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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Beha'aloscha 5772 "That Youthful Spark"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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A rebbe related a comment that he heard in the faculty room of a Yeshiva where he was a Rebbe. Ramban in Parshas Beha’aloscha (10:35) quotes a Medrash which states that Klal Yisroel left Mount Sinai “like a child running away from school”. In other words, they were happy to leave that holy place because they were afraid that G-d would add more commandments or prohibitions. As Parshas Beha’aloscha is invariably read close to the conclusion of the school year, the Rebbe wryly commented, “I don’t know why the Medrash says they ran away like children fleeing school. It should have said like Rabbeim and Teachers fleeing school!”

The Menorah has a special place in the heart of a Jew. Many a Menorah stands outside a shul, not only on Chanukah, but all year round. In addition, the depiction of the imprisoned Jews marching into exile hoisting the Menorah above their heads on their way into Rome is engraved in the walls of the Arch of Titus built to symbolize Titus’s destruction of Jerusalem. Yet the picture is a source of inspiration for it symbolizes that despite millennia in exile, we still proudly bear the Menorah aloft.

The Menorah symbolizes that our mission is to be a light unto the nations. It also symbolizes that although we kindle the lights of the Menorah, it is the light of the Menorah that sustains and guides us.

At the beginning of Parshas Beha’aloscha when Aharon is commanded about the procedure to prepare and kindle the lights of the Menorah in the Mishkan on a daily basis, the Torah states that “Aharon did so; toward the face of the Menorah he kindled its lamps, as Hashem had commanded Moshe.[1]” Rashi comments that the pasuk is coming, “to express to us the praise of Aharon that he never changed.” What insight is Rashi trying to convey? Why at a later point would Aharon alter the commands instructed to him? In addition, why does the verse need to state that Aharon did as he commanded; would we have thought otherwise?

The day a young man dons his tefillin for the first time is an exciting milestone and a prodigious occasion. He arrives early in shul and recites the introductory prayers which describe the significance and merit of the mitzvah of tefillin. Then, he removes the new tefillin from the new bag and gently kisses them. His parents, family, and friends stand around him as he proudly dons the tefillin and wraps the straps around his hand and head.

When davening is completed, after a few pictures, kisses and tissues for Bubby and Mommy, the event is over. The next day, the young man’s excitement is still palpable, albeit not with the same intensity of the previous day. But with the passage of time that initial excitement fades into nebulous oblivion[2].

We can ponder how different it would be if the bar mitzvah boy lived in Germany in 1937. Five years later, he finds himself an orphaned and traumatized teenager in Bergen-Belsen, and he has not seen a pair of tefillin in over two years. Then one morning he is woken up by his friend who tells him that one of the new inmates who arrived at the camp the day before had smuggled in a pair of tefillin and was willing to lend them out for a few moments to anyone who wants. He immediately jumps up and rushes to join the others, risking his life to perform the precious mitzvah for just a few moments…

By nature, we are excited and wowed by originality and innovation. Something we have never seen or done piques our curiosity. But even the most exciting novelties become trite with time. Even the thrill of a new luxury vehicle does not last too long.

This is what transpired to the Jews in the desert. Although that generation is known as the dor de’ah – the generation of wisdom, the Torah records their mishaps in “human terms” so we can learn from their errors.

Throughout their forty years in the desert, the nation was sustained by the manna falling each morning. Undoubtedly, the first day it fell the nation rejoiced and praised of G-d for the miraculous food. However, even the extreme miracles of the dessert, like manna, miraculous clouds, clothing never wearing out, and a steady pool of fresh water accompanying them, became commonplace and “natural” with time, and the nation began to complain.

They cried out that they wanted ‘real foods’, foods like they had when they were back in Egypt. (11:6) “But now our lives are parched, there is nothing; we have nothing to anticipate but the manna.” Rashi notes that the following verse is G-d’s imagined response, as it were, “Now the manna was like coriander seed and its color was like the color of the bedolach”. In other words, “See what My children are complaining about; the manna which is so unique and distinguished.” The nation no longer appreciated the greatness of the manna.

On the words in Shema “אשר אנכי מצוך היום – that I am commanding you today[3]”. Sifrei states, “Every day it should be in your eyes as if it is new.”

How can we be expected to experience something as new when in reality it is thousands of years old?

Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman shlita explains that those things that we require in order to live – such as food, shelter, and air – the fact that I had those things yesterday doesn’t help me for today. Each day I must have those things anew in order to survive.

That is how one must view Torah learning. Each day he should view it as new in the sense that he must view Torah as a necessity for his daily life and growth. The fact that one studied Torah and performed mitzvos yesterday does not help him today. Every day one needs a new dose in order to nurture his soul.

The greatness of Aharon was that to him the mitzvah of kindling the lights of the Menorah NEVER became stale or trite to him. He never lost his original excitement and awe that he felt on the first day when he performed the Service.

Excitement is not generated by ‘things’ or ‘events’ but rather by our perception, appreciation, and understanding of them. Two people can watch a championship game together. One of them may be screaming and waving wildly, pumping his fists, and banging on the wall, while the other is yawning and looking at his watch. The first person is an avid fan while the second is completely apathetic.

On a greater level, two people can enter a shul to pray and have diametrically different experiences. The first emerges uplifted and spiritually revitalized, while the second leaves indifferent, as he checks his email on his blackberry.

Is davening an exciting and meaningful experience? It depends how one perceives prayer and how much one invests in it!

Aharon’s original passion never wavered because he constantly reflected and reminded himself of the opportunity he merited. He never allows his performance to become passé.

As much as we wish life would be more vivacious and effervescent, most of life is characterized by mundane trivialities and banalities of ‘the daily grind’. It is the usual challenges of balancing bills, time pressures, familial and community responsibilities, financial struggles, spending quality family time, a bit of leisure, as well as balancing our spiritual responsibilities.

We constantly seek sources of excitement and other ways to keep ourselves motivated. For some, that awakening may come from a fire-truck, for others from a vacation, and for someone else it may be a new car or a house. Yet, there are those individuals who seem to enjoy life each day. They draw inspiration from Shabbos and holidays and find great satisfaction in availing themselves to others and performing acts of kindness. Everything they do becomes an emotional experience full of meaning and purpose. It may seem like they are doing the same things everyone else is, but it sure is a different life! They live a life which is “Al pi Hashem yachanu v’al pi Hashem yisau- By the Word of G-d they camped and by the Word of G-d they traveled.”

“The praise of Aharon that he never changed.”

“Each day it should be as new”

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[1] 8:3

[2] In yeshiva, on the day boys don their tefillin for the first time they often give out donuts or another delicious treat to their friends. I often tell the new tefillin wearer that if I was as excited as he was about putting on my own tefillin that morning, I would have also brought in donuts for everyone.

[3] Devorim 6:6

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