Torah Fax 

Wednesday, June 11, 2008 - 8 Sivan, 5768

Torah Reading: Beha’alotecha (Numbers 8:1 - 12:16) 
Candle Lighting: 8:10 PM
Shabbat ends: 9:20 PM
Pirkei Avot: chapter 1

Stairs and Ramps

This week's parsha, Beha'alotecha, discusses the manner in which the Kohain-Priest would kindle the Menorah in the Temple. In order to light the Menorah, the Kohain would go up three steps to be able to comfortably reach the top of the Menorah which stood about six feet tall.
The difficulty with the use of these steps was that it appears to contradict the Torah's clear prohibition for the Kohain to climb stairs as he would approach the Altar. Instead of a staircase, the Torah requires that a ramp be built. And the reason given for the prohibition against climbing stairs to reach the top of the Altar was to avoid taking wide strides that would expose the Kohain to the Altar in a slightly immodest manner. Even though the Altar was an inanimate object, the Torah wanted to teach us sensitivity even to a rock, how much more so to a fellow human being.
Now if the Torah prefers the use of a ramp to stairs because of modesty, why was there no ramp built for the lighting of the Menorah?
One answer that can be offered, which will shed some light on the way we must display sensitivity towards others, is based on the different roles that the Altar and the Menorah play. The Altar was intended primarily to bring about atonement for the sins of the people who brought the offerings. Even the daily offering served to cleanse the people of certain sins.

Now if we compare the mental and spiritual state of the person offering his sacrifice and the Kohain who performed the service for him, we will notice a major schism between the two. On the one hand, you have the person who had sinned who is bringing his offering. No doubt this person is depressed because of the low level he has reached due to his shortcomings. At the same time you have the Kohain, who is an accomplished spiritual leader. To make matters even more pronounced, to bring the offering, the Kohain ascends up to the altar, symbolizing that he is reaching even higher spiritual levels. 
At a time like this, when the moral gulf between the Kohain and the sinner bringing his offering is most evident, it is critical that the Kohain should not act condescendingly. He should try not to demonstrate how he is rising to greater heights and is spiritually superior to the sinner. True, it is necessary for the one who helps another rise from the dust to be on a higher spiritual plane and thus be in a position to help lift him up - but this must always be performed with utmost sensitivity and with a healthy dose of modesty. The Kohain must make sure the sinner does not feel more rejected, dejected and lowly than he or she already feels. On the contrary, the Kohain should gently lift him up, slowly but surely; taking him with on his journey to higher places.

In order to underscore this point, the Torah says the Kohain should ascend to the Altar via a ramp rather than stairs, modesty and without fanfare. . His ascension, as necessary as it is to help the sinner repent and rebound from his lowly state, must be done modestly, in an unassuming manner.
By contrast, the Menorah was not intended for sinners. It was intended to kindle the souls of the Jewish people so that their souls, already on fire, can climb even higher. For people of this caliber, it is crucial that each one recognizes their place. They must know that there is a hierarchy; every person must know his or her spiritual location and not think they are on par with someone who is more spiritual. If we can't recognize the fact that someone is on a higher rung, we will never feel the need to grow. A sense of complacency will set in.
Moreover, if we err about where we belong on the ladder of spiritual development, not only will it retard our growth; it might cause us to lose balance and fall backwards, G‑d forbid.
Thus, when lighting the Menorah, the Kohain had to climb a set of stairs that accentuated the different spiritual levels and grades that people find themselves on. The stairs indicated that the objective of the Menorah lighting was to rise to the highest rung, putting misguided modesty aside.
With this premise we can also answer one of the questions asked by commentators as to why the Torah emphasizes that Aaron did precisely as he was told with regard to lighting the Menorah. Why would anyone think that Aaron would not comply with the commandment given to him to light the Menorah?
Perhaps, we might suggest that since lighting the Menorah involved recognizing the need to put aside modesty for the sake of helping others to grow, Aaron might have not complied with this because of his modesty. Aaron by nature was one of the people. Everyone loved him precisely because he did not act as a leader, but worked within the community. Aaron's personality shunned the notion of him climbing a ladder to show the way for others to grow. As such, he might have not been able to perform this particular service with precision.
To dispel this notion, the Torah tells us that Aaron did not deviate even one iota from the commandment to kindle the Menorah. Even before his personality of modesty came his loyalty and devotion to G‑d. Aaron, in effect, transcended his own spiritual nature of humility to conform to G‑d's will. And, in the final analysis, that approach did more for the people than misplaced modesty.
It is not easy to strike a balance between modesty when dealing with a person whom we have to help climb out of the morass, and the lighting of our own soul's flame, where modesty takes a back seat. To alternate between these two opposite sentiments requires the transcendence of our own nature.
One individual who will be capable of performing this balancing act will be the Moshiach. On the one hand, Moshiach will be a powerful monarch, whom everyone will recognize for his superior spirituality. At the same time, Moshiach will be recognized as the most humble person. One of Moshiach's tasks is to imbue us with the ability to combine the two by helping us reveal the essence of our souls. When that essence is revealed we can transcend all the other aspects of our personality. 


Moshiach Matters 

The Gemara (Kesubos 111a) says that G‑d adjured the Jewish people "not to push away and distance the ketz, the time of Moshiach." This can also be interpreted that the ketz should not be distant in your eyes, as if you have given up hope in the Geulah, redemption; but rather, you should feel that the Geulah is close at hand, as it is written (Isaiah 56:1): "Soon My deliverance will come." ( Maharsha on Kesubos 111a) 
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