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Torah Attitude: Parashas Beha'aloscha: The Devoted and the Fanatical
The lighting of the Menorah by the High Priest was greater than the offerings of the leaders of the other tribes. Ramban is puzzled why Aaron was depressed at all. Some people are devoted to particular interests that consume their lives. After Adam sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, he was cursed. To a devoted, religious Jew, the Torah and mitzvot are life itself. Aaron totally devoted his life to serving G'd. We have the choice to devote our lives to serving our particular personal interests or to utilize this drive to serve G'd and mankind.
Aaron and the Menorah
At the beginning of this week's Torah reading, Aaron (the High Priest and the brother of Moses) is commanded to kindle the lights of the Menorah in the Tabernacle. Rashi asks why this portion follows immediately after the inauguration offerings of the tribes mentioned at the end of last week's portion. Rashi answers that Aaron was depressed because the leaders of all of the other tribes brought offerings, but neither he nor any other representative of his tribe, the Levites, took part in the inauguration offerings. G'd told Aaron not to worry, as his duty, the daily lighting of the Menorah, was greater than the offerings of the other tribes.
Ramban is puzzled why Aaron was depressed at all. During the inauguration offerings, Aaron himself brought a number of offerings in the Tabernacle that no one else brought. The daily involvement of his tribe, the Levites, in the Tabernacle was much greater then all of the other tribes. Aaron, as the Kohen Gadol (High Priest), had special duties in the Tabernacle that only he could perform, including the Incense, the meal offering, kindling the lights, and the Yom Kippur service. If any tribe had special duties in the Tabernacle, it was the Levites and the Kohanim. So why was Aaron so upset?
We find that some people have particular interests that consume their lives. Some are devoted sports fans. Others get absorbed in a hobby. Some sports fans are so devoted that they will travel with their team to distant cities. Many of those fans spend hours watching their team play and talking about everything to do with their team. Some Internet hobbyists surf the net at every opportunity, sometimes into the wee hours of the night. Some businessmen devote every waking hour engrossed in their business at the expense of their family and social obligations. These people are totally devoted, even fanatical, about their particular interests.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam was blessed with the best possible world where all his needs were attended to with no effort on his part. After Adam sinned by eating from the Tree of Knowledge, he was cursed. No longer would he receive his sustenance without any effort. From then on, he was told: "By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread". Many people are driven to "make much more bread" than they and all of their family could ever consume. Rav Sholom Schwadron once observed that if someone who is able to provide for his family and prays that G'd shall help him expand his business and open more branches it is as if this person is praying to G'd to increase the curse of Adam. Similar to the really fanatical sports fans, there are businesspeople that are so obsessed with their business that there does not appear to be any limit to their devotion. The problem with sports fans has grown to such proportions that there have even been books written to warn and advise their wives how to deal with and feed their fanatical husbands on the day of the big game. These workaholics and fanatics devote so much time and energy to their particular interest that it becomes their most important goal and runs their lives. Rather than their work should provide a living, it takes over their lives. Similarly, their hobbies and other interests, rather than enhancing their lives, becomes life itself. Their fanatical devotion robs these people of all the other pleasures that life has to offer, and can ruin relationships with close family and friends.
Torah and mitzvot
Every night, in the second blessing before the Shema we declare: "With an eternal love have You [G'd] loved the House of Israel, Your nation. Torah and commandments, decrees and ordinances have You taught us. Therefore G'd, upon our retiring and arising, we will discuss Your decrees and we will rejoice with the words of Your Torah and with Your mitzvot for all eternity. For they are our life and the length of our days and about them we will meditate day and night" (Artscroll Siddur, p.259). To a devoted, religious Jew, the Torah and mitzvot are life itself.
Aaron the totally devoted
Aaron totally devoted his life to serving G'd. He was upset when he could not participate in the inaugural offerings, not because others were doing something that he could not, but for the reason that this was like missing and giving up part of his life. Aaron feared that some personal flaw prevented him from serving G'd. He did not want to miss any opportunity to serve G'd. However, Aaron was told by G'd not to worry. Every person has a unique purpose for which they were created and only they can achieve. While it is right to try to do as many mitzvot as possible, there are some mitzvot that may only be available to a particular person or group of people. This does not mean necessarily that a flaw prevents others from doing these mitzvot. For example, the fact that most time limited mitzvot are only obligations on the Jewish men in no way implies that the women are secondary members of the Jewish people. Aaron was mistaken to believe that his failure to participate in the inaugural offerings was due to a personal flaw. On the contrary, Aaron had a greater service destined for him, and this particular offering was just not part of his obligation in life.
Good or bad?
Everything in life can be used for good or bad. All of us have been blessed with the drive and ability to devote ourselves to a specific cause. We have the choice to devote our lives to serving our particular personal interests or to utilize this drive to serve G'd and mankind. The choice and the consequences are ours alone.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network