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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Tetzaveh 5771 "Internal Flame"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Naftali was a hard-working innkeeper - honest, respected, and well-liked. For years he made a respectable living and made sure to pay his rent to the Poritz on time. But then, all at once, business took a turn for the worse. People stopped flocking to the inn and one month Naftali found himself without money to pay the Poritz.

After years of faithful prompt payment the Poritz agreed to extend his debt for a few weeks. But when another month went by and things only became worse, Naftali began to feel desperate. He knew he only had one option, to run for his life.

He and his family furtively loaded a wagon with as much of their belongings as they could pack onto it. The Poritz had gone to a spa up north. They hoped to be far away before he returned.

However, after only two hours of travel, Naftali was seized with terror. On the road headed his way, was unmistakably the Poritz's elegant carriage. Suddenly an idea entered his head. He pulled the reins and drew the horse to a halt, and waited for the Poritz's carriage to reach him. He offered up a short prayer that his scheme work.

"We are just going to stay with relatives for the holiday. When we come back, I'll be sure to bring the money I owe to you," he told the Poritz.

"Holiday?" echoed the Poritz. "I thought I knew all about your Jewish holidays. What special day do you have now?"

"It's the Festival of Flight," answered Naftali.

"The Festival of Flight? I don't remember that one. It doesn't really matter; just make sure that you come to me as soon as you're back home."

The Poritz seemed satisfied so Naftali bid him farewell and quickly sped off. Before he returned home the Poritz stopped at the market. While there he saw many Jews conducting their business. He stopped one of them, "Tell me, when is this 'Festival of the Flight' that my tenant told me about, as he sped away to his relatives for the holiday? If it’s a holiday why are you all still working?”

The Jew quickly realized what had occurred and answered wittily. "The Festival of Flight is an unusual holiday, for each person must choose when to celebrate it. Your tenant obviously felt that this is the most opportune time for him to celebrate it. That's how the Festival of Flight is; each person knows when it's just the right time for him to keep it best."

“Now you shall command the Children of Israel that they shall take for you pure, pressed olive oil for illumination, to kindle the lamp continually. In the Tent of Meeting… Aaron and his sons shall arrange it from evening until morning, before G-d, an eternal decree for their generations, from the Children of Israel[1].” [2]

The Menorah is of the most cherished symbols in Judaism[3]. The light of the Menorah represents the spiritual light of Torah, the source of the vitality of Klal Yisroel.

In discussing the laws of the lightning of the Menorah, the Rambam writes[4] “The cleaning of the Menorah and the preparation of its lights every morning and every evening is a positive commandment, as it says, “Aaron and his sons shall arrange it from evening until morning”. The Rambam continues by discussing the process for cleaning the menorah and preparing the new candles.

It is fascinating that the Rambam writes that it is not the lighting of the Menorah which is a positive commandment, but rather the cleaning out of the previous day’s candles in preparation for the new lighting that is a commandment. In fact, the Rambam[5] rules that although only a Kohain is permitted to prepare the candles of the Menorah for the lighting, a non-Kohain is permitted to actually light the candles of the Menorah[6].

Prima facie, one would think the primary focus of the Menorah is the actual lighting of its candles. Thus if there were to be any part of the Menorah’s service which should require a Kohain’s involvement it would be the lighting itself. The preparation and cleaning out of the previous day’s ashes and wicks would seem to be no more than a means to enable the lighting to take place. Yet the Rambam writes that the opposite is true.

What is the logic and deeper message that lies here?

Rabbi Chaim Vital zt’l explains[7] that there are four fundamental energy sources in this world that comprise all of creation: Fire, water, wind, and dust. Similarly, a person’s character traits are based on these energy sources[8].

The ‘fire’ of one’s personality has a positive component and a negative component. When used improperly one who possesses a fiery personality has an unmitigated temper which can flare easily and dominate his entire personality. When used properly however, such a person displays boundless passion and an unyielding drive and ambition for spiritual growth. He has, the proverbial, ‘fire in his soul’.

Fire is also a source of light. There are two ways for one to obscure the light of a fire: by extinguishing the fire with water, or by placing some sort of separation near the fire to blot out the light.

The amount of light that will be blocked depends on the separation. If one uses a threadbare cloth to block the fire a fair amount of light will continue to shine through. The thicker and coarser the cloth is the less light will be able to penetrate beyond it.

The fire in our souls is pure and holy. But one who chooses to surround and involve himself with the pleasures of this world can obscure the light that burns within him.

Perhaps the central point reiterated numerously in sefer Tanya[9] is that every person possesses an inner fire. We do not need love for Torah and G-d to be implanted within ourselves, because we already possess it internally. Our souls are “a portion of G-d above[10]”. Fire symbolizes our souls because just as a fire seems to dance upwards, so too our souls yearn to reconnect to their upper source. Therefore our task is to remove the impediments which douse our inner fire and enervate our ability to feel our innate drive for spiritual holiness. Therefore, we don’t need to create new fires; we merely need to fan the fire which is already there.

Our nature is that if we remain placid and stationary for too long we became overgrown and caked with grime and rust. Just as chimneys of old and kerosene lamps need to be cleaned, so too the fire in our souls needs to be kept pristine and pure.

In parshas Beha’aloscha the Torah repeats that Aharon must light the Menorah daily. “When you make the candles ascend, toward the face of the Menorah, shall the seven candles cast light.[11]” The gemara explains that the obligation was for Aharon to hold the fire next to the wick “until the flame rises by itself.”

The primary service of the Menorah was not to ‘put a new fire in’ as much as it was to ‘draw the fire out’, i.e. to enable the flame ‘to rise by itself’. The actual kindling of the candles of the Menorah did not require a Kohain because that was not the primary focus of the service. Rather, the main effort of the Kohain was centered on ensuring that there was no grime or leftover ash which might impede the new candle’s light.

The light of the Menorah reflects the light within every one of us. That light is pre-supplanted. Our task is to ensure that no foreign elements dim its ethereal glow.

A speck of dirt on one’s clothing is unsightly and annoying; a speck of dirt on one’s glasses however, is intolerable, because it affects everything he sees. The external dirt that remains in the cups atop the Menorah symbolizes the spiritual dirt we allow to gather around our internal spiritual flame.

The lighting of the Menorah symbolizes that we do not need to bring in inspiration as much as we need to keep out foreign influences. If a person allows his mind to become filled with nonsense and spiritual grime his inner light will easily became obscured. In order to stir the embers he must begin to remove those foreign materials.

The holiday of Chanukah in known as ‘the Holiday of Light’. However, before one can truly appreciate and take advantage of that light he must celebrate ‘the Holiday of Flight’. The more one is able to flee and divest himself of the impurities that abound, the more he will be able to connect and see the luminescent light that shines within himself.

“Aaron and his sons shall arrange it”

“Until the flame rises by itself”

[1] 27:20-21

[2] The following thoughts are based on a lecture given by Rabbi Aharon Lopiansky in the Yeshiva of Greater Washington

[3] On the Arch of Titus in Rome there is a depiction of Jewish prisoners carrying the Menorah as they were being carted off to Rome as slaves. In addition, many shuls have a Menorah at the amud.

[4] Hilchos Temidin Umusafin 3:10

[5] Hilchos Bias Mikdash 9:7

[6] The only issue is that the Menorah was in the sanctuary and a non-kohain may not enter the sanctuary. But if he were able to find a long enough candle that would reach from outside the sanctuary to the menorah, a non-kohain would be permitted to light the Menorah.

[7] Sha’ar Hakedusha

[8] For example, a lazy person is dominated by ‘dust’, while an impulsive person is dominated by ‘water’.

[9] Authored by the great Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi 1745-1812, the founder of Chabad Chassidus. The Tanya is said to be the equivalent of the “Written Torah” of Chassidic philosophy.

[10] לקוטי מוהר"ן, חלק א', סימן רו

[11] Bamidbar 8:2

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