Parashat Behalotecha — 5771 — Riding in the Carriage

26/06/2011 at 07:03 Leave a comment

“Riding in the Carriage”

 

Parashat Beha’alotcha

Neil F. Blumofe

11 June 2011

 

In this week’s Torah portion, we find an interesting juxtaposition between the two brothers — Aharon and Moshe, that reveals much about their worldview and their attitude to the vicissitudes and the flow of  each of their lives.  A verse that speaks of Aharon, speaks of him as compliant in fulfilling God’s commandments.  Here is a man, the High Priest, who lost two of his four sons as they were engaged in performing Divine Service and here is God asking him to light lamps of the Menorah in a certain way – vaya’as kein Aharon – and Aharon did so.  This may seem like an unremarkable verse – and the great commentator Rashi, who lived just under 1000 years ago, expands this meaning of just doing, and says that in addition, that Aharon did not change at all in the years that he was performing his job.

 

The conception that Aharon did not change as he worked for many years, puzzles our later sages.  If you were performing a job, let’s say a job that you liked, or at the very least, a job that was important – one that people depended on – it would be cheerless to think that one would not change or be affected by the acts that one was doing.  We spend much of our time working – and to think that there was no benefit to us, beyond a paycheck – no benefit to our character, no improvement to our outlook, no gain of friendships is a stark prospect.  So of course, the sages who came in the generations after Rashi, revised his comment – to make it penetrate in less obvious and thus, more powerful ways.  Here are two examples that accommodate Rashi’s point and also elevate it to meet the needs of those who think that while involved in a career, not changing spiritually can be harmful.

 

1.            A Hasidic master once saw another great master, the prominent leader, R’ Levi Yiztchak of Berdichev heavily engrossed in prayer, swaying back and forth in ecstasy as he chanted.  This master then commented on our verse – he said, “had Aharon swayed like R’ Levi Yizchak is swaying, he would have spilled all of the oil that was needed to light the lamps and he probably would have tipped the menorah over – so now I see, the secret of this verse and Rashi’s wisdom as well – what actually happened is that Aharon possessed great fervor and he contained his emotions outwardly while performing the commandment with all of the fire of enthusiasm burning inside of him – this is what is meant by the fact that Aharon did not change.

 

2.            Another comment suggests that Aharon did not change in all of the years of service – highlighting the fact that Aharon never suffered from burnout and his work never became a matter of rote to him – that everyday, he felt vital and that inspired in his work, he felt charged with meaning.

 

And what about Aharon’s brother Moshe?  The Torah speaks about him like this – ha’ish Moshe anav me’od, mikol ha’adam asher al p’nei ha’adamah – that the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.  This is high praise for such modesty.    The Ba’al Shem Tov, a founder of Hasidic mystical Judaism comments that true humility is not what one displays on the outside but what one feels in his heart.  He backs this up with a story — a story is told of a king who decided to be humble and modest.  When his horses and carriage was prepared for him to go riding, he ordered that the carriage remain empty and be sent ahead – while he would walk behind it.  A wise man who was there told the king – this is not true humility, because the truly humble does not publicize his humility, rather he is humble while riding in the carriage.

 

After a moment of reflection, you may see that even though each had a different role, the characterizations of the two brothers – Aharon and Moshe – are similar.  How each brother acts outwardly is a very different situation than each one’s interior life.  Each has an important role and responsibility, yet the power did not affect them adversely and they were not made corrupt or restless in their functioning.

 

One could look at Aharon’s work as drudgery – lighting the menorah every day, for years on end – and it is extraordinary that our sages would make a connection to finding purpose and mission and connection with God in this simple, daily act.  So too with Moshe – we may think of humility as meekness, yet we know that is not how Moshe was – he did not hesitate to confront the Pharaoh in Egypt or yell at the people of Israel for backsliding – his humility did not impede him from assertiveness and acting for what is right in the world even it is was dangerous or unpopular – rather it like the Ba’al Shem Tov teaches – true humility is how one regards himself, far from the maddening crowd.  Self worth is not gained in popular approval or sheer number of followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook – rather, self-worth comes as we ask ourselves penetrating questions and then stay focused to hear an answer – what are our goals?  What do we seek in life?  What do we most want?  Are we defined by our job, or the fact that we don’t currently have one?  What do we stand for?  What are we responsible for?  What are our obligations?

 

Knowing that as we live in this world, we are a vessel – that we light our lamps everyday not with the assistance from any exterior source – rather we gain lasting drive from the light that is kindled within us – we don’t need the stimulants, like caffeine to get us up and alcohol to mellow us out — and too, our worth is not defined by the kind of job in which we work – rather we derive meaning from the inner radiance that brings us perspective and contentment.

 

Too often, we take the wrong paths in thinking about our priorities and our self worth – we are beaten down and distracted from work that can be made holy and we seek diversions and escape from our responsibilities and our relationships that over time are made hazardous in their common routine.

 

Let us search for Aharon and Moshe as we perform our work – sometimes inspiring, many times tedious, and let us rejoice in what we find within ourselves – as we lay bare our motivations and assess our intentions – let us be proud of who we are and let us gain, in a flash, or more likely over a lifetime, a solid foundation of gratitude, humility, and hot purposefulness for the carriage in which we’re riding – for the life revealed, that we actually have.

 

Shabbat Shalom.

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