Parashas Behaalosecha

This week’s parashah begins with a recapitulation of the mitzvah of lighting the menorah in the Mishkan. The Midrash remarks (Bamidbar Rabbah 15:1-2):
We find many places where the Holy One Blessed Be He commanded us regarding the lamps, and about kindling them with olive oil. In Shemos 27:20 it is written: “And you shall command the Children of Israel, that they shall take for you pure olive oil, pressed, for illumination, to kindle a perpetual lamp.” In Vayikra 24:4, Hashem repeats the command. And here it is written (Bamidbar 8:2): “Speak to Aharon and say to him, ‘When you kindle the lamps, toward the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light.’” This is as it is written (Yeshayah 42:21): “Hashem wished, for the sake of [the Jewish People’s] righteousness, to make the Torah great and glorious.”
In Mishnah Makkos 3:16, the verse in Yeshayah is quoted as a proof of the following principle: “The Holy One Blessed Be He wished to bring merit to the Jewish People; therefore He gave Torah and mitzvos in manifold.” Along these lines, the remainder of the Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 15:2 uses the verse in Yeshayah to teach that the reason Hashem commanded us to light the menorah was not because He needs the light, but because He wished to bring us merit. The Maggid develops an additional angle, building on the juxtaposition of the verse in Yeshayah with the Midrash’s initial remark about the mitzvah of the menorah being presented in the Torah many times.
He brings out the idea with an analogy. Suppose a suit is being made for a small child, with the intent that he should be able to wear it for many years. Obviously, the child will grow over time. How, then, can the same suit continue to serve him? The effect can be achieved by building into the suit a series of folds along its length and width. When the child outgrows the suit in its original form, one of the folds can be opened, and it will fit him again. And when he grows more, another fold can be opened to make the suit fit.
The written Torah that Hashem gave us, the Maggid says, was crafted in just this way. When a young boy begins learning Torah, he reads it at a simple level. As he grows older and wiser, he draws out more and more of its meaning, through critical analysis of its phrasing and the principles of Torah interpretation that Hashem passed on to us (such as the thirteen principles of interpretation recorded in the name of R. Yishmael). Indeed, the entire Oral Law is encoded in the written Torah and can, in principle, be extracted from it. The “extra language” in the Torah, such as the repetition of the mitzvah of lighting the menorah, is like the folds in the boy’s suit. Initially, we let this extra language lay as is, but as we grow in wisdom we “open up” the extra language and draw out its meaning.
In Koheles Rabbah 3:12, our Sages teach that if the Jewish People had merited and not sinned with the golden calf, Hashem would have given them only the Chumash (Five Books of Moses); the people would not have needed the Neviim and Kesuvim (Prophets and Writings). The Midrash says, on a simple level, that the Neviim and Kesuvim were given so that the Jewish People would toil in them and earn reward, while having their attention drawn away from the incitements of the evil inclination. The Maggid takes the matter a step deeper. He says that had the Jewish People not sinned with the calf, they would have been able with their pure intellect to plumb the depths of the Chumash and extract all the teachings of the Neviim and Kesuvim, along with the entire Oral Law, from the Chumash alone.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

1 Comment

  1. North Jerusalem Maggid of Dubno Project » Blog Archive » Parashas Behaalosecha:

    […] to bring merit to the Jewish People; therefore He gave Torah and mitzvos in manifold.” We previously presented a segment from the Maggid’s commentary on the foregoing Midrash, expounding on the […]

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