My son Avi and I did a weekly Torah study of his bar mitzvah parsha, Beha’alotecha, for a year before the big event. It was a wonderful journey, one I recommend to all parents. Was 52 hours a lot of time to spend on verses that can be read aloud in ten minutes? No, because the Torah is fractal. Go deep in any one spot, and find whole new worlds of meaning.
The first lines we encountered give the parsha its name: “When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah.” According to the Talmud (Men. 98b), this means the wicks of the oil lamps were arranged so that the outer six were oriented toward the center lamp, which sat not on a “branch” but rather on the menorah itself.
The center light represents the Holy One, the outer lights represent the people. One might think that the wicks should be arranged outward, thus spreading the light as much as possible and creating more honor for the Lord. The Talmud answers that we actually create the most light for others, when we orient ourselves toward God.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe took another approach, and based his entire, world-changing movement on it. Beha’alotecha literally means “when you cause to ascend.” The Talmud specifies, “kindle the lamp until the flame rises by itself” (Shab. 21a). The Rebbe created an army of emissaries around the idea that every Jewish soul is a candle waiting to be lit. When we share Torah, we kindle those flames until they burn with their own precious light.
Avi and I enjoyed these approaches, but we were struck by the fact that it says, “the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah.” If the “face” means the center, then what is the center light doing? How does it face the center?
Avi suggested the center light faces itself. If the center light represents God, this means God faces Godself. When we speak of facing ourselves, we usually mean a personal reckoning of our deeds. God doesn’t have to account to anyone, yet God created an opportunity to do exactly that by creating humans with conscience and free will.
Like characters in a dream, our thoughts are God’s thoughts, and our deeds are God’s deeds. Each of us is entrusted to represent our Maker in a series of life choices that will illuminate a unique aspect of God’s character. When God makes that personal reckoning of Godself, and reaches our little corner of the universe, it is our actions that determine whether God’s own mission has been successful.
May we merit to make the Holy One smile at that moment!
As the Accidental Talmudist, Salvador Litvak shares Jewish wisdom with over a million followers. Learn more and catch his daily show at accidentaltalmudist.org.
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