Aaron did so; he set up the lamps so that they faced forward on the lampstand, just as the LORD commanded Moses. — Numbers 8:3
The Torah portion for this week is Behaalotecha, which means “when you raise up,” from Numbers 8:1–12:16, and the Haftorah is from Zechariah 2:14–4:7.
I was recently at a funeral on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem for a Jewish man from New York. He had lived a long life and died peacefully. Yet when his son read his eulogy, everyone had tears in their eyes. He spoke about a man who was simple and poor. He spoke about how when he was younger, he was embarrassed by his father, but as he grew older, his respect for his father grew.
The son was sorry that he only came to appreciate his father when it was “too late” but was proud that he was continuing his father’s legacy by raising his children in Jerusalem where they wouldn’t have a luxurious life, but a meaningful one. The son concluded his eulogy: “Dad, you didn’t have much to leave behind, but you left behind EVERYTHING that matters.”
This week’s reading begins with the commandment to Aaron and his sons to light the menorah, the seven-branched lamp in the Temple. Last week’s reading was about the gifts that the princes from each of the twelve tribes brought to God. The Jewish sages explain the connection between this week’s reading and last week’s portion. After watching the princes offer gifts, Aaron felt bad that he hadn’t contributed anything. So God comforted him by pointing out that his descendants would light the menorah forever.
Question: Why does God highlight the menorah when there were many other duties that Aaron and his descendants would perform in the Temple. Another question: How was this “forever”? Didn’t the lighting of the menorah cease after the Temples were destroyed?
The sages explain what God meant. Centuries later, under Greek oppression, Aaron’s descendants would be the ones to defeat them. You see, his descendants were the Maccabees, and their victory is remembered every year on the holiday of Hanukkah. On that holiday, we light our own menorahs, and that is how Aaron’s descendants light the menorah forever!
The menorah and its lights represent spirituality, and lighting the menorah symbolizes spreading spirituality and the light of God in the darkness of this world. When God gave Aaron the job of lighting the menorah for eternity, He was telling him that through his family, God’s light would be spread throughout the world and His legacy would be continued.
Sharing God’s light and passing it on to the next generation is the kind of contribution that lasts forever. It’s not about how much we leave behind in this world; it’s about leaving behind what matters the most.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President