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                              The Jewish Enlightenment

                                                       Rabbi Ariel Abrahams

During the week of Chanukah, we read the portion of the Torah which discusses the dedication of the Tabernacle that the Jewish people fashioned while traveling the wilderness. The Torah describes how on each consecutive day, another one of the nessi’im, the princes of the tribes, brought his own voluntary offering to the courtyard of the sanctuary. Interestingly, immediately after concluding its description of the princes’ offerings, the Torah goes on to describe the mitzvah of lighting the menorah which was performed daily in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. Why were these seemingly unrelated topics placed side by side in the Torah, and what is their connection to the Chanukah miracle which occurred hundreds of years later?

The Midrash relates that when Aharon observed the offerings brought by the nessi’im, he became despondent that he did not have a part in them. When Hashem saw that Aharon was upset, Hashem consoled him saying, “Do not despair at the princes’ offering, for your portion is greater than theirs, as you will  perform the mitzvah of kindling the lights of the menorah!” Thus, according to the explanation of the Midrash, the juxtaposition of the offerings of the nessi’im to the mitzvah of lighting the menorah alludes to Aharon’s disappointment and the consolation which the Almighty offered him.

Even so, this explanation of the Midrash is by no means easily understood. First of all, what was so great about the offering of the nessi’im that Aharon desired a part in it? And secondly, why did Hashem choose to console him specifically with the mitzvah of kindling the menorah which could be fulfilled by any Cohain? Would it not have been better to comfort Aharon with a mitzvah like the service of Yom Kippur which only he as Cohain Gadol could perform?

The Ramban, in his commentary on the Torah, explains that this consolation which Hashem offered Aharon was a direct reference to the eternal light of the Chanukah menorah which was brought about through the efforts of Aharon’s descendants, the Chashmonaim, during the Second Temple period. In fact, it was with this lighting of the menorah with which Aharon was rightfully consoled, as the light of Chanukah was destined to shine forth even after the light of the menorah in the Temple had long been extinguished.

In addition to the eternal light of the menorah which was innovated through the self-sacrifice of Aharon’s descendants,  on a deeper level, Hashem’s response to Aharon included a far deeper concept which fulfilled Aharon’s wish to achieve a level of divine service similar to that of the nessi’im; a unique and creative contribution to the Jewish nation. Our sages tell us that the symbol of the menorah was specifically appropriate for the Second Temple period, while the essence of the First Temple was more aptly alluded to by the luchot, the stone tablets which were housed therein. In the First Temple, the luchot, signified the initial level of the Jewish people during which they received the awesome spiritual influence which Hashem bestowed upon them, both in the wilderness, and during their initial settlement of the Land of Israel. It was a time when prophesy was commonplace, and Hashem directed the course of Israel’s development with the help of the Prophets who received and transmitted His commands to the nation. This period in Jewish history, categorized by the distinct flow of Hashem’s influence from above to below, was typified by the tablets which were a symbol of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai; the most powerful example of Hashem’s desire to communicate His will to His creations. It was a period which was characterized by the Divine inspiration which was bestowed upon the generation; and by a written Torah totally devoid of human contribution and delivered from on high into the waiting hands of those who sought it.

In comparison, the second Beit Hamikdash lacked this sublime level of Divine intervention which was commonplace in its predecessor. It contained neither the tablets received on Mt. Sinai, nor exhibited the numerous miracles which were present in the first. Rather, the period of the second Beit Hamikdash was symbolized in essence by the menorah; a vessel whose light possessed the power to pierce the darkness only as a  product of human effort and exertion. Figuratively speaking, this new era of Jewish history, in which spiritual achievement could be reached only through effort and exertion was typified by the process of extracting the oil which would in turn be utilized to light the menorah. This requirement of human involvement for the purpose of producing light alludes to the emergence of the Oral Torah as the field on which human creativity and the will of the Creator could work together hand in hand. In contrast to the First Temple period which was distinguished by chochmah, G-dly wisdom transmitted from on high, the period of the Chanukah miracle was one in which the more sublime level of binah began to flourish. In this new era during which prophesy soon ceased, and the tablets of stone were absent from the Temple, the very way in which the Jewish people related to the Torah began to take on an entirely different shape. The era of binah had begun, thus setting the stage for the conflict between Greek civilization and the Jewish nation. In essence, the struggle between the Greeks and the Jews represented the clash of two opposing world views; one which used understanding to enhance physical pleasure and beauty, and the other which applied binah to deepen spiritual perfection and the fulfillment of the will of a higher power. For Yisrael, the menorah symbolized the development of the Oral Torah; a forum in which the sages of every generation could, within given parameters, use their understanding to gain deeper insight into Hashem’s Torah.

Perhaps now we can begin to grasp the deeper meaning of Aharon’s feeling of sadness at seeing the nessi’im and the comfort which the menorah offered him. Aharon saw in the offerings of the nessi’im a forum in which human creativity could be accessed to promote the will of the Creator, and it was this level that he longed to achieve. Accordingly, his consolation was the light of the Chanukah menorah which would shine throughout the ages; a symbol of the Oral Torah and its subsequent development through the innovation of the sages of Israel.