Parashat Beha’alotecha begins with Aaron, as the High Priest, lighting the menorah. Midrash Rabbah speaks of Aaron being upset that each chieftain of the 12 tribes had a role in the dedication of the mishkan’s altar, yet he and the Levites did not. The midrash tells us, “The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moses, Go and tell Aaron — Fear not! You are designated for something of greater importance than this. The offerings are brought only as long as the Sanctuary is in existence, but the lamps will give light in front of the menorah forever and all the blessings that I have given you with which to bless My children will never come to an end.”
The lighting of the menorah was indeed a special privilege. While we may associate the menorah with Hanukkah, in fact for centuries it was the menorah that was the symbol of the Jewish people; in ancient days it was the menorah that signified the Israelites. And today, it is the menorah which stands as the symbol of the State of Israel.
What is so special about the menorah? This week’s Haftarah portion speaks of the menorah in reference to God’s light; as in a dream, the Prophet Zechariah was shown the menorah with its seven lights as part of a message that he was to give to Zerubavel, a leader of Israel. Zechariah did not understand and questioned the meaning of the menorah and was given the answer, “Lo v’chayil v’lo v’koach ki im b’ruchi” — “not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit …” Thus, the menorah represented the presence of God. It was only with God’s presence that Zerubavel would accomplish his mission. So, the light of the menorah is symbolic of God’s divine light. And Aaron, by lighting the menorah, had the special privilege of bringing the Divine light into the Jewish people’s midst.
Today, we do not have a High Priest to light the menorah and welcome in God’s presence for us. Rather it is the responsibility of each one of us to keep the light of the menorah burning brightly; to realize that this Divine light whether from the ancient menorah of the mishkan, from the light of a chanukiah, or from the light of a modern seven-branched menorah still shines on us. As we continue to keep the light of the menorah burning, we must place ourselves in its presence so that we can receive its light and warmth and be reminded of our relationship with God.
Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg of United Hebrew Congregation provided this week’s Torah Portion.