Parashat Behaalotecha- The Torah and Big Ben
In the beginning of Parashat Behaalotecha, the Torah briefly discusses the Misva of the Menora, which lit each day in the Mishkan. The Torah (8:3) makes a point of informing us that “Va’ya’as Ken Aharon” – Aharon did as he was commanded, and fulfilled this Misva. Rashi comments that this verse was added to give praise to Aharon “She’lo Shina” – for not “deviating.” He fulfilled the Misva precisely as he was commanded, without any changes or modifications.
These brief comments of Rashi have generated countless pages of literature, as many scholars struggled to explain his intent. Why would one have expected Aharon to “deviate”? Why was he deserving of such praise for complying specifically with this command?
One explanation that has been offered (among many) focuses on the precise command that God issued in this Parasha: “Beha’alotecha Et Ha’nerot,” which literally means, “When you elevate the candles.” The Kohen who kindled the lamps of the Menora was to step up to the Menora for the lighting. There was a small step in front of the Menora, and the Kohen was required to stand on the elevation while performing this Misva. Aharon was a tall man, and could have thought to himself, “I don’t need to stand on the step. I can easily reach the Menora without it.” Many people in that situation would have disregarded this requirement, based on their logical intuition. Aharon, however, “did not deviate.” He did precisely as he was commanded, without modifying the rules based on his own reasoning.
This was the great praise of Aharon – and the great lesson he teaches us. We must observe all the Misvot, and all their details, with strict compliance, and never attempt to “deviate” from the rules based on our intuition.
There is a Halacha requiring that when the Torah is lifted in the synagogue and shown to the congregation, it must be lifted high in the air. Rav Yitzchak Hutner (1906-1980) explained this requirement by drawing an analogy to Big Ben, a tall clock in England that has become a major tourist attraction in that country. The clock stands very high in the air, Rav Hutner noted, not only so that it can be seen from a distance, but also so that it is kept out of people’s reach. If people would have access to the clock, they would change the time if it did not correspond to the time on their watches. Anytime a person would notice that the time on Big Ben did not match the time on his watch, he would reach up and alter the time on Big Ben. The people who built the large clock ensured that it would stand well beyond human reach, so that people would set their watches to Big Ben, and not the opposite. Its height indicates that our clocks should be set to correspond to Big Ben, and we cannot try to change the time on Big Ben to correspond to our watches.
This is why the Torah must be held up high in the synagogue – to remind us that it is “out of reach.” We have to change ourselves to accommodate the Torah, rather than try to change the Torah to accommodate our intuition. Its laws are definitive, and we initially think differently, then we must modify our thinking to correspond to the Torah’s laws.
Aharon sets an example of complete submission to the Torah’s authority, without questioning it based on human reasoning, and this is the example we must follow in our attitude toward Torah and Misvot.