This week’s Parsha contains the Mitzvah of Lighting the Menorah. The Sifrei on the verse “… lit its candles…” (he-elah neiroseha) [Bamidbar 8:3] comments that from the use of the word ‘he-elah’ (which can be translated ’caused to go up’), we learn that Aharon built a stepping stool, which was placed in front of the Menorah, on which he stood to light the Menorah. This stepping stool is in fact mentioned in a Mishneh in Tractate Tamid [3:9]. The Mishneh states that there was a rock in front of the Menorah that had three steps upon which Aharon would ascend to light the Menorah.
The fact that both the Sifrei and the Mishneh call our attention to the step stool indicates that there is something significant about this device, which transcends its practical functionality.
Rash”i, in the beginning of this week’s parsha, cites the famous Medrash that the section of the lighting of the Menorah was juxtaposed to the section of the offerings of the Princes for the following reason:
Aharon became depressed after seeing the impressive gifts of the Princes of all the other tribes, because both he and his Tribe lacked representation in the entire ceremony of the Dedication of the House (Chanukas HaBayis). G-d promised him “Your (role) is far greater than theirs. They are merely bringing sacrifices that will terminate with the end of the Beis HaMikdash. But you will have something which is Eternal — the lighting of the Menorah.”
All the commentaries are bothered by this Rash”i. What does Rash”i mean that the lighting of the Menorah will be Eternal? The lighting of the Menorah was also a function of the presence of the Beis HaMikdash. Since the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, we no longer have a Menorah either. What does Rash”i mean?
The Ramba”n explains that the Sages are referring to the lighting of the Chanukah menorah, which continues even today.
Other commentaries, however, suggest a different interpretation: The Menorah symbolizes Torah (“For the candle represents a Mitzvah; and the Torah represents Light” [Mishlei 6:23]), which is the guiding force of the Jewish people. The Torah is what keeps the Jewish people going, even today. By lighting the Menorah, Aharon symbolized the spread of the Light of Torah.
If that is the case, we can understand why the Sages made a point of stating that Aharon had to step up on a three stepped rock in order to light the Menorah. The Sh’lah HaKodosh states that just as we find that there are four categories of damages [Bava Kamma 2a], and there are 39 categories of labor [Shabbos 73a], we find there are 3 categories of evil personality traits [Avot 4:21]: “…Jealousy, Lust, and (pursuit of) Honor drive a person out of this world.”
The three steps in front of the Menorah symbolized these three categories of evil personality traits. Aharon was sending a message to all future generations: “If you want to come to spread Torah; if you want to ascend to the attribute of Torah; you must first fix your personality traits.” Simply put, “Derech Eretz precedes Torah.” Before we can begin to think about Torah, we must ensure that our personalities are in order.
Why Tell Over a Lesson That Everyone Already Knows?
Why am I emphasizing this lesson, even though I am sure that virtually everyone has already heard of the teaching “Derech Eretz precedes Torah?” I am emphasizing this lesson because from my perspective of dealing with students and of involvement with educational institutions, I think it is clear that we are not doing an adequate job of educating our children simple menschlichkeit.
Teachers complain they are frustrated in class because children are not acting properly. The response teachers receive when complaining to parents often indicates a total lack of cooperation.
For example, consider the following exchanges that transpire when teachers attempt to inform parents about various disciplinary problems.
Teacher: I caught David cheating on his English exam. David’s parent: Who cares? He’s not going to college anyway. I’m not concerned that he cheats.
In this case, David’s parent blatantly failed in his responsibility to instill Derech Eretz in his child.
Another teacher phoned a woman to complain about her child’s behavior in class. The parent responded, “I’m sorry, don’t bother me — I’m pregnant!”
A third teacher called up a parent and was told “Don’t bother me, it’s tax season.”
Somehow, these parents neglect their responsibility to teach Derech Eretz to their children. How can we expect that our children will ascend to the attribute of Torah if they do not act like menschen? And how can parents who lack this trait instill it in their children.
If teachers are leaving the profession because they don’t get cooperation from parents when disciplining the children, then what are we sending our children to Yeshivas for? What is the whole point of trying to glorify the greatness of Torah when children don’t act like menschen?
I know that kids will be kids and boys will be boys and I was also young and I got into my share of trouble. But when I got into trouble my parents disciplined me. I like to think that when my kids get into trouble — which they do — I try to discipline my children, as well.
But this attitude on the part of parents of “Don’t bother me, I’m tired…” is unacceptable!
This is why I repeat this lesson. Hopefully, when Shabbos comes and my listeners [or readers] will discuss a Torah thought at the meal, they will repeat over this lesson.
Let them say, “Derech Eretz preceded Torah.” Let them say that Aharon the priest had to climb up three steps before he could light the Menorah. That lesson has become very lax to us.
I am not a sociologist. I am not a student of human behavior. I don’t know what the cause is. Twenty years ago, parents emphasized manners, the importance of saying ‘please’ and ‘thank-you,’ and eating with knives and forks. I don’t know why today many do not seem to do so.
But this is what I see and this is what I hear. Teachers’ frustration that they do not get cooperation from parents on elementary matters is a serious and growing concern.
We have to repeat this thought over and over: Derech Eretz precedes Torah. We will not merit acquiring the Torah, if we are not, first and foremost, menschen.