Torah gives us all a chance to be included in creating the sacred


“And the Almighty spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him, When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.” (Numbers 8:1-2)

All too often, I hear from my students about how “irrelevant and anachronistic” the narratives of the Torah are to them. And though I must admit that there are such times even for me, this week’s Parashah, and especially its opening lines, are surely not one of those occasions. For if we take the time to look closely at the text, delve beyond its surface meanings, and allow our hearts to be truly open, we will discover an exquisite and potentially transformative life lesson encoded in the sacred words of our Parashah.

Ostensibly, the opening verses of Parashat Behaalotcha are about the kindling of the Candelabrum, which stood within the confines of the Mishkan. It is abundantly clear that the work of lighting the lights of the Menorah was the purview of the High Priest, Aharon HaKohen. However, that is not actually what the text says. The Torah goes to great lengths to underscore that this task belongs to Aaron alone and moreover, the text provides very specific details of the manner in which his lighting should be performed.

Rabbi Carnie Rose

So why does the Torah, a document that is conservative by design, only includes essential data, and never spills ink unnecessarily, go to such pains to describe Aaron’s involvement?

The exegete, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (RASHI), quoting the Midrash Tanchuma, offers a poignant answer: Why is the section of the Torah, which describes the lighting of the Menorah, placed in juxtaposition with the section dealing with the offerings of the Princes? Because when Aaron saw the dedication offerings of the Princes of the Tribes of Ancient Israel, he felt distressed and demoralized because neither he nor the members of his tribe joined with them in providing the necessities for the dedication of the Tabernacle. Whereupon the Holy Blessed One, said to Aaron, “By your life! Your part is of even greater importance than theirs, for you will be the one to kindle and set in order the lamps of the Menorah”.

It seems to me that our Torah is fleshing out for us – people living millennia after the generation of those who built the Mishkan and sojourned in the desert – a profound truth. Communal inclusion in the creation of the sacred – both temporal and spatial – is the deepest and truest intention of our Torah. All members of our community must be given opportunities to connect and contribute. Though not everyone can perform the same tasks, all should be given the opportunity to participate. Though equality and sameness are not one and the same, we must strive to find consequential ways for all to feel part of the process of creating sanctity. And it is none other than the Holy One of Blessing who models this behaviour by providing the apparently deflated Aaron with not only an opportunity to feel part of the cult of the Mishkan, but also a task that is critical – central and essential.

And this may be why the Torah uses specifically the word “Behaalotcha” to describe the kindling. After all, this word is derived from the Hebrew word Aliyah, which means to uplift. The Almighty, in God’s infinite wisdom, grants Aaron who had previously felt disenfranchised and downtrodden, an uplifting task that engages and empowers him and thus raises his spirit.

So too may we, in our quest to engage in Imitatio Dei (emulation of the Divine), find ways to be ever more inclusive of all who wish to feel connected to community, sanctity, and to the love of the Most High.

Amen and Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose, D.Div., is The Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair at Congregation B’nai Amoona, and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light