The first verses of Parashat Behaalotecha speak about the Misva of the Menorah, the lighting of the candles in the Mishkan, a Misva that was assigned to Aharon. Rashi, citing the Midrash, explains why this Misva appears specifically here, in this context, immediately following the account of the special gifts brought by the Nesi’im (tribal leaders) in honor of the Mishkan’s inauguration. Aharon, the Midrash comments, felt dismayed over the fact that he had not participated in these gifts. The Nesi’im of all the tribes brought these offerings to the Mishkan – except Aharon, the leader of the tribe of Levi. His exclusion from this celebration caused Aharon great distress, and God therefore sought to encourage him by reminding him of the privilege he is given to light the Menorah each day. He should not be distressed by his exclusion from the Nesi’im’s gifts, God told him, because he had the special honor of kindling the Menorah.
The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe Nahmanides, 1194-1270) raised several questions concerning Rashi’s comments, including the question of why Aharon would feel distressed over not participating with the Nesi’im. Throughout the seven days preceding the Mishkan’s inauguration, Aharon and his sons brought special sacrifices in the Mishkan as part of their consecration as Kohanim. Moreover, as Kohen Gadol, Aharon enjoyed numerous special privileges, including the exclusive right to enter the Kodesh Ha’kodashim – the inner sanctum of the Mishkan – on Yom Kippur. Why would he feel distressed because he did not take part in the Nesi’im’s offering? He had so many unique privileges – why would this exclusion trouble him?
Rav Yerucham Levovitz of Yeshivat Mir (1873-1936) explained that Aharon’s distress is characteristic of the Sadikim. They are always desperately seeking more opportunities for Misvot. Righteous people are never complacent, they’re never satisfied with what they’ve accomplished. Like a greedy businessmen who continues to look for more deals even after he’s made a fortune, the Sadikim are greedy – always looking for more Misvot to perform. They passionately pursue each and every Misva opportunity like a precious asset that they absolutely must have. Aharon was distressed over a lost opportunity for a Missva, because he understood, like all Sadikim understand, just how valuable each and every Misva is.
Rav Yerucham brought other examples of this “greed” for Misvot. Moshe Rabbenu had the most impressive “resume” of anybody who ever lived. He spent forty days without eating or drinking, receiving the Torah directly from Hashem; he led Beneh Yisrael out of Egypt and through the sea, and received direct prophecy from God on many occasions. And yet, when God informed him that he would die without entering Eretz Yisrael, he recited 515 prayers begging for permission to enter the land. The Gemara explains that he desperately wanted to enter Eretz Yisrael so he could observe the Misvot that can be performed only there. As much as he had accomplished, it wasn’t enough. He was greedy; he craved even more Misvot.
Another example is the famous story of Rabbi Akiba, who was tortured to death by the Romans for teaching Torah. As the executioner combed his skin off his body, Rabbi Akiba told his students that he had longed for this moment – for the opportunity to fulfill the Misva of surrendering one’s life for God’s honor. Rabbi Akiba taught Torah to thousands of students – but this wasn’t enough. He still felt a desire to fulfill more Misvot.
It is told that a young man once saw the Hafetz Haim walking around anxiously outside on a cold, windy, snowy night. He later found out that the Hafetz Haim had not yet had a chance to recite Birkat Ha’lebana that month due to inclement weather, and he was anxiously awaiting the opportunity to see the moon so he could recite the Beracha. This is how passionate he was about grabbing opportunities for Misvot.
The lesson we can take from these examples is never to relax and rest on our laurels. No matter how much we grow and accomplish, there is so much more that we can still do. We, too, should be “greedy,” always be searching for more Misvot to perform, for more opportunities to grow and to help others. This is the legacy that we have received from Aharon Ha’kohen, Moshe Rabbenu, Rabbi Akiba, and many other Sadikim, and the legacy which we must strive to follow.