From the teachings of Maran Rebbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztzvk”l
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
The Parasha states, “Speak to Aron and say to him, when you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall illuminate the Menorah” (Bamidbar 8:2).
It appears on the face of it that the words of the passuk are imprecise, for it should have stated six lamps will illuminate and not seven. Why should this be the case? Because the “Menorah” implies the central stem, which is the main body of the Menorah (as they explain in Gemara Menachot), and as such, all the lamps to its right and left were positioned leaning towards the central stem, to the central lamp. So it transpires, that opposite the Menorah were six lamps illuminating and not seven?
The explanation is as follows. At the time that the Bet HaMikdash was inaugurated Hashem placed there two Cohanim Gedolim - High Priests. Aron HaCohen below [in this world] and the angel Michael, the great prince, above [in heaven], as is indicated in the passuk “because Hashem will reveal Himself to you today,” (Vayikra 9:4), “reveal” in Hebrew has the same letters as “Aron” and “to you” has the same letters in Hebrew as “Michael”. Both were inaugurated as Cohanim Gedolim, this one in the Bet HaMikdash in this world and this one in the upper realms.
And so it is always, “Yerushalayim below corresponding to Yerushalayim above”, and Michael the great prince offers each and everyday sacrifices in the Bet HaMikdash above. He offers sheep of fire. Corresponding to this, we pray each day “Find favour, Hashem our G-d, in Your people Yisrael and their prayer. Restore the service to Your most Holy House, and speedily accept in love and favour the fire-offerings of Yisrael and their prayer”. What does “fire-offerings of Yisrael” mean, for we do not have fire-offerings today? If so, what are we praying about that should be willingly received? Rather the intention is referring to the sacrifices that Michael offers, that we beseech the Almighty that they be willingly received before Him.
We have learnt that everything that we do below is done above. Likewise with the lighting of the Menorah that Aron lit, lighting it with all the profound and awesome kavvanot (mystical intentions) that he intended, at that moment too he would look heavenward and contemplate that these seven lamps correspond to the lamps above. Aron would think deeply to amend the root of the mitzvot of kindling the lamps above.
This is what is meant in the continuation, “Aron did so, lighting the lamps to illuminate the Menorah” (Bamidbar 8:3). Rashi explains “Aron did so – that he didn’t alter anything.” This begs the question, is this considered praiseworthy for Aron? That he didn’t change from what Hashem commanded him? What could he have changed anyway?
Rather the novelle idea here is when Moshe Rabbeinu taught Aron how to kindle the lamps, he didn’t give him all the inner secrets of the kavvanot that Hashem had conveyed to him. Because Moshe was concerned that perhaps Aron isn’t so fitting to learn these deep secrets and kavvanot. However, Aron through his righteousness and holiness merited to be able to know himself all the kavvanot that were conveyed to Moshe Rabbeinu from Hashem. And concerning this they said, “it teaches that he didn’t alter anything”. Even though Moshe didn’t convey to him the kavvanot, nevertheless, through his own holiness he succeeded to fathom the kavvanot by himself.
Maran the Hida (Shem HaGedolim), wrote that in the Gemara (Kiddushin 70a) there is a Holy Name of Hashem consisting of 42 letters. Rashi explains there, “I don’t know of this 42 letter Name of Hashem.” But in truth Rashi did know this Name, but he was concerned that not all are fit to learn such a Name, for it is possible that they may utilise is inappropriately. Therefore he concealed it and wrote that he does not know what it is.
When Rashi was elderly he would study with his grandson the Rashbam (Rabbeinu Shmuel ben Meir, the son of Rashi’s daughter), they would sit and study Gemara. They reached this text in Kiddushin and Rebbi Shmuel asked his grandfather Rashi, “Grandfather, what is the Name of 42 letters?” Rashi replied, “I also don’t know” for Rashi was concerned that perhaps his grandson isn’t so fit to be handed the explanation that he should reveal to him this Name, therefore his concealed it from him.
After some time Rashi passed away. When he came to the Heavenly Court, they make a reckoning with him and this is what they said to him, “Why did you withhold knowledge? Why did you withhold goodness from your grandson Rebbi Shmuel? Why didn’t you entrust him with the Holy Name of 42 letters?” Rashi responded, “For I thought that perhaps my grandson isn’t so fitting to be entrusted with the explanation of this Holy Name.” They said to him, “Didn’t you know? Rebbi Shlomoh is a tzaddik and holy and it is appropriate to entrust him with the Torah’s secrets!”
They adjudicated the matter and Rashi said, “I am prepared to return to the world and to entrust him with this Holy Name.” Indeed in the middle of the night, Rebbi Shmuel was asleep in his bed, and suddenly his grandfather was standing by his bed awakening him from his sleep. Rebbi Shmuel was afraid, has his grandfather emerged from the cemetery! Rashi said to him, “I have no time, quickly get up and wash your hands and I will explain to you the Holy Name of 42 letters. Rebbi Shmuel got up, washed his hands and sat with his grandfather in awe and with great attention and learnt from him the Holy Name of 42 letters. Rashi then departed from there.
This happened with Rashi a”h, the Rebbi of Klal Yisrael. It is possible that Moshe Rabbeinu also thought that Aron the Cohen was like Rashbam and he said in his heart, how could I be allowed to convey the kavvanot? Perhaps it isn’t appropriate. However, Aron due to his wisdom and holiness merited to fathom all these secrets. This is what is meant, “Aron did so – that he didn’t alter anything.”
In fact we may further explain. On the day the Mishkan was erected Aron experienced a tragedy. His two sons, Nadav and Avihu died in the Mikdash itself, as the passuk states, “Fire came forth from before Hashem and it consumed them, so that they died before Hashem” (Vayikra 10:2). If so, every time that Aron entered the Heichal to kindle the Menorah he would remember the tragedy that both of his sons, Nadav and Avihu died in the Mikdash and that from here Mishael and Elitzafon removed their holy bodies. Certainly a crippling feeling would have engulfed him. Yet, nevertheless, he would compose himself and his hands did not falter, his heart wasn’t broken and he would perform the mitzvah according to the halachah. This too teaches us a further dimension that “he didn’t alter anything”!
Rebbi Ezra Attia ztz”l (1885-1970) told us of an episode which occurred in the city of Aleppo. [His Rebbe] the Gaon Rebbi Shlomoh Laniado (1876-1925) was blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and acted also as the shaliach tzibbur on Rosh Hashanah. In his twilight years when he was somewhat weaker, he put his son the Gaon Rebbi Ephraim in his place. After the prayers the kehillah came to Rebbi Shlomoh’s home to be blessed. He asked them how were the prayers? They respond praising how wonderful Rebbi Efraim’s prayers were. He asked them about the shofar blasts? They responded, somewhat lacking enthusiasm, that they were okay. He beckoned his son and asked him, what happened? Rebbi Efraim responded, that he wasn’t so successful with the blasts because when he read the “yehi ratzon” prayer that proceeds the blasts and said the words “and send Your holy angels that are assigned to the blasts”, immediately he saw the angel next to him, a seraph angel flew to his right and he was afraid from it and became confused. Rebbi Shlomoh laughed and said, you summoned it and were afraid of it?
Likewise we may say that when Aron entered the Mikdash, the place of flames, the fear and trembling that gripped him, but Hashem gave him tremendous strength and he succeeded in fulfilling the mitzvah correctly. Concerning this they said, “it teaches that he didn’t alter anything”.
The chassidim say, what does it teach us when it says “he didn’t alter anything”? They relate that Rebbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740–1809), who was a great gaon, this is apart from his incredible holiness as is apparent from his commentary “Kedushat Levi” - “The Holiness of Levi”, which like its name holiness suggests, so it is full of holiness. When Rebbi Yitzchak would pray, his prayer was in awe and his movements were extraordinary.
On Seder night, his wife the rabbanit, who knew his nature to be full of enthusiasm to the extent that he cannot see what is in front of him when he begins the seder, would from the outset, prepare two table. On one she would place the shemurah matzah and good wines and on the other she would place the regular matzah and wine. She would place the rav next to the second table. When he would recite the Haggadah he would be so full of emotion that when he reached the words “this matzah that we eat” he would be so full of feeling and he would slowly and meaningfully say “This matzah! This matzah! This matzah!” And he would pull the tablecloth to reach the matzah and all the wine would spill and there would be a total mess! When the rav completed the Haggadah, they would then clean around him and they would sit around the other beautiful table, with the precious matzah and the good quality wines. This is how the tzaddikim were, to the extent that we may say about them that they reached a state of fainting, meaning that they couldn’t compose themselves due to the holiness of the mitzvot.
Aron HaCohen was a chassid, no less than Rebbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, and nevertheless, he was able to harness his emotions. If he had spilt the oil and knocked over the lamps, who would have filled his place? “It teaches that he didn’t alter anything!” He harnessed his emotions and was fully composed, thereby able to do everything according to the halachah!