(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
In the previous Parashah Naso, we read the [Mishkan’s] inauguration sacrifices of the princes. All the princes brought sacrifices to offer them before Hashem. Now at the beginning of our Parashah it states:
“Hashem spoke to Moshe, telling him to speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you light the lamp, the seven lamps shall illuminate the menorah’’” (Bamidbar 8:1-2).
Our chachamim said (Midrash Tanchuma 5, quoted in Rashi): why was the Parashah of the menorah placed next to the Parashah of the princes? Meaning, why immediately after we read the previous Parashah which contained the inaugural sacrifices of the princes, did the Torah hurry to teach Aaron the details of the mitzvah of lighting the lamps? This was because when Aaron saw the inaugural sacrifices of the princes, he was distressed and mentally weakened. Because he and his tribe didn’t merit to join in the dedication of the Mishkan together with the princes. Hashem saw this and immediately said to him: By your life! Yours is greater than theirs! For you shall light and prepare the lamps!
Why was lighting the lamps in the Mishkan and Beit HaMikdash greater than the dedication of the princes? Because the princes’ dedication was conducted on the outer altar, with great publicity and fanfare., whereas the lighting of the lamps was done inside, in a private place. Personal things which are concealed are more precious than publicised things!
So it states: “…and to walk humbly with your G-d” (Michah 6:8). Actions which are done discreetly without publicity are the ones which merit a person more than anything to life in the World to Come! Maran our Sabba, Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, was accustomed to mention what our chachamim said (Tanchuma, Ki Tissa) that the first Tablets were given with fanfare, therefore they were broken, but the second Tablets, Hashem said to Moshe, “There is nothing more beautiful than modesty” [and so were given discreetly].
Once some people approached Maran zt”l, who had edited a journal for the political organisation Shas and they requested an “interview” – “a festive talk” with him in order to strengthen the journal’s appeal. Maran replied to them, the first Tablets were broken because they were given with fanfare, with thunder and lightning, therefore it is better not to make a noise!
Many of the great rabbanim of the last few hundred years, including Maran the Chida z”l [Rav Haim Yosef David Azulai (1724-1806], write that when a person performs a mitzvah, he tends to make a great effort to publicise his actions, yet he is at risk of losing the reward for the mitzvah because of his actions! At times he may even be punished for his actions!
A story is mentioned in the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 18a) that Rebbi Chaninah ben Tradyon sacrificed his life. The wicked rulers decreed that it is forbidden to teach Torah. Yet he would go and teach groups of people Torah. This is what our chachamim relate:
When Rebbi Yosse ben Kisma was ill, Rebbi Chaninah ben Tradyon went to visit him. He said to him, “Chaninah my brother, don’t you know that this nation was put in place to rule by Heaven? They destroyed His Home and burnt His Sanctuary. They murdered His pious ones and destroyed His good ones and it is still standing! And yet I heard that you sit and toil in Torah-study and gather large groups in public with a Sefer Torah placed in your lap!” (Meaning Rebbi Yosse said, since Heaven put these Gentiles in place to rule over Am Yisrael, why are you endangering yourself and transgressing their decrees?)
Rebbi Chaninah replied to him, “May Heaven have mercy!” Rebbi Yosse ben Kisma said, “I say to you arguments that have a basis, yet you say to me May Heaven have mercy? I will be amazed if they won’t burn you and the Sefer Torah together in fire!” Rebbi Chaninah asked, “Rebbi, will I have a portion in the World to Come?” He asked him, “Has any good deed come your way?” He replied, “Purim funds got mixed up with my own money and I gave them all to the poor.” He said, “If so, may from your portion be my portion, and from your lot may be my lot!”
In other words, Rebbi Chaninah asked Rebbi Yosse, what will be with me in the World to Come? Rebbi Yosse asked him if he performed a unique act of kindness? Rebbi Chaninah replied to him that once his personal money got mixed up with tzedakah and he was stringent and gave all the money to the poor. Rebbi Yosse replied, if so you will have a portion in the World to Come, “May my portion be part of what you have!”
This exchange seems astonishing! Rebbi Chaninah ben Tradyon, the holy one of Am Yisrael who sacrificed his life so that Torah may not be forgotten, is sitting worrying what will be with him in the World to Come! When he relates his anxiety to Rebbi Yosse ben Kisma, Rebbi Yosse determines that Rebbi Chaninah is indeed worthy of the World to Come, but only through the mitzvah of tzedakah that he fulfilled in this unique isolated instance! How can the years of self-sacrifice in spreading Torah be disregarded?! Years of Torah-study in holiness and purity!
They explain that because Rebbi Chaninah was well-known as the greatest in his generation, then he certainly would have merited great honour due to his elevated status. Therefore Rebbi Chaninah was in doubt as to whether he will merit a reward in the World to Come. Or whether he has, G-d for bid, lost it all in this world. So Rebbi Yosse asked him if any act of kindness came his way to ascertain the inner worth of Rebbi Chaninah. When he heard that that Rebbi Chaninah acted piously with his Creator, in a unique instance, which no one knew about, when his money got mixed up with tzedakah and he was stringent despite his dire financial situation, this proves that his actions are performed with good intentions. The honour that he receives in this world won’t dent his reward in the World to Come even regarding the mitzvot which he has done with publicity!
We have learned how important modesty is. How important is a straight heart. To cultivate the heart with good intentions, to do our actions for the sake of Heaven!
Maran zt”l merited huge honour in his lifetime. When he went to conferences everyone would stand and sing in his honour. But at that moment he zt”l would quietly say, “Let not the foot of arrogance come to me” (Tehillim 36:12). And he would say to himself derogatory comments about himself, which cannot be written here. As our chachamim said (Yoma 87b), that when Rav would see a group of people accompanying him he would say to himself things that would subdue his heart and mention that all is complete vanity. The main thing is to place before our eyes the adage, “Know from where you came, to where you are destined to go and before Whom shall you give an account and reckoning” (Avot 3:1).