"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.'"
The Tabernacle has just been inaugurated and now Aaron the High Priest is kindling the golden menorah which stands in the Tabernacle Sanctuary. Previously in the Book of Numbers the tribal encampments have been determined and the Levites have been assigned their tasks in assembling, disassembling and transporting the Tabernacle through the desert. Life for the nation of Israel, after the turmoil of the exodus from Egypt, the receiving of Torah at Mount Sinai and the complete communal effort to construct the Tabernacle and the holy service vessels seems at long last to be settling down into some kind of normalcy.
The particular phrasing of the Hebrew "When you light the lamps" quite literally means, "when you raise up the flames." This can even be understood as a blessing: "May you have mastery over your passions and desires and always raise them up heavenward." The following verse seems to confirm this Divine intention: "Aaron did that, lighting the lamps to illuminate the menorah, as G-d commanded Moses." (Numbers 8:3)
At this point in the chronicles of the children of Israel we fully expect a quiet and peaceful sojourn in the desert and the nation's quick entrance into Canaan, the land promised by G-d Whose presence dwells within their midst. But then things go awry. A series of debacles plague the young nation threatening their physical existence and more so, threatening their unique relationship with G-d. A smooth ride suddenly becomes bumpy, and a few months in the wilderness becomes forty years.
Trouble begins when "The people began to complain, and it was evil in G-d's ears." (Numbers 11:1) Immediately after, the people grow weary of the manna that G-d has provided for them and begin crying for meat, recalling the delicacies that they enjoyed in Egypt, further provoking G-d's anger. The spirit of malcontent soon made its way even to Miriam and Aaron, the sister and brother of Moses, who have harsh words of criticism for Moses, whom G-d calls "My servant." (Numbers 12:8) This, in turn, is followed by the disastrous report of the spies who returned from Canaan with words which questioned G-d's very ability to fulfill His promise, thereby filling the people with despair. And if this isn't enough, as if to add insult to injury, comes the egoistic rebellion of Korach.
Before we add our own harsh words, and condemn this troublesome generation, let's try to gain some perspective. Imagine assembling your own little ones in the family car and starting out for that quiet place in the country that you have so carefully planned for these many months. Imagine that it involves a four hour, (not quite forty year) drive. Now imagine that, say, fifteen minutes into your journey one child decides that he doesn't like the sandwich you have provided, and insists that you stop along the way for a burger. Meanwhile, another child has nasty words for a sibling that requires your intervention. Further on down the road you discover your children fighting over who gets to sit by the window and even catch wind of a plot brewing by which two of the children plan to commandeer from their brothers the best rooms in the cottage when you finally arrive. And just when you are minutes away from your vacation destination and you think that your travel troubles are behind you, all of a sudden your children, united in purpose now for the first time, declare that they don't like the looks of this place and demand that you turn around right now, and take them home.
No doubt we have all experienced such an adventure, and no doubt that once we arrived at our intended destination and settled in, everything was forgotten and everyone was forgiven. Humor aside, the purpose of this comparison is at once to shed light both on the wearisome children and on the long suffering parents. Children are precious gifts who represent the very best of us. We pray for them and promise them all that we can. They shine for us like the stars in heaven, and yet - they are human. We the parents are dismayed by our children when their behavior is less than exemplary, we grow angry, frustrated, impatient and on occasion even raise our voices, but we always, always view them through the benign and adoring eyes of loving parents.
This brings us back to Numbers 8:1-2: "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 that, lighting the lamps to illuminate the menorah, as G-d commanded Moses." The seven candled menorah can be likened to G-d's loving eyes. Before this turbulent journey in the desert G-d says to His children, "raise up the lights - raise yourselves up before me, so that I can see you in this holy light, for in this holy light of the menorah that will shine upon you throughout all the generations, I will always see you, and always see the best in you."
We have been taught that the generation of the desert were like the angels, they were so holy. But they were even better than that: just like our precious angels, they were human. The pure and loving light of the menorah, kindled by one of G-d's own children, is a testimony to His eternal love for each and every one of us.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss the kindling of the golden menorah, and begin the journey with the children of Israel into the wilderness.
Click to hear: