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Parshas Beha'alosecha - Two Menorahs

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May 24, 2010

Parshas Beha'alosecha commences with the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan and the Beis Ha-Mikdash. Chazal (the Sages) and the Meforshim (Commentators) explain the significance of the appearance of this mitzvah immediately after the offerings of the Nesi'im (Tribal Princes) at the Chanukas Ha-Mishkan (Inauguration of the Mishkan), which are featured at the end of Parshas Naso. Irrespective of the message conveyed by the proximity of the mitzvah of the Menorah to the offerings of the Nesi'im, we must understand why the mitzvah of the Menorah appears three separate times in the Torah - once when the Mishkan's construction was commanded and implemented (in Parshiyos Terumah and Vayahkel), a second time in Parshas Emor, and a final time in Parshas Beha'alosecha.

Rashi (on Vayikra 24:2) explains the second appearance of the mitzvah of the Menorah, in Parshas Emor, as the actual command of lighting the Menorah, whereas the Torah's initial discussion of the Menorah, in Parshiyos Terumah and Vayahkel, addressed its construction. However, the mitvzah of the Menorah as presented in Parshas Beha'alosecha does not appear to introduce a new theme or function of the Menorah. Furthermore, one would presume that the Torah would have a way to teach the message conveyed by the proximity of the Menorah to the offerings of the Nesi'im without having to repeat the mitzvah of the Menorah again in Parshas Beha'alosecha, in light of the exhaustive treatment of the Menorah earlier in Parshiyos Terumah, Vayahkel and Emor. Thus, why was it necessary to feature the mitzvah of the Menorah in Parshas Beha'alosecha?

In truth, the Menorah presents two very different concepts. Sefer Ha-Chinuch (m. 98) explains that the function of the Menorah was to display honor for the Beis Ha-Mikdash, as one glorifies an edifice by lighting candles therein. (Think of a chandelier in a luxurious setting.) On the other hand, the Gemara (Menachos 86b) states that the Menorah is “testimony to all people that the Shechinah resides in Israel". Hashra'as Ha-Shechinah, the manifestation of Hashem's Presence, is indicated by the Menorah. Thus, the Menorah both glorifies the Mikdash and also symbolizes Hashra'as Ha-Shechinah.

One can suggest that the several occasions in the Torah which feature the mitzvah of the Menorah correspond to these two aspects of the Menorah. The Torah's treatment of the Menorah in Parshiyos Terumah, Vayahkel and Emor, which present the construction of the Mishkan and the actual lighting of the Menorah, addresses the Menorah as an object that brings honor and glory to the Mishkan and Beis Ha-Mikdash. The construction and installation of the Menorah in Parshiyos Terumah and Vayakhel were part of the assembly of the Mishkan and served to provide splendor, as did many of the other decorative articles commanded and assembled at that time, and the kindling of the Menorah provided further and more intense glorification.

However, the mitzvah of the Menorah in Parshas Beha'alosecha, which appears at the conclusion of the Chanukas Ha-Mishkan, at which time Hashem's Presence rested upon the Mishkan, signifies Hashra'as Ha-Shechinah, the second aspect of the Menorah. This aspect of the Menorah is reflected in this new, final presentation of the mitzvah of the Menorah, and hence is this mitzvah featured afresh in Parshas Beha'alosecha. (In fact, in this presentation of the Menorah, the Torah refers to the Menorah's lights illuminating, and not merely to the human act of kindling; the lights' illumination specifically here evidences the correlation to Hashra'as Ha-Shechinah, represented by the Menorah's flame.)   

Rashi (on Shemos 25:40 and Bamidbar 8:4) quotes homiletic interpretations from the Gemara and Sifri that Hashem had to visually show Moshe exactly how to fashion the Menorah, because Moshe had difficulty perceiving the Menorah's construct. One opinion (from Medrash Tanchuma) noted by Rashi on the latter pasuk (verse) states that Hashem Himself had to create the Menorah for Moshe, apparently due to Moshe's difficulty understanding the Menorah's formation. The meaning of these aggadic explanations invoked by Rashi may be that since the Menorah reflected Hashra'as Ha-Shechinah and was thus not a mere physical, tangible item, Moshe was unable to grasp it - similar to the Luchos (Tablets), which were infused with kedushah (holiness) and were supernaturally inscribed with fire, and which likewise could not be crafted solely by Moshe Rabbeinu.

Why is the Menorah's message of Hashra'as Ha-Shechinah particularly pertinent to Parshas Beha'alosecha?

Parshas Beha'alosecha features stark contrast and seismic metamorphosis, for in it do we initially read that the Levi'im were inducted into Hashem's Avodah (Service), that the nation marched dutifully and in perfect formation after Hashem's pillars of cloud and fire, and that it sought to serve Hashem in obedience and fidelity. We then suddenly read that there was radical rebellion against Hashem and brazen challenge of His leadership, culminating in the next parshah (Parshas Shelach) with the Chet Ha-Meraglim, the Sin of the Spies. (According to the simple order of the Torah's text, and as per some Meforshim, other major sins, such as Korach's uprising, also transpired at this juncture.) The result of this sea change was that the nation had to wander in the Midbar (Desert) for 38 years so that the sinning generation would die before entry to the Land.

Some explain that this 38-year period was not one of "business as usual", for Hashem suspended communication with B'nei Yisroel during this time and He did not speak with Moshe until the 38 years ended. In other words, on a broader level, Hashem's Presence was not as perceptible during these 38 years.

This is the connection of the mitzvah of the Menorah as a reflection of Hashra'as Ha-Shechinah to Parshas Beha'alosecha. The motif of Parshas Beha'alosecha is one of living in Hashem's shadow, as it were - life with maximal Hashra'as Ha-Shechinah - and the sudden diminution of that state due to sin. The full presence and rapid curtailment of Hashra'as Ha-Shechinah is perhaps the most striking theme of the parshah, for a scenario of clinging to Hashem and spiritual paradise is instantly replaced by metaphysical darkness and rebellion against the Divine.

The mitzvah of the Menorah, reflective of Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah, is presented at the beginning of Parshas Beha'alosecha as an introduction to the central motif of intense presence and acute diminution of Hashra’as Ha-Shechinah, as engendered by the events about to be portrayed in the parshah.

May we soon again be worthy of profound Hashra’as ha-Shechinah, and may we speedily merit the time when the Menorah will illuminate as testament that the Shechinah resides among us.


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