of Divine service.

 

“On its own” - A person must internalise the influence of his teachers until their light becomes his own.  The knowledge he learns should endow him with the power to “shine” independently.

 

Moreover, he should “rise on his own,” i.e., the desire to proceed should become his own nature.  Even without the encouragement of others, he should continually seek to advance.

 

These concepts apply not only to our personal strivings for spiritual growth, but also to the manner in which we reach out to others.  We should not encourage dependency.  Instead, our intent should be that the people who we attract to Judaism should also become “flame[s] which rise on [their] own” - independent lamps who spread the “light of Torah” throughout their surroundings.

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