Beha’alotcha opens with Aharon being commanded to light the menorah on the first of Nissan, the day the Mishkan was consecrated. The previous Parsha, Parshat Naso, details the tribal leaders’ twelve-day dedication of the Mishkan — each leader offered a sacrifice on a different day. This process began on the first of Nissan and extended to the twelfth.
Why, then, does the Torah place Aharon’s lighting after the narration of the leaders’ offerings?
Rashi explains that this placement alludes to a concern that Aharon had in witnessing the tribal leaders’ dedication. The menorah is G-d’s response to this concern: “When you light..." Why is the portion dealing with the menorah juxtaposed to the portion dealing with the tribal leaders? When Aharon saw the dedication offerings of the leaders, he felt distressed that neither he nor his tribe were able to join them in this dedication. So G-d said to him, “By your life, yours is greater than theirs, for you light and prepare the lamps” (Tanchuma, Beha'alotcha 3).
G-d told Aharon that lighting the menorah was greater than the leaders’ offering, but He did not explain why. How did this solve Aharon’s concern? Perhaps it was obvious to Aharon why it was greater. But if he was aware of this, why was he concerned in the first place? Ramban asks why Aharon was not consoled by the many services he performed in inaugurating the Mishkan, such as the twice-daily incense and the offering of the daily sacrifices. Why does G-d mention preparing the lamps? The verse here only discusses lighting the menorah.
The superiority of performing the menorah service in contrast to the dedication of the altar is threefold, and it is hinted to in G-d’s response, “for you light and prepare the lamps.” The words "for you" show that the leaders did not offer the sacrifices themselves; they merely brought an animal to the Mishkan where the kohen on duty offered it. Aharon, however, lit the menorah himself. "Light and prepare" indicates that while the leaders only prepared their offering, Aharon did the entire service, from preparation to lighting. Lastly, "the lamps" portray that the menorah was located in the inner sanctum of the Mishkan. The leaders, on the other hand, consecrated the altar that stood in the courtyard, a place that had a lesser degree of sanctity.
Despite this superiority, however, Aharon was concerned. According to the plain reading of the dedication narrative, it was Moshe who performed all the services in the Mishkan on the day of its dedication. Aharon did not begin his service until the following day. Aharon was thus under the impression that he did not have any part in dedicating the Mishkan, unlike the leaders who dedicated the altar by means of their twelve-day program of sacrifices. To assuage this worry, G-d forcefully told Aharon, “By your life, yours is greater than theirs.” Through this oath, G-d established a reality in which Aharon’s lighting the menorah after Moshe did so first, still served to consecrate the menorah. This is similar to the dedication of the altar which took place over a period of twelve days.
A closer reading of the narrative according to Rashi yields a more complete picture of Aharon’s role in the dedication. Regarding the twice-daily incense offering, it was Moses who performed both services on the first day. (Shemos 40:27) Regarding the menorah, however, Moses lit it in the morning, but Aaron lit it in the afternoon. This is significant because according to Rashi, the menorah was lit only once daily, in the afternoon. In the morning, the menorah was merely cleaned and prepared. (Rashi, Shemos 27:20-21) It follows that Moses’ lighting was not a typical menorah service; it was an exception to the rule. When Aharon lit the menorah that afternoon, he performed the actual mandated service. Therefore, his consecration began on the day of the dedication itself, just like the leaders’ dedication of the altar. This would not apply to the incense, for Aharon only began that service on the second of Nissan.
The menorah’s superiority over the altar also applies to their relative spiritual effects. The word "dedication" of the Mishkan also means “education”. In educating a child, we shower him or her with attention and reward them, in order to encourage the child to apply themselves to their studies and character development well into adult life. In personal divine service, the “education” of the altar represented the leaders drawing down an abundance of divine enlightenment to those among the Jewish people who were prepared to assimilate it properly. However, this was a one-time event, a limited revelation available to spiritually sensitive individuals. Aharon was concerned that his spiritual “education” of souls — represented by his lighting of the menorah — would also be limited to only those souls capable of receiving the menorah’s “light”. To assuage this concern, G-d told Aharon, “By your life, yours is greater than theirs, for you light and prepare the lamps.” The words "Light" and "prepare" are in the present tense, alluding to the fact that Aharon’s influence is ongoing and permanent. Unlike the leaders’ education, which could only be directed to receptive souls, Aharon’s education uplifted every Jew, even if on the surface they do not appear ready for Divine inspiration.
When encountering a Jew who seems uninspired to engage in divine service do not despair. Dedicate your life to lighting his or her soul, and soon the candle of their soul will shine bright with the light of Torah and mitzvot.
By: Herschel Karp (11th Grade)