A HIGHER LIGHT – B’haalos’kho – Num. 8-12, by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
The name of this week’s Sedrah has its own unique message. It is the first word of the Divine charge to Aaron, who had the duty and privilege of lighting the Menorah. Familiar to all of us, the 7-branch candlestick graces our synagogues and appears as a symbol, both on many Jewish documents and on treasured jewelry. And with the addition of the eighth candle and the “shamash”, the Menorah becomes the trademark of Hanukkah, the holiday of Dedication. In fact, this week’s Haftorah – Zechariah’s vision – will be read on Hanukkah too. So when Aaron dedicated the Menorah he started one of our ongoing traditions.
So let’s see what his commandment – his Mitzvah – was. We might expect it to be stated simply, as many such commandments are: Take pure olive oil, fill the cups of the Menorah, and kindle the lights. Not here. The word is not הדלקh-d-l-k (to kindle, as in l’hadlik ner shel shabat or shel Hanukkah). Here the word isהעלה h-a-l-h (to raise, or to elevate): B’haalos’kho es ha-ney-ros (When you raise the candles), they will shine on everything that is facing the Menorah. The shaping of the Menorah itself is detailed here, showing that the 7 burning cups are shaped so that the flame does not burn just straight up, but also outward. Spread the light. Yes, it is for G-d, and it is also for people. All people.
Our commentators note details about the cups on the Menorah that add to the visual engineering. Of the three cups on the east side, says Rashi, the two outer ones are angled just slightly so they all shine toward what is directly facing the middle light; and the same way on the west side. The center light, (number 4 if you count from either end) is not angled at all, but shines up and straight out.
From the various laws, observances and travel experiences we will read in these 5 chapters, and from the centuries of history that followed, we can learn something of the value of the light Aaron kindled, and raised. Our Menorah indeed shines upward toward Heaven, and it tries to shine forward on all who face it.
Did it shine on the group of tribesmen who missed the first Passover, and convinced Moses to get them the opportunity to celebrate their freedom a month later? Of course it did.
Did it shine on Miriam when she spoke against her sister-in-law? Maybe it did, and maybe she wasn’t facing it. She got punished, and she atoned. In effect, she turned around and accepted the light.
B’haalos’kho brings us a message that can inspire us. The light on our Menorah is more than just a flame pointing up. Like Aaron the High Priest, we can share the light of Torah by shining it up and out. And being among those it shines on, we can face that beautiful Torah light, accept it, and let it light up our lives.