Parshas Beha’aloscha: A Leader for All

This week’s parsha (in chutz la’Aretz), Parshas Behaaloscha, begins with the command to Aharon ha’Kohen to kindle the lamps of the menorah in the Mishkan every evening, with a measure of oil that was enough to burn through the longest winter nights.  The pasukim tell us: And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: דַּבֵּר֙ אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֔ן וְאָמַרְתָּ֖ אֵלָ֑יו בְּהַעֲלֹֽתְךָ֙ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹ֔ת אֶל־מוּל֙ פְּנֵ֣י הַמְּנוֹרָ֔ה יָאִ֖ירוּ שִׁבְעַ֥ת הַנֵּרֽוֹת, speak to Aharon and say to him: When you kindle the lamp, towards the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast their light (Bamidbar 8:1-2).  

Why does the parsha begin with this passage, right after we read (in the previous chapter, Bamidbar Ch.7) about the donations and contributions brought to the Mishkan by the Nissiim, the tribal princes?  sRashi, quoting the Medrash, famously teaches: 

בהעלתך. לָמָּה נִסְמְכָה פָרָשַׁת הַמְּנוֹרָה לְפָרָשַׁת הַנְּשִׂיאִים? לְפִי שֶׁכְּשָׁרָאָה אַהֲרֹן חֲנֻכַּת הַנְּשִׂיאִים חָלְשָׁה אָז דַּעְתּוֹ, שֶׁלֹּא הָיָה עִמָּהֶם בַּחֲנֻכָּה לֹא הוּא וְלֹא שִׁבְטוֹ, אָמַר לוֹ הַקָּבָּה חַיֶּיךָ שֶׁלְּךָ גְדוֹלָה מִשֶּׁלָּהֶם, שֶׁאַתָּה מַדְלִיק וּמֵטִיב אֶת הַנֵּרוֹת

Why was the chapter of menorah placed right after the chapter of the contributions of the tribal princes?  Because when Aharon saw the dedication brought by the princes, he felt bad (lit. ‘his mind was then weak’), for neither he nor his tribe (of Levi) were included in these princely offerings.  Seeing his pain, Hashem said to him: I swear by your life (G-d took an oath, keviyachol), that your reward is greater than theirs, for you will prepare and kindle the lamps of the menorah (Rashi to Bamidbar 8:2).  

In his Short and Sweet on the Parsha, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman writes, “Once a person becomes the leader of a community, he has to take in and relate to all types of Jews.  He has to be willing to service all of them – not just the ‘type’ most similar to him, or the ones with whom he’s most naturally comfortable.  There is a hint to this crucial lesson at the beginning of our parsha.

“Rashi and Medrash Tanchuma explain that when Aharon saw the donations to the Mishkan made by the leaders of the tribes, he felt bad, because neither he nor his tribe (the Leviim) had been included in the inauguration.  The question is – why is Aharon the Levite that the Torah singles out for feeling bad?  In truth, Moshe Rabbeinu was the leader of shevet Levi, not Aharon!  Why is it that Aharon’s emotions are the ones expressed as speaking on behalf of his tribe?

“The answer is: Yes, Moshe was the greatest of the Leviim.  However, from the time he had become the leader of the entire Jewish people, he could no longer serve as spokesman on behalf of his tribe.  He now had to be able to identify with and advocate the feelings of all of Klal Yisrael.  It was no longer appropriate for him to be the mouthpiece of his tribe of origin.  Therefore, Aharon now had to step into these shoes and advocate for the spiritual welfare of the Leviim.  As leader of the entire community, Moshe Rabbeinu was no longer eligible… A Jewish leader must have positive feelings towards every type of Jew… This is because an authentic Jewish leader is responsible for servicing the spiritual needs of every single person in the flock” (Short and Sweet on the Parsha, Feldheim, p.355-356).

While we may have thought that Moshe, as leader of the nation, and his tribe, should be the one to “feel bad” for being left out, and advocate before G-d on behalf of the Leviim for a spiritual benefit and reward, this role fell to Aharon instead.  For once Moshe became the leader of the flock, he could no longer represent one specific tribe – not even the one from which he came!  He was now a beloved leader and advocate for the entire nation.

It happened one Friday afternoon that R’ Beinish Mandel, a talmid from Rav Nosson Tzvi’s early days as a rosh chaburah (HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt’l, 1943 – 2011, Rosh Yeshiva Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim), was visiting Eretz Yisrael and visited the home of the Rosh Yeshiva a few hours before Shabbos.  He saw the Rosh Yeshiva sitting with two young men wearing jeans and t-shirts, with Chumashim open in front of them.  When they left, R’ Mandel incredulously asked Rav Nosson Tzvi, ‘You were learning Chumash and Rashi with them?!’  ‘Yes,’ the Rosh Yeshiva replied simply.  The boys were obviously not in the Mir, and not anywhere near Rav Nosson Tzvi’s level of learning.  ‘Why?’ R’ Mandel could not help but ask, ‘Why did you learn with them?’  With a shrug, Rav Nosson Tzvi answered, ‘Because they asked.’” (Rav Nosson Tzvi, Artscroll, p.280-281).  

A further reiteration of this idea, that a leader must embrace each member of the flock equally, can be found in the introduction to the Birkas Kohanim.  The Torah says: And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: דַּבֵּר אֶלאַהֲרֹן וְאֶלבָּנָיו לֵאמֹר, כֹּה תְבָרְכוּ אֶתבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵלspeak to Aharon and to his sons saying: כֹּהso (or thus) you shall bless the children of Israel (Bamidbar 6:22-23).  What lesson can be derived from the word ‘כֹּה’?  

The tzadik, Rabbi Yisrael of Modzhitz (1849-1920) zy’a, teaches: כה תברכו את בנ״י, עליכם לברך את בנ״י כמות שהםשהכוהנים יברכו במידה שווה כל יהודי הנציב לפניהם – “So you shall bless the Children of Israel: It is incumbent upon the kohanim to bless the Children of Israel as they are!  That the kohanim should bless them all equally, every Jew, who stands before him. He should not, in his blessings, give preference to the great and important people in the nation, nor should he show favor to the pious and righteous Jews.  Rather, he should see every Jew as equal as they stand before him, and bless them all with a full heart” (Parparos La’Torah, Bamidbar, p.43).

Perhaps when we see the importance in each and every Jew, and we advocate, pray for, and help each other, then we will be zocheh that G-d will see the chashivus of our nation as one united whole.  Perhaps then He will restore to us the service of the BHM”K, when once again the Kohanim will kindle the lamps and bring the light of Torah to our world, and we will see the ultimate fulfillment of the Birkas Kohanim: v’ya’sem licha shalom.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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