April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Persistence in spiritual growth and striving to become great in avodat Hashem, may come with challenges. Yet, perhaps, there’s a route that could bypass many potential tests that such a person may otherwise need to face …

The question is raised as to why our parsha which begins with the topic of the kindling of the Menorah comes right after the lengthy recitation of the inaugural offerings of the Nesiim stated at the very end of last week’s parsha. At first glance, the order of these two topics should be reversed since—as the Be’er BaSadeh notes—the Menorah service was both and introduced and practiced the same day that the inaugural korbanot of the Nesiim were brought, and in the order of the daily services in the Mishkan, the preparation of the lamps of the Menorah takes place before any offerings are brought!

Rashi quotes a midrash that explains by providing a backstory: When Aharon saw the inaugural offerings of the Nesiim, he felt disheartened about it since neither he nor his tribe was with them in the inauguration. Hashem comforted Aharon by telling him, “Yours (i.e. your role) is greater than theirs, for you (have been given the role to) kindle and prepare the lamps (for the Menorah).” Hence, the order of the Menorah service following the korbanot of the Nesiim.

One can ask, in what sense is the Menorah service greater than the inaugural offerings? Moreover—as the Ramban asks on this explanation quoted by Rashi—why did Hashem choose to focus on the Menorah service to comfort Aharon? (As opposed to other privileges that Aharon specifically was given such as the ketoret, going into the Holy of Holies, etc!)

The pesukim in our parsha state, “For every firstborn of Bnei Yisrael was Mine … on the day I struck every firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified them for myself. I took the Leviim in place of every firstborn among Bnei Yisrael,” (8:17-18). These pesukim teach us that although the firstborns were originally assigned to be the group to perform the avodah in the Mishkan, they were removed from that position and the Leviim took their place. When Hashem says “every firstborn of Bnei Yisrael was Mine” (to perform the avodah), Rashi explains because Hashem shielded them (from being afflicted) among the firstborn of the Egyptians (by makkat bechorot); however, they lost their position because they transgressed with the golden calf.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t so simple for the Leviim to achieve this position of being designated to perform the avodah in place of the firstborns; indeed, it was not a freebie. To explain why specifically the Leviim were elevated above the rest of Bnei Yisrael, the midrash in our parsha brings the pasuk in Tehillim (11:5) which states, “Hashem examines the righteous one,” and explains this to mean that Hashem does not elevate a person to a position of authority until He tests and checks him first. Says the midrash, the Levi’im sacrificed themselves “al Kiddush Hashem” to not neglect the Torah, for when Bnei Yisrael were in Mitzrayim, they rejected the Torah and circumcision and served avodah zara; whereas the tribe of Levi were all righteous and fulfilled the laws of the Torah in Egypt (see Tanchuma 13, and Bamidbar Rabbah 15:12). Apparently, resisting this societal pull was an incredibly difficult test, to the point where it was on a difficulty level of one who gives his life “al kiddush Hashem” (see Chiddushei Halev, Beha’alotcha).

We see from here that the Leviim had to withstand and endure tremendous challenges, and only because they prevailed did they become worthy of performing the avodah. So, if one only attains a certain status of greatness if he is first challenged and tested, then why originally were the firstborns designated as the group to perform the avodah? What challenge(s) did they face? If anything, Rashi seems to strongly imply that the reason why the firstborns were originally designated was solely because Hashem saved them from the plague of the firstborns! This seems to be the total opposite than the midrash’s opinion, for not only were the firstborns not challenged, they were seemingly even given a freebie—they were given good, and yet, they still attained greatness! Not only did they not do anything actively to “prove themselves,” they were on the receiving end by being saved!

Rav Henach Leibowitz explains that since Hashem saved the firstborns, they had such hakarat hatov—their appreciation and gratitude towards Hashem was so intense—that this would have, in theory, afforded them the ability to give all their energies and their very lives over for Hashem’s sake. Thus, they may not have been practically challenged in order to be worthy of reaching greatness, but since their hakarat hatov to Hashem was on such a high level, if—in theory—they would have been spiritually challenged, they would have prevailed, without a doubt (see ibid).

We can suggest from here that having hakarat hatov to Hashem for all the good He showers us with is a unique middah that in some sense, perhaps, is a shortcut to reach greatness in ruchniyut, since one may not necessarily need go through the “standard system” of enduring various challenges and tests. Someone with hakarat hatov is driven to do his utmost towards those who have given him good, and is fueled with the determination, strength and fortitude to persevere to do so, in spite of any challenges that may arise.

The essence of the Menorah service may represent hakarat hatov to Hashem. The midrash in our parsha—in explaining the reason for the lighting of the Menorah—states that Hashem is essentially telling us, “Provide light for Me (by way of the Menorah service), the same way I provided light for you (in the wilderness).” The midrash offers a parable to explain what Hashem is intending to impart: “A sighted man and a blind man were once walking together on the road, with the sighted man guiding the way. When they reached the house, the sighted man said to blind man, ‘Go ahead (of me) and light this lamp for me and provide me with light.’ The blind man responded, ‘(Please) do me a favor (and explain to me: Why is it that) when I was walking on the road you would support and escort me until we entered the house, and now you say, “Light this lamp for me and provide me with light?”’ The sighted man explained, ‘I told you to provide light for me, so that you should not be beholden to me for having escorted you on the road.’” The blind man is a reference to “Bnei Yisrael,” and the sighted man is a reference to “Hashem,” who “escorted” Bnei Yisrael through the wilderness by illuminating the way (see Bamidbar Rabbah 15:5 and Tanchuma 5).

It’s, perhaps, evident from the midrash that the lighting of the Menorah was a means of “giving back”—so to speak—to Hashem; appreciating what He did for us, and, thus, showing our hakarat hatov to Him.

In light of the above, if hakarat hatov is in some sense an “EZpass” to reach greatness, then we can suggest that the reason why Aharon was consoled by Hashem specifically through the role of the Menorah service, and that which Hashem told him that his role of lighting the Menorah is greater than theirs; perhaps, the intention is not that the Menorah service is necessarily—in essence—greater per se, but, rather, that through the constant interaction Aharon will have with the Menorah service—which represents the idea of hakarat hatov—Aharon will have a constant reminder of the importance of hakarat hatov, which will assist him in constantly reaching increasingly higher levels of hakarat hatov. And through this, he will continue to access increasingly higher levels of greatness that—otherwise—would maybe have taken longer to reach, since they would require various tests and challenges.

“Yours is greater,” perhaps because specifically through this role, Aharon could become greater than they—since he could avoid the typical system of reaching greatness, which may entail a more difficult and longer process—and, instead, take the route of gratitude, which could be an easier and shorter one.


Binyamin is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan, and of Wurzweiler School of Social Work.

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