Hashem to Aharon: No Need to Fret

Rabbi Dr. Darrell Ginsberg

“He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.”

This famous quote attributed to Socrates concerning greed reflects how this trait is the source of so much frustration among people. Sadly, it is a challenge for people to understand when enough is, indeed, enough. A classic example can be found in the world of politics. A politician, granted clout due to the office he resides in, seems quite often to view his or her power as limited, and the office a mere stepping stone. This is all par for the course. It is therefore somewhat shocking where Aharon HaKohen, the High Priest, is presented in a light that implies a sense of unquenchable greed. Thankfully, as will be demonstrated, nothing could be further from the truth.

The latter parts of Parshat Naso deal with the various sacrifices brought by the heads of each tribe. Each of these sacrifices was voluntary in nature, an incredible demonstration of selflessness at the time of the dedication of the Tabernacle. Yet, there was one tribe and one leader that was noticeably absent: The Tribe of Levi, with Aharon as their head. The beginning of this week’s Torah portion begins with the third instance of the commandment to light the Menorah of the Temple. Rashi is puzzled by this return to the Menorah, and offers a difficult answer to resolve this issue, as well as the relationship between this introductory part of the portion with the ending in last week’s portion (Bamidbar 8:2):

“Why is the portion dealing with the menorah juxtaposed to the portion dealing with the chieftains? For when Aaron saw the dedication [offerings] of the chieftains, he felt distressed (chalsha daato) over not joining them in this dedication-neither he nor his tribe. So God said to him, “By your life, yours is greater than theirs, for you will light and prepare the lamps.””

Somehow, Aharon’s distress is pacified with this reiteration of his command to light the Menorah.

The Ramban takes serious umbrage with Rashi’s entire approach (ibid). He asks two powerful questions concerning Rashi’s line of reasoning. The first is how God’s response gave Aharon any sense of comfort. After all, Aharon had exclusive rights over such critical matters like the incense (ketoret) and the special service on Yom Kippur. Why would receiving the specific commandment of the Menorah act as a means of pacification? His second question involves why Aharon was bothered to begin with. Aharon had brought all the sacrifices during the Miluim period of time, when the specific sacrifices and other services were performed in the Tabernacle for the first time. This was a much honored set of tasks, something that should have necessarily satisfied any yearning for “more” on the part of Aharon. Why, according to Rashi’s understanding, was Aharon then troubled? 

Yet there is another question (not to pile on) one could address to Rashi. It would appear as if Aharon had some type of voracious thirst for more and more priestly activities. Taken literally, such a trait is certainly not one worthy of praise; yet God seems to reward Aharon. How do we understand this line of reasoning?

The Ramban offers two alternate answers. God was not directly referring to the Menorah when He sought to comfort Aharon; rather, God was hinting to future events. In his first answer, the Ramban explains that there would be a forthcoming re-dedication of the Temple, led by his progeny, the Chashmonaim. These brave warriors would save the Jewish people, and their dedication of the Temple would be consecrated with the name of the holiday: Chanukah. Thus, Aharon indeed would have a “dedication” experience, albeit performed by his descendants, centuries later. The Ramban offers a modified second possibility. God tells Aharon that the system of sacrifices would end with the destruction of the Temple. However, two distinct phenomenon would last eternally. The first would be the candles, expressed through the candles of Chanukah. The second would be the Priestly Blessing. With this, Aharon would be appeased.

It is critical to understand on a deeper level the answers the Ramban is offering. As well, we must understand how to defend Rashi’s position, as at this point, his opinion looks very shaky.

It would be safe to assume that Aharon was not being greedy. Instead, it could be Aharon’s concerns were related to the institution of priesthood, the kehuna. The voluntary sacrifices offered by the leaders of the tribes excluded him and his tribe (ironically, the very action required for said sacrifices required Aharon). This event presented a dilemma. Aharon’s relationship to the Tabernacle and future Temple was one of necessity. The priests, or Kohanim, were bound to the Temple, their workload not one of choice. The notion of a voluntary relationship to the Temple was non-existent in their framework. If this indeed was the case, the relationship between the priests and the general populace was one that was very limited. A priest’s identity was wholly tied up in the Temple itself. Without the Temple, the notion of a priest would cease to exist. Their roles were purely functional, tools of the Temple. This very concern could be what Aharon sensed occurring with his exclusion from a voluntary expression of respect to the Temple. To demonstrate to the Jewish people that the identity of the priest was not contingent only on the boundaries of the Temple would resonate resolutely through the people. Now, though, it would appear his understanding of his role was mistaken. 

With this assumption in place, the Ramban offers his two answers. Both share in common the concept that the institution of priesthood would be as relevant post-Temple as it was during. One expression of this reality would be through the re-dedication of the Temple by the Chashmonaim. As the Ramban notes, they were not acting as normative “priests”, offering sacrifices and burning the incense. They were the warriors, they were the leaders, and they united the Jewish people to the sole purpose of worship of God. Their dedication of the Temple demonstrated without question how their roles transcended service in the Temple. The Ramban’s second answer focuses more on the timelessness of the role the priests effected on the nation. Through both the lighting of the candles of Chanukah on a yearly basis, and through the daily blessings offered by the priests, there would a constant uninterrupted presence of the Kohen in the life of the Jew. This would be a clear demonstration that the priests’ roles were not bound by the physical walls of the Temple. These two “hints” given to Aharon were ultimately methods to express to him how the roles of the Kohanim would always be constant and relevant. 

This leaves us with the difficulty in Rashi’s position. When studying the reason for the Menorah in the Temple, the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:45) explains that it had a very unique function. Normally, a candelabra serves to illuminate a dark area. The Rambam, though, writes that the purpose of the Menorah was to “glorify and honor the Temple”. Being lit meant that the Temple was unique, set apart from the world, the conduit to understanding God. Thus, it could be Rashi saw the concern of Aharon from a different perspective. A voluntary action, versus one emerging from obligation, affords someone the opportunity to demonstrate a sense of importance and honor. The leaders of the tribes brought sacrifices, motivated solely by the desire to show how significant the Tabernacle was. This was a unique perfection, and would have a profound effect on them and the nation as a whole. Aharon saw that his role, in its current form, would never allow him to experience this. He wasn’t being greedy; rather, he saw an inherent limitation in his current job. It was a selfless desire, the longing to achieve a higher level of perfection. God assured him he would be able to achieve this very end through the unique service of the Menorah. The Menorah, like the sacrifices brought by the leaders, was a method of expressing honor and glory. This specific service had no practical utility, differentiating it from every other type of service. When he would light the Menorah, Aharon would in fact be engaged in the same activity as the leaders who brought their sacrifices, and on a daily basis (as noted by Rash). Rather than be an additional action to engage in, God explains to Aharon that this would be part of the daily worship. Now the specific argument between the Ramban and Rashi becomes clearer. The Ramban saw the service involving the Menorah as one of the many different services in the Temple. Rashi, though, understood the Menorah to be different in its function than every other type of service, allowing for his answer of comfort to be relevant.

Knowing when to be satisfied with that which one possesses is a challenge, as greed always lurks around the corner. According to the Ramban, when we turn to someone like Aharon, we see an individual whose concerns were invested in the institution of kahuna rather than to the self. Rashi sees Aharon’s worries attached to his ability to worship God to the highest degree. Either way, rather than expressing a common flaw in those seeking wealth and power, Ahraon is shown to be someone who focus was always on the ideal.