The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Sivan 16, 5766/June 12,2006

Heeding the Divine Call

When an opportunity comes our way, we must be ready to grab it. All the more so when it is nothing less than an opportunity to fulfill a Divine promise. The Torah reading of Beha'alotcha, (Numbers 8:1-12:16), opens thusly:

"G-d spoke to Moses, telling him to speak to Aaron and say to him, 'When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall illuminate the menorah.' Aaron did so, lighting the lamps to illuminate the menorah, as G-d commanded Moses." (Numbers 8:1-3)

Our sages tell us that Aaron was dejected after he had not been called upon to join the other princes of the other twelve tribes of Israel to bring offerings at the occasion of the dedication of the altar, as narrated in the previous chapter of Numbers. Therefore G-d called upon Moses to assign to Aaron the task of lighting the Menorah. G-d wanted Aaron to know that the task of lighting the Menorah is greater than the role of the offerings brought by the princes. What, in fact, was so lofty about lighting the Menorah lamps? And why does the Torah go on to report record that "Aaron did so." Of course he did! Would we have suspected otherwise? After all, Aaron is the High Priest, whose sacred task is to serve Hashem, and nullify his own will before that of the Creator. What is the Torah trying to tell us?

Later on in this same Torah portion we encounter an episode of a very different nature:

"The mixed multitude among them began to have strong cravings, and the Israelites once again began to weep. 'Who's going to give us some meat to eat?' they demanded. 'We fondly remember the fish that we could eat in Egypt ,for free, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now our spirits are dried up, with nothing but the manna before our eyes.'" (Numbers 11:4-6)

After more than a year long diet of the miraculous, heaven-sent manna, why the sudden longing for "meat... fish... cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic?" What is really going on here? At this point, the children of Israel were poised to enter into the Promised Land. In just three days time they would leave the desert and its difficulties behind them forever. Why the last-minute bout of nostalgia romanticizing the very same Egyptian bondage, that had plunged the Israelites into such a dangerous depth of impurity that we are taught that had G-d waited even one more day to deliver them, they would have been lost forever? Were the cucumbers really that tasty? If the Egyptians took every opportunity to browbeat the enslaved Jews, and did not even give them the straw they needed to produce their quota of bricks, did they really provide them with food "for free?"

What distinguishes the nature of Aaron, who "did so," from that of the grumbling multitude? The answer takes us all the way back to the very beginning of time. In the opening verses of Genesis, each act of Divine creation is followed by the simple declaration: "And it was so." Each act, that is, with the following exception: the creation of light. The creation of light received no such confirmation... until the very day that G-d commanded Aaron to light the Menorah lamps, and "Aaron did so." Brushing his disappointment aside, Aaron acted when called upon, and thus completed an element of G-d's plan that was his alone to complete, firmly establishing the Divine light of creation that had been hidden since the very first day.

On the other hand, when the people were about to enter the land of Israel, and at long last have the opportunity to fulfill the Divine task allotted to each and every one of them, both as individuals and as a nation, they grew cold feet! Suddenly, enslavement in Egypt and a life void of (or "free" from) the obligations of fulfilling G-d's will had so great an appeal that they cried out bitterly, and railed against their own Divinely appointed destiny to become b'nei Torah - children of Torah.

Who shall we choose to be? Are we like Aaron, longing to be called upon? Listening intently for a voice of instruction that emanates from the very origins of time? Or are we like the multitude, drowning out the Divine call in our own cacophony of self-doubt and self-importance?

Listen to this week's TEMPLE TALK, as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss these issues at length, and much more. Also, listen to our special guest, Ed, whose life took a turn when he discovered that both he and his wife are descendants of the anusim or crypto-Jews, whose ancestors were compelled by the Spanish Inquisition some 500 years ago to convert to Catholicism.

Click to hear:

Part 1
Part 2