The weather has been pretty miserable recently, but it’s still out of place to talk about Chanukah in June.
After last week’s 176-verse marathon primarily discussing the chanukah or inauguration of the Mishkan, this week’s sedra, Beha’alotecha, starts with the laws of lighting the menorah.
It’s seems like the great British summer has Bibilical precedence!
The key to understanding the significance of the menorah that was lit every evening in the Mishkan lies in the statements in the Talmud that liken both the oil and the flames to wisdom.
The menorah is the sign of spiritual and intellectual excellence that stands in front of the holy of holies together with the material bounty of the lechem hapanim (show bread).
This powerful symbolism teaches us that Judaism is not a religion that seeks to deny the physical world, rather it elevates material existence to a spiritual plane through imbuing our day to day lives with meaning and relevance.
The term ‘Beha’alotecha et hanerot’ literally means ‘when you kindle the lamps’,
but Rashi points out that the mitzvah is to light the lamps until the flame ascends by themselves.
When passing on the torch of Jewish identity, it is not just enough to light the flame; it has to be nurtured until it can burn brightly by itself.
This theme is echoed by the rabbis in the opening Mishnah of Pirkei Avot, who tell us ‘ve heemidu talmidim harbeh’ to raise many students.
The term lehaamid means to enable them to stand by themselves.
This is the message that Hashem tells the first Jew, Avraham, ‘Lech lecha’, not just go for yourself, but go to yourself.
Each of us has something that is unique that defines us. It is through these qualities that we can shine and make a contribution to the world that cannot be made by anyone else.
This is the theme of the book of Bamidbar, each tribe with its unique banner, its individuality, marching in unison towards the promised land.
Jewish education is more than just imparting information, it is chinuch, dedication, the goal of which is to enable people to know themselves and make their own informed choice to be actively involved in shaping a bright Jewish future.
This is a message that is not just for Chanukah… it’s for life!
• Rabbi Naftali Schiff is CEO of Jewish Futures Trust