Parashas Behaalosecha

This week’s parashah begins as follows:
Hashem spoke to Moshe, saying: “Speak to Aharon and say to him, ‘When you kindle the lamps, toward the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light.’” Aharon did thus – toward the face of the menorah he kindled its lamps, as Hashem had commanded Moshe.
Rashi remarks that Aharon carried out Hashem’s instructions exactly, without making any changes to the procedure. We need to understand what new insight Rashi is trying to give us here. Isn’t it obvious that Aharon would follow Hashem’s instructions exactly?
The Maggid explains as follows. Aharon was a supreme Torah scholar and leader, second only to Moshe. As such, Aharon had a poweful mind. He thus had the intellectual capability to conceive innumerable potential embellishments to the service. But instead he took an attitude of simple acceptance, and followed Hashem’s instructions without change. This attitude testifies to his deep fear of Hashem and his great loftiness.
Indeed, the greater a person’s mind is, the greater is the challenge he faces to refrain from adding his own innovations, and the greater is the praise he merits when he indeed refrains from doing so. With simpletons who lack wisdom, it is no great glory that they refrain from adding their own innovations, for they are incapable of developing any. But with a great scholar, such restraint is marvelous. And with Aharon, who was at the pinnacle of wisdom, such restraint is all the more remarkable.
The Maggid connects the above idea with another Torah passage dealing with the menorah. Parashas Tetzaveh begins with Hashem’s directing Moshe to tell the Jewish People to prepare pure olive oil for lighting the menorah (Shemos 27:20-21). The Midrash links this passage with the following verse (Shir HaShirim 1:15): “Behold, you are beautiful, My beloved – behold, you are beautiful, and your eyes are like doves.” The Midrash expounds (Yalkut Shimoni, Torah, sec. 375, end):
See how the Holy One Blessed Be He sings the praises of Knesses Yisrael: “Behold, you are beautiful on account of your deeds; behold, you are beautiful on account of the deeds of your forefathers.” … “Your eyes are like doves” – this refers to the Sanhedrin. Just as a person’s body follows his eyes, so, too, Knesses Yisrael would follow the Sanhedrin. Whatever they were told was impure they treated as impure, and whatever they were told was pure they treated as pure.
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. Torah study involves constant use of the human intellect as a tool for learning, explaining, and comparing one case with another. There are some principles, however, that we are forbidden to subject to intellectual analysis, but must instead accept on the basis of tradition. These principles are represented by the pure olive oil of the menorah. Thus, our Sages say that one who sees an olive tree in a dream should anticipate the light of Torah (Berachos 57a, with the opening verse of parashas Tetzaveh being the proof-text). Just as the olive oil of the menorah is pure, so, too, the secrets of the Torah can be absorbed only through pure acceptance, without intellectual analysis.
The Sages describe the transmission of Torah in the following terms: “From statement to statement, from faithful one to faithful one, from righteous one to righteous one, from mouth to mouth, from hand to hand.” Torah teachings are to be passed down as they are, with no additions, deletions, or changes in phrasing. On account of this system of tradition, our Sages – the builders of Torah – are worthy of great praise. Not only did they exert their minds to listen, to learn, and to teach, but they also took care not to make changes based on their own judgment. They passed down exactly what they heard from their teachers, and nothing else. In this vein, the Gemara explicitly reports that R. Eliezer and R. Yochanan ben Zakkai never presented a teaching they had not heard from their own teachers (Sukkah 28a).
We can liken those who transmit the Torah to a purchasing agent who is sent by his employer to make certain purchases. The agent might deviate by failing to buy some of the items that the employer asked for. Or he might deviate by deciding on his own to buy items that his employer did not ask for. Both types of deviation are undesirable; the second type often is worse than the first. A good purchasing agent will buy exactly what his employer asked for, no less and no more.
It is written (Tehillim 36:7): “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; Your judgments are like the great deep. You save both man and beast, Hashem.” The Gemara says that the end of this verse refers to men who strip away their own judgment and conduct themselves with the docility of a farm animal (Chullin 5b). This is the attitude that Aharon adopted in regard to lighting the menorah. And this is the attitude that Noach took in building the ark. Even though Hashem explained to Noah the reason for building the ark, he did not allow himself to exercise his own ingenuity and introduce new features that Hashem did not specify. Rather, he did exactly as Hashem said. The Torah praises Noach for his conduct, declaring (Bereishis 6:22): “And Noach did in accordance with all that God had commanded him.” Similarly, in parashas Pekudei, in connection with the making of the priestly vestments and the setting up of the Mishkan, the Torah notes repeatedly that each step was carried out exactly as Hashem had commanded.
This is how Knesses Yisrael is praised in the Yalkut we quoted above. Among the Jewish People are many great thinkers, who have the capability of developing all kinds of arguments for one course of action or another. Nonetheless, the Jewish People conduct themselves with the docility of a farm animal: They submit themselves completely to the direction of the Torah leaders, without allowing their own judgment to divert them from the path their leaders have set forth.
The Midrash declares: “Behold, you are beautiful on account of your deeds.” If we wished to be clever, we have the capacity to do so. But, no: “Behold, you are beautiful on account of the deeds of your forefathers.” We do not deviate one iota from the ways of our “fathers” – the sages and elders of the generation. We neither subtract nor add from what they instruct us. On account of our great fear of Hashem, we submit ourselves completely to the direction of our Torah leaders.
The Midrash conveys this teaching in connection with the preparation of the pure olive oil of the menorah. Pure olive oil represents pure wisdom, totally free of any admixture of improper thought patterns or extraneous ideas. It represents a mind that is set to absorb only the true wisdom passed down from true Torah scholars. Steadfast obedience to Torah leaders is the attitude that characterizes the Nation of Torah, and for this we merit abundant praise.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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