Those of you who have had close contact with the Rebbe or with his emissaries, the shluchim
, know that a basic theme of Chabad Chassidus
is the idea of not living for yourself, but for others. This might be referred to as "lighting the lamps," particularly as it relates to teaching Torah to those who know less than you, and sharing the observance of mitzvos
with those who do not yet observe, as the verse states, "The mitzvah
is a candle and the Torah a great light." As I see it, this is the foundation and the theme of Chabad
This week's parshah begins with instructions to Aharon about lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan. The Menorah in the Mishkan and in the Beis HaMikdash had seven branches. One of the major daily services of Aharon, the Kohen Gadol, was kindling the Menorah. The verse, however, uses an unusual expression for kindling the lamps -- behaalos'cha es haneiros, literally, "when you will raise up the lamps," rather than the more common expression, lehadlik es haneiros" -- "to light the lamps," as we say on Shabbos, or lehadlik es haMenorah -- "to light the Menorah." Rashi explains that the Kohen had to coax the flame until it burned on its own.
Based on a verse in Zechariah which compares the Jewish people to a golden Menorah, the Alter Rebbe explains that each of the seven lamps of the Menorah corresponds to one of the seven holy middos (character traits) -- chesed (kindness), gevurah (austerity), tiferes (compassion), etc., and also to the seven tzaddikim who are "lamps" for all generations. Although all of them are relevant to every Jew, each Jew has a special connection to one of them by way of the root of his soul. In other words, each of us is particularly attached to a certain attribute and to a certain tzaddik.
The Rebbe points out that one of the conclusions we must draw from this is that there are really several different paths in Yiddishkeit. There are seven different ways. We are not all the same and we are not all meant to be the same. Just as there are seven basic middos, and there were seven tzaddikim, so too, there are seven legitimate and valid ways to be a Menorah -- a luminary. You don't have to be a carbon copy of somebody else to be a good Jew. The critical issue is, are you kindled? Are you lit up? If you are lit up, and you are illuminating the surroundings as a Menorah of Yiddishkeit, then your way is valid. The Torah teaches us this by the fact that the Menorah does not have one branch, but seven, so that everybody can be themselves and serve HaShem according to their own personality and derech, provided that they are illuminating the world in the way HaShem wants.
The windows of the Beis HaMikdash were very unusual. Most of the time, when you build a house, you make the windows in such a way that the light from the outside will come into the house. But in the Beis HaMikdash, the windows were built in such a way that the light from inside could shine out, but not vice versa. This, too, is a lesson to every Jew -- that he is not supposed to be influenced by the "outside" world, from what the street has to offer. Rather, he must kindle his own Menorah and illuminate the world around him, even the street outside.
A verse states, Ner HaShem nishmas adam -- "The soul of a Jew is a lamp of G-d." Now, a candle can either be lit or unlit. In other words, you can have the wick and the oil, and everything else necessary for being a luminary -- except that you are not yet lit! The soul is just a potential light, it is not yet an actual light until it burns with a steady flame. How do you get this flame to come into reality? Sometimes, certain neshamos need the help of another person. Some neshamos are already lit because of the way they were born and the family they were brought up in. Other people, for whatever reason, just haven't gotten lit yet. That is why the Torah says we need an Aharon, we need a Kohen, who is himself a luminary, to come and kindle the Neshamah of the Jew who is not lit up as yet.
In what way can you light another person up? The Rebbe explains that one must kindle another person in a way of behaalos'cha -- raising it up and coaxing it until it burns by itself! As every woman knows, when you light Shabbos candles, sometimes you have a stubborn candle that goes out just as you take away the match. Then you have to try again, and it goes out again. And you have to keep lighting it, until it catches, and then it burns like all the others and you can go away. Sometimes you even have to stand near the candles for a minute to see if all the candles are going to remain lit and not go out. This is the meaning of behaalos'cha.
The Rebbe explains Rashi's comment -- that the Kohen had to coax the flame until it burned on its own: Aharon was commanded not merely to light the candle and then run off to do other work in the Beis HaMikdash, but to light the Menorah until each flame would rise up independently. That is why it says lehaalos and not lehadlik. Lehadlik means only to light -- "I lit it; it's not my fault if it went out!" The instruction was therefore to kindle it in such a way that it remains burning independently.
What is the horaah -- the practical instruction we are supposed to derive from this? After all, this is Toras Chaim, a Torah of Life, and its instructions must apply to every Jew. The horaah is this: When you meet another Jew who seems to be an unlit candle, don't just say, "Oh, isn't that just too bad. What a pity! Well, maybe it's not their fault." That's not enough. You can, and must, do something about it. You can light up that Neshamah. But don't just light it and run away. Stand there for a moment until you are sure that that light won't go out!
Many times, when people are first taking their initial steps in Yiddishkeit, they are very shaky. If you run away, the flame that was just kindled might go out. A person taking his first steps needs support, he needs encouragement until he can remain burning by himself. When you can be sure that this person is firm in his commitment to Yiddishkeit, only then can you leave and go on to a different candle. This is the eternal horaah for every Jew.
We mentioned before that there are seven paths, there are seven approaches to Yiddishkeit. The Rebbe gives two examples: There is the way of ahavah (love), and the way of yirah (austerity, fear, severity). Everyone is probably familiar with both approaches. We've all gone through school and have probably experienced teachers who teach with love. The kids love them, they love the kids. There's a feeling of joy and participation. Then we have all had teachers that were very strict disciplinarians. If you made one move, you were out of the room, or standing in the corner or writing lines a hundred times. Both of them were teachers, both of them were trying to do the same thing -- teach children. But they had different approaches -- one with love, the other with fear. Now you might say, "What's the difference? Do it with love, do it with fear, as long as you accomplish your goals. What's the difference what method you use?"
However, the Rebbe says that there is a difference. Even though the way of the person who kindles you with yirah is legitimate, nevertheless, how much better, how much more pleasant it is when your way of kindling is with ahavah. There is a story about the early years of the Rebbe's leadership. A certain non-chassid met the Rebbe and was so taken with him that he commented, "I'm afraid that I'm going to become one of your chassidim!" The Rebbe replied, "If you're going to become one of my chassidim, you might as well do so from love, rather than fear!"
Why should we choose a path which is severe and rigid and instills a feeling of fear and withdrawal when we can also choose the other way which is the way of Ahavas Yisrael? Let's look at Aharon HaKohen himself, says the Rebbe. He was the very first Kohen, and the first one to kindle the Menorah, and therefore he is supposed to be our prototype, our example. As it states in Pirkei Avos: "Be one of the disciples of Aharon... Love creatures and bring them close to Torah!" Aharon HaKohen, the first one to kindle the Menorah, teaches every Jew how to go about lighting up other Jews. "Love creatures" -- he did not love only Torah scholars, that were on his level, or only very pious Jews. He had love even for those whom the Torah calls "creatures, creations." What is a creature? It is not a very complimentary name, is it? What are you going to do, call a person a creature? But Pirkei Avos teaches us that there are certain people whom we have difficulty saying something nice about. They have no easily identifiable redeeming quality. They are not learned, their behavior is not as it should be, their personality is not as it should be. The only thing we can say in their favor is that HaShem created them. For some reason unknown to us, G-d decided that this "creature" was worthy of being created. This is the meaning of calling a person a "creature" -- it indicates that he has no positive qualities that one can detect. Even such a person was loved by Aharon.
Now, what did Aharon do with these people? He didn't just pick up his hands in despair and say, "What can you do with such a creature? I mean, he's not intelligent, his personality is down the tubes, he's a..." Rather, Aharon brought them to Torah!
The Rebbe makes another point: Aharon brought them (the creatures) closer to the Torah, and not, as many would like to do, bring the Torah close to the people, in the sense of diluting the Torah, watering it down. "This mitzvah is not for you, it's too hard. That mitzvah is not modern. This mitzvah is not comfortable. Do one or two mitzvos, that's enough. You are not on such a high level. Just do one or two, and you are a good Jew." What kind of lie is this? You cannot tell a person that this is the whole Torah when it isn't.
Aharon's message is, that you should strive to bring the other person to the Torah. Of course, this must be done slowly, bit by bit, not overnight. Don't throw the entire Torah on them in one minute, but slowly try to lead them toward the Torah. Tell them, "We'll start today with one mitzvah. There's another bunch, but this will be for today. Tomorrow, another little bit." Lead them in the direction of Torah, but don't reduce the Torah to their size. Every Jew has a part in Torah and every Jew deserves to get closer than he was.
There are several other procedures related to the kindling of the Menorah in the Beis HaMikdash. The Rebbe explains how each of these also apply to us when we go out to kindle another Jew. For a start: Every day the Menorah had to be cleaned. The Menorah burned the entire night, and in the morning when all of the candles except one had gone out (that one miraculously remained alight until it was time to rekindle the Menorah), the wick and traces of oil had to be removed. This was called hatavas haneiros -- from the word tov -- to make the Menorah good and clean. Paradoxically, the cleaning out of the Menorah and preparing the wick and the oil, which seems like dirty work, that had to be done by a Kohen. But the actual pinnacle, the kindling, doesn't even have to be done by a Kohen. When Aharon was alive, he was given the mitzvah of kindling the Menorah. Subsequently, however, neither the Kohen HaGadol, nor any Kohen, had to kindle the Menorah, as long as it was cleaned out and prepared by a Kohen.
Furthermore, the place where the Menorah had to be lit was in the Heichal, one of the holiest places in the Beis HaMikdash. One might think that perhaps the Menorah should be lit outside, so that people should see it, like the Chanukah Menorah. Why did it have to be inside, in a hidden place? After all, HaShem doesn't need the light!
The Rebbe explains that each of these details has a horaah for us. The first horaah we can learn is that kindling the Menorah, the work of lighting up a Jew who hasn't yet been ignited, does not require a rabbi or a talmid chacham. You don't have to be a tzaddik, and you don't even have to be a Kohen to do it. A Kohen, in this context, symbolizes a person who is totally dedicated to Torah. When there was a Beis HaMikdash, there were people who were involved in the service of G-d for their entire lives -- the Kohanim. Today this is no longer true. Today you have Kohanim in every profession. But in those days, when there was the Beis HaMikdash and the Mishkan, the Kohen did nothing other than work in the Beis HaMikdash, and learn and teach Torah. He was symbolic of a person whose life was totally devoted to and committed to Torah. You do not have to be such a person in order to be successful in kindling another Jew. Even a non-Kohen, even a plain ordinary Jew like me and you can do it.
Not all of the Rebbe's shluchim who go to Hong Kong, Morocco, Australia, or anywhere else in the world, are necessarily extraordinary, talented, or brilliant people. Many of them are plain, ordinary people like you and me. Nevertheless, they are successful. Why? The Rebbe explains that they are successful because the Kohen prepared the Menorah for them. In other words, once the Kohen has done the groundwork, then the ordinary Israelite can kindle the Menorah.
Why can't the ordinary person prepare the Menorah? Sometimes an ordinary person has difficulty deciding exactly how to go about his work. Let's say you see a person who doesn't seem to be interested in keeping mitzvos. So you might think, "This person is not interested in mitzvos, so maybe we'll just forget about mitzvos and we'll start with Torah, and we'll just leave it on that level, an intellectual level." Is that the correct thing to do or not? What about a person to whom only one kind of mitzvah appeals? Shall we ignore the kind that don't appeal to him? Many questions arise in the course of trying to deal with a Jew who is uncommitted and trying to bring him back. For this reason the Torah tells us that the hatavas haMenorah, the cleaning and preparing of the Menorah, must be done by a Kohen. We need the guidance of somebody who is a Kohen, who is totally dedicated to Yiddishkeit, one for whom "the Torah is his trade." He can tell us, "Start with this mitzvah, start with that mitzvah, do it this way, do it that way; if you have problems, come to me." This fact changes the whole situation and gives the ordinary Israelite the ability to be successful.
I will tell you what I understand this to be in our modern-day context. Those of you who come to this class regularly, know that from time to time the Rebbe comes out with a horaah. "Do this, now do that, learn this, give tzedakah." Why? Why today this? Why today that? Why next week do this? We don't know, but if the Kohen tells us that this is the time to do this, we have to go ahead and do it, and then we know we'll be successful, even if we're ordinary Israelites.
Now, why does the Menorah have to be in the Heichal, and not in a less holy place? Because when we go about kindling another Jew, we should not be satisfied with mediocre results. I don't know how many of you have had interaction on a close level with reform and conservative rabbis, but if you have you will recognize the scenario where a reform or conservative rabbi has in his mind what he thinks is a full Jewish life, and once you've reached that level, that's enough, that's fine, you're great. You know, it stops here, don't go further.
There's a famous story Rabbi Friedman tells about a young couple that had gotten married and seemed to be having difficulties in their marriage. By hashgachah peratis, they met Rabbi Friedman and started talking with him. They mentioned that they had gotten married only several months previously through a certain orthodox rabbi whom Rabbi Friedman happened to know. He asked them in a discreet way if they knew about the mitzvos of taharas hamishpachah, family purity, and he asked the woman if she went to the mikveh. She looked puzzled and said the rabbi never mentioned this to her. Rabbi Friedman was very puzzled. "This orthodox rabbi married you, and you said that he spoke to you before the wedding. I'm really surprised that he never even mentioned this, it's such a major thing in Jewish life and it's such an important thing in marriage. I can't figure this out." So Rabbi Friedman proceeded to talk to them about the importance of taharas hamishpachah. He arranged for someone to teach her the necessary laws, and they eventually began to keep taharas hamishpachah. They found that it was a source of great strength.
A while later Rabbi Friedman happened to bump into this particular rabbi, and he said, "I met this couple that you married last year. I just want to ask you a question. You know, the wife said that you never mentioned to her about taharas hamishpachah. I'm wondering why. You are an orthodox rabbi. She came to you and not to a conservative rabbi, which means that she was willing to hear about mikveh. If she didn't want to hear about it, she'd have gone to a conservative or reform rabbi. Why didn't you even tell her about it?" The Rabbi looked at him for a minute and he said, "I'll tell you why. Because she didn't look like the type." She didn't look like the type that would want to keep taharas hamishpachah, so the rabbi decided that he'd leave out that little "unnecessary" detail. This is the way people act if they are not under the Rebbe's influence. "Well, it's enough for her to light Shabbos candles and buy her meat at the kosher butcher. That's good enough for her."
When you light the Menorah you can't say, "For that Jew it's enough to do this; for this Jew it's enough to do that," etc., according to your analysis of what type they are and what personality they are. That's crazy! Can you see into somebody's soul? Can you know what a person is or is not capable of? It may seem to you that this individual is on a very low level, but that's only because of the way they look. However, you have no way of knowing from where this neshamah comes. Some of the greatest tzaddikim in Yiddishkeit were born of very simple people. The root of a person's soul is something only a tzaddik could know. If somebody has a high soul-root, they can go very, very high, so it is not for me or you to determine to what level of holiness an individual should be brought. We should strive to bring every Jew that we come in contact with higher and higher and higher, to kindle them "in a holy place" and not say, "Oh, they don't look like the type to be that holy, so we'll just make them only a little bit holy; we'll be satisfied with that." That is not the way of Aharon and that is not the way of Chabad Chassidus.
The Rebbe says that one of the cardinal themes of Chabad Chassidus is the concept of yafutzu mayanosecha chutza which means "spreading the wellsprings out." Don't just sit back in your study with all of your scholarly volumes until somebody knocks on the door and says, "Teach me Torah." Then you'll say, "OK, let me teach you a little Torah." No, that's not the way. The way is yafutzu -- burst forth to the outside, to army bases where the soldiers are far away from home, to prisons and hospitals and old-age homes, to far-flung corners of the world where Yiddishkeit is scarce. You know how many people started keeping mitzvos because they first came into contact with it in the army, even though when they were home they couldn't care less? In the army they came into real life and death situations, and then they had their first awakening of what life is all about. At that moment somebody came to read the Megillah for soldiers, instead of spending Purim with his own family. This is mesirus nefesh -- real self-sacrifice -- and those soldiers really appreciate it. You can see it on their faces; you could see how happy they are when somebody thinks of them. The guy in the hospital whom somebody came to put on tefillin with... Maybe he wouldn't have put on tefillin if he wouldn't be lying there, but now he has plenty of time to think about faith and life and death. If you're there at that moment, you can really kindle a flame that later on brings people much, much closer. You have to be there ready to sense that a Jew needs this mitzvah and needs this friendliness and needs this warmth. You can be critical in kindling this Jew and bringing him very, very close to where he should be.
Let me tell you about the shaliach in Hong Kong, Rabbi Avtzon. He goes out to the plane to greet people as they land in Hong Kong, and he gives them candles, or the address of the shul and the times they daven. Now these Jews aren't coming to Hong Kong for Yiddishkeit, they came for a business trip or a vacation. But someone gave them Shabbos candles and then they went to the hotel and they thought, we might as well light them since we have them. And who knows, they may continue lighting candles for the rest of their lives, which often happens.
Let us all become lamplighters, in the tradition of Aharon HaKohen!