Wednesday, June 11, 2008

BeHaloscha 5631 First Ma'amar

... בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹת אֶל־מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה יָאִירוּ שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת/When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the candelabrum.” The menorah is a physical vessel whose purpose is to hold light which symbolizes the spiritual. The mitzvah of the menorah, then, is singularly suited to teach us about the relationship between the physical and spiritual in this world.

Why is there a mitzvah of lighting the menorah? It cannot possibly be for the light. God does not need the light. The Midrash addresses this question. God told Moshe Rabbeinu, “I did not give this commandment because I need the light of man. Rather, I gave this commandment in order to confer merit upon you and to elevate you.” The Midrash learns this from the pasuk, “ה' חָפֵץ לְמַעַן צִדְקוֹ יַגְדִּיל תּוֹרָה וְיַאְדִּיר/For the sake of [Israel’s] righteousness God desired to make the Torah great and to glorify it.” The Midrash is saying that God gave us the mitzvah of lighting the menorah (and according to another Midrash, all mitzvos) in order to make the Torah great and to glorify it.

How does lighting the menorah glorify the Torah? To answer this question, we need to understand the purpose of the mitzvos and their connection to the Torah. God’s desire is for the Torah to be revealed in this world. The Torah is completely spiritual, though, and this world is physical. There must be a mechanism for drawing the spiritual power of the Torah into the physical world. The mitzvos is that mechanism. The mitzvos are the vessels that contain the spiritual light of the Torah.

We see this concept clearly in a pasuk in Mishlei, “... נֵר מִצְוָה וְתוֹרָה אוֹר .../… a commandment is a lamp and the Torah is light …” Just as light needs a lamp to hold it, so too, the light of the Torah needs a vessel to contain it. The vessel that holds the light of the Torah in this world is the mitzvos.

By performing the mitzvos we are glorifying the Torah by bringing its light into this world. The Sfas Emes teaches us that this is an aspect of Torah shebe’al Peh/The Oral Law. The Oral Law, as its name implies, was not written down. In this sense, the Oral Law is hidden. The light of the Torah, then, which is hidden in all things is the light of the hidden Oral Law.

God gave the ability to reveal this light, to activate it, so to speak, to the nation of Israel, just as He gave the Oral Law only to us. We are God’s agents in this world to reveal the Torah’s hidden light. The mechanism for revealing this spiritual light is performance of the mitzvos. In fact, the Zohar says that our 248 limbs parallel the 248 positive commandments. Our very limbs become the conduits through which the light of the Torah is drawn down into this world.

Actually, the light of the Torah is in us in the form of our souls. Our physical body is the vessel that contains the soul. The soul – a spiritual entity – can only function in the physical world through the physical body that contains it. By performing mitzvos we draw the holiness of the soul into the physical world.

In this way we elevate the physical world. This is why the Torah, when referring to lighting lamps of the menorah which, as we’ve said, allude to the mitzvos, uses the word beha’aloscha whose literal translation is, “when you elevate” instead of behadlakascha/when you light.

There was a time when the spiritual light of the Torah was manifest in this world. Chazal teach us that the light that was created on the first day of Creation was a spiritual light that functioned only during the first week of the Creation. After the first Shabbos, God hid that original spiritual light. An inkling of it is revealed on Shabbos, but mainly it is hidden until the ultimate redemption.

The mitzvos are the tool God gave us to reveal that hidden light to some extent. Since the lamps of the menorah represent the mitzvos, when we perform the mitzvos, we are connecting the seven lamps of the menorah with the spiritual light of the first seven days of the creation. We are drawing that original spiritual light into the physical world.

This idea is hinted at by the pasuk quoted before, “...אֶל־מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה יָאִירוּ .../… the lamps shall cast their light toward the candelabrum …” What does this mean? The lamps are part of the menorah. How can they cast their light towards it? Chazal teach us that the three lamps on each side of the center lamp face the center. The middle lamp represents the Shabbos. The six lamps facing it represent the days of the week. When the days of the week are used to perform mitzvos then there is a revelation of that special hidden spiritual light on Shabbos.

With this idea we can explain an enigmatic Midrash. The Midrash says that Aharon HaCohen was upset because his tribe Levi did not participate in the sacrifices brought by the heads of all the other tribes to dedicate the altar. God told Moshe Rabbeinu to console Aharon for he merited the mitzvah of the menorah while they merited bringing sacrifices. Sacrifices may only be brought while the Beis HaMikdash stands whereas the menorah is forever. The obvious question is that the mitzvah of the menorah also applies only while the Beis HaMikdash stands.

However, according to what we’ve said it is clear. The primary reason for lighting the menorah is to draw the spiritual light of the Torah into this world. This is something that lasts forever. The very name of the middle lamp, נֵר הַמַעֲרָבִי/the western lamp, hints at this. מַעֲרָבִי/Western has the same root as לְעַרֵב/to combine. The middle lamp is the ultimate symbol of the coalescence of the spiritual within the physical.

God does not need the light of the menorah. He gave us this mitzvah to confer merit upon us and to elevate us. By performing this mitzvah (and every mitzvah) we draw spiritual light even into the physical darkness.

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