The virtues and zeal of rehabilitation


This piece originally ran in the June 8, 2017, issue.
This week’s Torah portion is Beha’alotcha, Numbers 8:1-12:16.

This week’s parsha begins with God telling Moses to instruct Aaron on how to kindle the lamps of the menorah.

It’s the next verse that really interests me: “Aaron did so; he kindled the lamps at the front of the menorah, as the Lord had commanded Moses” (Numbers 8:3).

What is so special about Aaron carrying out this fairly ordinary command that it warrants its own rather repetitive sentence?

Rashi interprets the phrase “Aaron did so” to say that this shows Aaron’s virtue in that he did not deviate from God’s command in the performance of a mitzvah, even one which Moses instructed him to do in the name of God. Rashi is known for interpreting Torah verses in the simplest sense of the words. It makes sense that Aaron would follow God’s command and, as Moses relayed God’s commands to Aaron the majority of the time, it also makes sense that he would follow commandments relayed by Moses. I am not sure where the sense of Aaron’s virtue comes into play, as it was not too long ago that we experienced the incident of the golden calf. Perhaps Rashi is aiding in the rehabilitation of Aaron’s character.

I found two other explanations that resonated. The first is from Or HaChaim, a 17th century Moroccan rabbi and Torah commentator. He wrote that for Aaron to light the menorah he would have to clean the lamps of menorah each day. To clean and properly prepare the lamps, he would have to remove them, clean them and reassemble them. In essence, Aaron would be performing the mitzvah of building a new menorah every day. With the statement “Aaron did so” in the verse, we receive confirmation that Aaron took on the obligation of fulfilling this mitzvah each day and also obligated the future kohanim.

This explanation satisfies my sense of academic inquiry (and fits with my theory of character rehabilitation), but I needed a different explanation to fulfill my sense of personal curiosity. I found it in a commentary by the Vilna Gaon, a rabbinic scholar in the 18th century, expounding on Rashi’s comment that Aaron’s following the instructions was a virtue. He said that Rashi’s point was that not only did Aaron never deviate from the precise instructions, but he never varied in his enthusiasm for this same commandment in all the years that he kindled the menorah in the Tabernacle. The passion, zeal and commitment that he felt the first time he completed the act stayed with him each time he completed this mitzvah.

The simple words “Aaron did so” now take on a new meaning. They teach us that we can make a mistake and be rehabilitated. They teach us that we can strive to perform a task, even something that seems fairly bland like kindling lights, with passion and commitment, each time we perform the act. The lesson that we learn from these seemingly innocuous words is potent: Our commitment to an act need not diminish over time if we have the proper kavannah, or intention, as we perform it.

We’ve recently celebrated Shavuot and received the Torah. Who knows what we can accomplish if we truly put our hearts, minds and souls into becoming partners with God in balancing the world?

Question for discussion:

Is there anything that you do on a regular basis that you resent that could be elevated if you changed your attitude toward it?

Rabbah Arlene Berger is the rabbi of the Olney Kehila and a community chaplain.

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