Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Beha'alotcha
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

There is a moment of tension and crisis in the lives of all humans when one switches from dependence on others – parents, teachers, mentors, etc. – to self-reliance and independence. This transition is not usually accomplished easily or painlessly. And, truth be said, there are many who never accomplish this transition at all and remain in a stage of abject dependency all of their lives.

This moment of transition usually begins in one’s adolescent years, with the tug of war between parents and authority figures on one hand and the young trying to find their own way of life and achievements. It is very difficult for parents and teachers to witness their children or students making mistakes that these authority figures could have prevented.

But making mistakes is an integral part of life’s developmental process. I have always felt that one learns much more from one’s mistakes than one does from one’s apparent successes and triumphs. How to bear up under frustration and disappointment, how to be resilient in the face of failure and tragedy – this is the stuff of Jewish life and history. And all of this is the subtle message that we are taught at the beginning of this week’s parsha.

Rashi explains to us that the priest that lit the lights of the great candelabra in the Tabernacle/Temple held the lit taper to the wick of the lamp "until the new flame rose by itself." The message here is clear. When the flame is able to rise by itself, the taper used to light it should be removed. The new flame has to burn by itself. The next generation has to be able to make its own way on its own.

Jewish history records many different eras in our long story. All of the generations faced similar challenges and difficulties – the constant problem of being a moral voice and a small demographic minority. Yet they all also faced difficulties and challenges that were particular and peculiar to their times and locales.

Though the general strategies of Jewish survival – Torah and observance, moral behavior and optimistic attitude and resilience – remained the same, the tactics of survival and Jewish success changed and adapted. The flame had to rise by itself or the taper of the previous generation’s presence and help would inexorably disappear.

Part of the challenge of our current society is its over-reliance on past generations – financially, morally, intellectually, tactically and socially. Recreating a fantasy laden past and justifying current policies that have already been proven to be less than constructive only compounds the problems that we truly face. The new flame is not allowed to rise and be able to burn on its own. The task of the past is to instruct, strengthen and ignite the new flame and not to stifle it by its overbearing presence.

Where this line is to be drawn is the stuff of wisdom and foresight, responsibility and probity. The great High Priest Aharon was entrusted with this task. His love of others was the guarantee that he would light the future lamps correctly while using the older taper he held in his hands.
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