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To Kindle a Soul

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“Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you set up the lamps, see that all seven light up the area in front of the lampstand.’” — Numbers 8:2

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.

The Jewish sages teach that there are only two types of people who don’t mind being “outdone.” One is a parent; the other, a teacher. A child who succeeds beyond her parent brings the parent joy. When a student goes further than his teacher, the teacher is proud. It is the goal of all education to teach people how they can succeed on their own – without the help of a teacher. In the best scenario, the educator is able to give students the tools they need not only to stand on their own, but to travel far – even further than their mentor – on the road toward success.

This week’s Torah portion is called Behaalotecha. The Jewish understanding of this word is “when you light,” and the word is used in the second verse of the reading when God commands Aaron (via Moses) to light the lamps in the Tabernacle. The sages note that literally, however, the word Behaalotecha means “when you raise up.” Instead of using a word that that means “when you light,” Scripture opts for the one that means “when you raise up.”

The sages teach that the lesson in this word choice is that when the priest went to light the lamps, he could not simply touch a flame to a wick and move on to the next wick. The priest had to keep the flame on the first wick until the flame “went up,” meaning, it fully caught on fire and was burning brightly on its own.

The sages explain that this is also a paradigm for education. Whether we are teaching our children, our students, or our peers, we need to support others and stay with them until they are strong enough to stand on their own.

A good teacher doesn’t just teach her students what to do – she teaches them how to think. A good parent doesn’t just set rules; he teaches his children how to make good choices. A good friend won’t just offer advice; she’ll support her friend until she is strong enough to implement it. An effective spiritual leader won’t just give a sermon; he’ll care and support his congregants; she’ll offer her warmth and encouragement until they are able to be comfortable on their own.

This is the way to kindle a soul. It takes time, patience, love, and understanding. This job once belonged to the priests; now it belongs to each of us. Each of us is a flame, and we have a duty to ignite other souls.

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