- Torah Portion and Tanach
If the High Priest is the Minister of Education in the Jewish State, the Levites are the teachers.
This week's Torah portion of Behaalot'cha (Numbers, chapters 8-12) is laden with a fascinating array of topics. Let us look at the two opening passages, dealing with the lighting of the lamps in the Tabernacle and the lifting of the Levites – both of which use words meaning "raising up."
G-d told Moses: Speak to Aaron and say to him: "When you raise up [light] the lamps, the seven lamps shall illuminate toward the face of the Menorah." … G-d told Moses: "Take the Levites from among the children of Israel and purify them... Bring the Levites before G-d… Then Aaron shall lift up the Levites as a waving before G-d on behalf of the children of Israel, that they may serve in G-d's service…"
We see that the Torah, more than once in this passage, prefers to use the word "raise up" instead of "light" regarding the lighting of the lamps. The Levites, too, must be physically "raised up" in order to prepare them for the Temple service. What is the connection between them?
Rabbeinu Bahye (Bechaye) (1255-1340, Spain), a foremost Biblical commentator, wrote that the lifting up of the Levites by Aaron was effected in one or both of two ways: "Either Aaron would take each one of them and lift him slightly off the ground and wave him, thus showing that Aaron was tremendously strong in being able to do so with 22,000 Levites himself in one day, or it was done by way of miracle."
Let us discuss the significance of the lifting and waving, and how is connected with the "raising" of the lights.
When the Bible speaks of light, it is often in the context of Torah wisdom. For example: "For a commandment is a candle, and the Torah is light" (Proverbs 6,23), and, "The wisdom of a man will light up his face" (Eccl. 8,1). Light symbolizes the spirituality present also within the material world. As such, when we speak of "adding light," we mean "adding Torah and spirituality." When the Torah tells us that lighting the Menorah in the Tabernacle and Temple is "raising up the lamps," it refers to the addition of spirituality and empowering the dwelling of the Divine Presence there, and from there throughout the world. To the extent that the Presence dwells in our midst, so the power of the light increases in the world – up to the final rectification, as the Prophet Isaiah foresaw:"Nations will walk by your light, and kings by the brightness of your shining" (60,3). As made famous by the singer Avraham Fried, the Medrash explains: "[This verse teaches that] Jerusalem is the light of the world - and who is the light of Jerusalem? It is G-d, as is written,"G-d will be for you an eternal light" (60,19) (B'reshit Rabba 59,5).
The Tabernacle and Temple are not simply places for the worship of G-d via sacrificial offerings. They are also designed to serve as the spiritual center that disseminates light to the nation of Israel and the entire world – one that intensifies the presence of the Shekhinah upon the children of G-d, the people of Israel, and thereby on all of humanity.
Alongside of the Levites' job to assist the Priests, they are also assigned the task of spreading Torah throughout the nation. If the High Priest is the Minister of Education in the Jewish State, the Levites are those who work and teach in the educational system. For instance, the High Priest R. Yehoshua ben Gamla instituted many important educational regulations for the Jewish People, chief among them the entire idea of schools as opposed to learning only at home.
In order for the educational system to function effectively, we see that the Torah requires that the teachers be "raised up," in order that they be able to raise up their students and thus, the entire public.
The light that we discussed above is disseminated by the raising of the value of the teaching profession and by honoring those who engage in it. Our goal is that those who choose to be part of this "elite unit," and lead the way by carrying out this important mission, will be able to do so not only because they were unable to be accepted to more seemingly prestigious career options. An honorable pay scale for teachers is one of the means by which to encourage quality people to enter this profession. Their salaries must enable them to dedicate the best of their abilities to their students and to the goals they wish them to achieve. Teachers must be accorded the status of "lighters of the torch," those who raise up the light in the national Menorah. We must view them as those who disseminate the light, in every way.
Let us pray that we will merit to raise up the light of the lamps and ignite the souls of the pupils of Israel, and the light will then naturally find its way to every corner, raising up and waving all of us ever upwards.
translated by Hillel Fendel.