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B’haaloscha - “Sleepless in Sinai”

After the Torah provides instructions for Aaron, the High Priest on “operating” the Menorah, the Torah proclaims: “And Aaron did so”. The Medrash, as cited by Rashi comments: “This is to tell us praise of Aaron – that he didn’t change (anything)”.  Aaron’s exactitude in following the “Menorah Service Manual” is marked for special honors. But why would that be?  While for many of us who struggle daily with observing Hashem’s commandments this might indeed be worthy of distinction, Aaron was the Kohen Gadol. He was arguably the person second closest to Hashem in the entire world! Who better would recognize the importance of not diverting from the Almighty’s expressed desires? It would be unimaginable for Aaron  not to have done precisely as he was commanded! Is it really a praise of Aaron to pronounce how he, as Hashem’s chosen Priest and leader of Israel second only to Moshe Rabeinu heeded the wishes of G-d’?

While Rabbis have been puzzled by this for centuries, I am going to be guilty now of  what many call a “Chasidic Pshat”-a “Hasidic” reading of the text (Blame it on my genes). Always looking for hidden meanings and holy ideas in every nuance of life, Hasidic masters will sometimes offer to replace the plain meaning of the text with a twist on the typical standard exegesis. Suddenly, the text with that new twist may present an entirely different idea. Here is my offering:

The words the Torah uses to describe Aaron’s compliance with G-d’s orders is “Shelo Shina”-that he didn’t “change” anything, or veer from Hashem’s specific directions. “Shina” relates to the Hebrew word “Shinui”- transformation. But the letters making up the word “Shina” also spell the Hebrew word for sleep (remember the Israeli kindergarten song “Layla Ba L’Shaina”- “night comes for sleep”?).

Our Rabbis of the Talmud tell us that the Menorah is the ultimate symbol of true wisdom. “From Zion shall come forth Torah and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem”. The Menorah lit on the Temple Mount shines its countenance on all of humankind. It illuminates every part of our lives. Light is synonymous with daytime. Even in modern times, we use “daylight savings” to maximize the matching of our waking hours with the light of the sun. the light allows us to be awake. To see, to be aware of not only ourselves but everyone around us and all that we do. Too many of us go through life “asleep”. The electricity may still be on but we live in darkness. Our days turn into “daze”. We go through the motions but our souls are dormant. The passion, feeling and excitement is gone-from work, relationships with friends, children, spouses-and G-d. When given the command to light the Menorah, Aaron realized the significance of this great Mitzvah to “light up”-and awaken the world. “To teach us that he didn’t sleep””. Aaron lit the Menorah “withough sleep”, and he made sure to light it-and us, with every awake and alive fiber of his own being, sending that light into our existence so that we too remain “awake”, and truly alive 24/7 with every breath we take. To awaken, enlighten and illuminate every aspect of our lives and infuse every moment and each encounter of ours with meaning. That is what Torah is all about, and that was Aaron’s mission-from the dark nights in the Sinai desert to the glorious days his descendants lit the Menorah on the Temple Mount: to keep Judaism, Torah and all of humanity “awake” and ready to greet the “Yom Shekulo Aroch” and enjoy life as the “never ending day” it is meant to be.

Good Shabbos!

Shalom Rubanowitz,

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