Parshas Behaalosecha: A Lasting Education
Speak to Aaron and say to him: When you raise up the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah. (Numbers 8:2)
Rashi notes the strange use of the word "behaalosecha" to raise up (as opposed to kindle or to light) and explains: He is required to kindle the lamp until the flame rises by itself, on its own accord (Shabbat 21a).
To light a candle would imply that the responsibility lies simply in the act of lighting. God is commanding Aharon to do more than just kindle a flame but to ensure that the flame will stand on its own accord. This is not a simple task. Anyone can strike a match but knowing how to kindle a lasting fire can be a difficult task.
I am the proud owner of a Webber gas grill. In our family bbqing wasn't just a mode of cooking but a lifestyle. At family gatherings the children will generally be occupied by my mother with some sort of craft while the men stand around the grill and cook copious amounts of meat. Personally I hate charcoal grilling. Somehow my coal (and yes even the match light) won't start for me. The food ends up tasting like lighter fluid and leaves a bad after taste in my mouth. It just seems to take way too much energy to get it started. A gas grill lights in two seconds and gives me the flavor I am looking for. But I appreciate those who are looking for a more "authentic" BBQ experience and are willing to put in the work to get a good fire started. It is not an easy task.
The lighting of the Menorah is often compared to the process of educating our children and when it comes to raising our children there is no gas grill version. Just as the Menorah has seven branches, each one representing a different divine attribute, so too every child is unique and requires a unique education to raise them up. Cookie cutter chinuch does not work. Not because we can't fit every child into the same mold (though we obviously can't) but because even if we could that would represent a failure to recognize the unique nature of every child. If we want our chinuch to last for a lifetime we have to cater to the special needs of each individual child. The Rebbe Rashab (Rav Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch) compared this to the job of a lamplighter. Before the advent of electric street lights the streets were illuminated by gas lights. Lamplighters were employed to walk around every evening and light the lamps around the city. Some of these lights were hard to reach, others needed to be serviced and others were covered over but the job of the lamplighter was to illuminate every one of them. If the lamplighter skips a lamp because it is too difficult he hasn't done his job. If he lights the lamp but it quickly flickers out he hasn't done the job. The flame has to last through the night. Anything short of that and the lamplighter hasn't done the job.
And that's the goal of education. To light a lasting flame. Imparting information is important but it is only half the battle. Inspiration is a critical component of education. If our children are not inspired (not to be confused with excited) then why would they take their education with them when they are old enough to make their own choices? If a child is talking in davening and our only response is to show the child in Shulchah Aruch that it is forbidden to talk at these times we are likely missing the point. Perhaps the child did not know that it was asur to talk but it is far more likely that the child just does not care about tefillah. Teaching our children hilchos Shabbos is critical but if Shabbos is a boring experience, bereft of depth and meaning, there is no reason for them to follow the halachos. Teaching Hilchos Shabbos is showing our children the instruction manual. Inviting them for Shabbos and giving them a taste of the majesty of Shabbos inspires them to actually follow the instructions. The inspiration is what makes it real. It's what makes it last.
The Gemara in Kiddushin 29a teaches: A father is obligated with regard to his son to circumcise him, and to redeem him if he is a firstborn son who must be redeemed by payment to a priest, and to teach him Torah, and to marry him to a woman, and to teach him a trade. And some say: A father is also obligated to teach his son to swim. Rabbi Yehuda says: Any father who does not teach his son a trade teaches him banditry [listut]. The Gemara expresses surprise at this statement: Can it enter your mind that he actually teaches him banditry? Rather, the baraita means that it is as though he teaches him banditry. Since the son has no profession with which to support himself, he is likely to turn to theft for a livelihood.
The Gemara makes it clear that as parents our obligation is to give our children the tools they will need in life to make it on their own. Independence is a primary value in education. Of course giving our children the capacity to provide for themselves financially is important but it is not the only type of independence we need to give our children. Emotional independence. Psychological independence. Spiritual independence. These are equally important skills we need to provide for our children.
As parents we often attempt to stop our children from making mistakes. At certain ages this is appropriate but as a child gets older it can actually be a debilitating experience. When a child is young and crossing the street without looking both ways it is our responsibility to ensure that the child does not make that mistake. When a child is older and realizes that they have a book report the next day and it is ten o clock at night it is not our responsibility to do the book report for the child. Maybe the child will get in trouble. Maybe they will even fail the course but the lesson they learn is far more valuable. If we don't allow our children to learn that their actions have consequences (shout out to my own mother who made this lesson very clear to me) then when will they learn true independence. Our job is to strike the match but ultimately it is the responsibility of the child to light the candle. We provide the opportunities, the education and the inspiration but we also need to know that the child has to make the ultimate choice. If they don't independently come to the conclusion that living a Godly life is meaningful then in the long term they simply won't lead that life.
I am reminded of the story of Yehuda Avner and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Avner at the time was serving as a key adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin and was tasked with reporting to the Lubavitcher Rebbe the details of Begins meeting with President Jimmy Carter (Begin had visited the Rebbe to receive a bracha before his meeting with Carter and promised the Rebbe that he would keep the Rebbe updated). In Avners own words this was how the meeting unfolded.
"THUS IT was that five days later I found myself ensconced alone with the Rebbe in his wood-paneled chamber, its simple furnishings antique with time-worn distinction. Dog-eared Talmud tomes and other heavy, well-thumbed volumes lined his bookshelves, redolent of centuries of scholarship and disputations conducted by generations of swaying, chanting, thumb-stabbing, skull-capped learners, inhabiting an academic world in which students don't study and teachers don't teach. Everybody learns.
We spoke in Hebrew – the Rebbe's classic, mine modern. And as he dissected my Washington report, his air of authority deepened. It came of something beyond knowledge. It was in his state of being, something he possessed in his soul, something given to him under the chestnut and maple trees of Brooklyn rather than under the poplars and pines of Jerusalem – to which, mysteriously, he had never journeyed.
The presentation, interrogation, and clarification had taken close to three hours. It was now after two in the morning, and I was exhausted. The Rebbe, full of vim and vigor, asked me to communicate the following message to Mr. Begin: "By maintaining your firm stand on Eretz Yisroel in the White House, you have given strength to the whole of the Jewish people. You have succeeded in safeguarding the integrity of Eretz Yisroel while avoiding a confrontation with the United States. That is true Jewish statesmanship: forthright, bold, without pretense, or apology. Be strong and of good courage."
He dictated this in a voice that was soft but touched with fire.
And now relaxing, he made a tent of his slender fingers, fixed me with his eyes, and said with a surprisingly sweet smile, "How come you visit us so often and appear to be so close to us, yet you never became a Lubavitcher? Why?"
I sat back stunned at the directness of the question. It was true. This probably was my third or fourth meeting with the Rebbe. Over the years I had become a sort of unofficial liaison between various Israeli prime ministers and the Lubavitch court.
Swallowing thickly, I muttered, "Maybe it is because I have met so many people who ascribe to the Rebbe powers which the Rebbe does not ascribe to himself."
Even as I spoke, I realized I had presumed too much. I could hear my voice trailing away.
The Rebbe's brows knitted, and his deep blue eyes grayed into sadness. Softly, he said, "Yesh k'nireh anoshim hazekukim l'kobayim — There are evidently people who need crutches."
A long and pregnant pause followed. Perhaps his secret threads of perception and communication were tracking my thoughts, for what he said next answered my unspoken question.
Raising his palm in a gesture of reassurance, and with an encouraging smile, he said, "Let me tell you what I try to do. Imagine you're looking at a candle. What you are really seeing is a mere lump of wax with a thread down its middle. So when do the thread and wax become a candle? Or, in other words, when do they fulfill the purpose for which they were created? When you put a flame to the thread, then the candle becomes a candle."
As he was speaking, a rhythmic cadence crept into his voice in the manner of a talmudist poring over his text, so that what he said next came out as a chant: "The wax is the body, and the wick the soul. Ignite the soul with the fire of Torah and a person will then fulfill the purpose for which he or she was created. And that is what I try to do – to ignite the soul of our people with the fire of Torah."
A buzzer had been sounding periodically, indicating that others were awaiting their audience. So I rose and took my leave, pausing at the door to ask, "My candle – has the Rebbe lit it?"
"No," he said, clasping my hand. "I have given you the match. Only you can light your candle."