Until The Flame Rises Up On Its Own
Sichos in English

 Shabbos Parshas B’Haalos’cha
16th Day of Sivan, 5750

1. Parshas B’Haalos’cha is always read after the holiday of Shavuos, indicating that it has a unique connection to the service following the giving of the Torah. The kindling of the menora, described in the beginning of Parshas B’Haalos’cha, represents a broad-scoped concept in the service of G-d.

Proverbs declares, “The soul of man is the candle of G-d.” The seven candles of the menora represent paths in the service of G-d. Our service involves kindling the menora, sparking the soul so that it will shine and illuminate the body and one’s surrounding environment.

In his commentary on the Torah, Rashi states that the menora must be kindled until “the flame rises up on its own,” i.e., until it no longer needs further kindling, alluding to the fact that the ultimate goal is for our service to be a product of our own power and initiative. “A man was created to toil,” to utilize his own power and become “a partner of G-d in creation.” This quality is ingrained in human nature, for we generally derive much greater pleasure from something that we have earned and worked for than something that comes without effort, which we feel is “bread of shame.”

The Rambam emphasizes this concept in “Hilchos Teshuva,” relating how free choice is one of the fundamental principles of Torah and mitzvos. G-d does not force a person to choose either good or bad. Rather, everything is given over to man, who, “of his own initiative, based on his own decision,” chooses a course of behavior.

The connection of this concept to the kindling of the menora, however, is somewhat problematic. Although the ultimate goal is for “the flame to rise up on its own,” the flame was kindled by the priest; if not for his kindling, it would not shine. In the spiritual parallel to this service, the shining of “the candle of G-d, the soul of man,” is dependent on influence from Above. We would not be able to serve G-d without G-d’s assistance. Furthermore, it is G-d Who has granted us the soul with which we praise Him. Therefore, how is it possible to speak of service on our own initiative and power? Our service depends on G-d. Although we have the choice to serve G-d or not, exercising this choice depends on the assistance G-d grants us.

The explanation of the above is based on the halachic principle, “A person who renders assistance is not considered significant” (ein bo mamash). Since “G-d relates His words to Yaakov,” i.e., “What He Himself performs, He commands others to perform,” there is a spiritual parallel to this concept. The Hebrew expression ein bo mamash,” translated as “is not considered significant,” literally means “has no substance,” i.e., not material in nature. Although G-d grants a Jew assistance, the assistance is spiritual and is too high to have an effect within the material world. Only a Jew — a soul within a body — has the potential to choose to bring about a change in this material world.

Thus, although the potential to choose to serve G-d is granted by G-d Himself, action within this material world, illuminating the body and one’s portion in the world, is dependent on the Jew himself.

In the spiritual worlds, the soul serves G-d as “a natural response.” Only within this material world, where the body presents the possibility of acting against G-d’s will, is there the possibility to act on one’s own initiative. Doing so elevates the material world into something holy.

This relates to the change in the world caused by the giving of the Torah and mitzvos to souls in bodies and by being clothed in physicality (i.e., Torah, and likewise tefillin, is written on parchment, tzitzis is made of wool, etc.). The choice of man is what causes holiness to permeate the physicality of the world.

Kindling the menora “until the flame rises up on its own” reflects the above concepts. On one hand, a priest must light the menora (paralleling the assistance that G-d grants in arousing the soul). But the purpose of this service is for the flame to “rise up on its own” (that the soul serve G-d on its own initiative). Material things (the menora, wicks and oil) illuminate the surroundings, revealing how physicality can be transformed into a sanctuary for G-d.

In particular, the individual words in the expression “until the flame rises up on its own” are significant. The word “flame” refers not to a tiny spark of light, but to a large flame. The words “rise up” imply that the process of ascent must be continuous, “proceeding from strength to strength.” “On its own” indicates the importance of service on one’s own initiative.

An important corollary to the above concepts can be derived from one of the laws mentioned by the Rambam regarding the kindling of the menora. The Rambam writes that even an Israelite may light the menora. That is, if the menora is prepared by a priest, removed from the Sanctuary and taken to the courtyard of the Beis HaMikdash where Israelites are allowed to stand, an Israelite is permitted to light it.

This law, however, is problematic. The Torah states, “Speak to Aharon... ‘When you kindle the candles...,’” apparently indicating that it is the priests (Aharon’s descendants) who are charged with kindling the menora. Also, how is it possible for the menora not to be lit in its place? Lighting the Chanuka candles was instituted to commemorate the menora of the Beis HaMikdash and is only a rabbinic ordinance, but they must be lit in the place where they are supposed to burn. A person who lights them in another place and then moves them to the place where they are supposed to burn does not fulfill his obligation. How then is it possible to kindle the menora outside the place in which it is intended to burn?

Since the ultimate intent of the kindling of the menora is that “the flame rise up by itself,” its kindling is not significant, nor is it considered as one of the acts of service in the Beis HaMikdash. Therefore, it can be kindled by one who is not a priest. Similarly, it is not necessary that it be influenced by the high level of holiness of the place in which it was kindled. The fact that it can be lit in a place and by a person on a lower level of holiness shows the importance of the flame “rising up on its own.”

The expression, “when you kindle the candles,” is written in a manner indicating a promise that this service will be carried out; ultimately, their flame “will rise up on its own.” 

This implies that “the candle of G-d, the soul of man,” which is in the heart of each Jew, regardless of his present level in the service of G-d, will ultimately burn with “the light of Torah and the candle of mitzva,” with its flame “rising up on its own.”

Since the concept of the flame “rising up on its own” is connected with a Jew’s potential for free choice, how is it possible for the Torah to promise that ultimately each Jew will reach this level? Giving such a promise appears to nullify the possibility for choice.

If it would be that an influence from Above is what brings a Jew to this level, then the promise would contradict the concept that a Jew has to choose to raise up his flame of love for G-d by himself. However, the expression of this love is a reflection of a Jew’s essential desire. As the Rambam writes, each Jew truly wants to fulfill G-d’s will, and if he does not do so it is only because his evil inclination forces him to act against his will. Therefore, the fact that ultimately a Jew will realize his true nature and express his love for G-d is not a contradiction to the concept of free choice. Since his will to serve G-d is an inner (and often subconscious) desire, and life within the context of material reality offers the possibility for two alternatives – serving G-d or, ch’v, the opposite – a person does, in fact, have a real choice, and hence the opportunity to serve G-d on his own initiative.

Based on the above, we can understand the connection of Parshas B’Haalos’cha to “the season of the giving of our Torah.” This parsha is always read in proximity to the holiday of Shavuos. When G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people, He lowered it into the material world and granted them the potential to serve Him on their own initiative, thereby elevating the material aspects of this world…

2. This week’s chapter of Pirkei Avos contains the teaching (2:15):

“Rabbi Tarfon states: ‘The day is short and the task is manifold. The workers are lazy, the reward is great, and the Master is pressing.’”

One might ask what we could learn from the association of this teaching with Rabbi Tarfon, for, as explained many times, the fact that a teaching is explicitly associated with its author indicates that there is an intrinsic connection between them. Furthermore, the name Tarfon is problematic; it is a Roman name. Since one of the reasons the Jews were redeemed from Egypt is in the merit of the fact that “they did not change their names,” why was this name given to a Jewish child?

There are several other problematic aspects to this Mishna:

a) The expression “Master” refers to G-d. Why does the Mishna describe G-d as “pressing”? On the contrary, G-d does everything possible to make our service easier. Therefore, as the Rambam explains, He grants material rewards for the fulfillment of Torah and mitzvos so that the Jews will be able to serve Him in peace and serenity. Describing Him as “pressing” does not appear appropriate.

b) Our Sages taught that G-d only demands service we are capable of performing. This appears to contradict the statement that “The day is short and the task is manifold.”

c) How can one describe the workers as “lazy”? Torah law is addressed to people who observe it, and Pirkei Avos addresses itself to those who strive for pious behavior, “beyond the measure of the law.” Such an approach surely runs contrary to laziness.

d) How does this Mishna fulfill the intent of Pirkei Avos, which is to teach “pious behavior?”

When a person follows the measure of the law, he will have no difficulty fitting the fulfillment of his service into the time allotted to him. G-d grants him the time and the potential to fulfill his service as required. When, however, a person penetrates to the depth of the matter and appreciates that the intent of the descent of his soul is for him to serve G-d on his own initiative, he will strive to go beyond the measure of the law and evoke a level of service that transcends the powers he has been granted. At this point he will realize how “the day is short and the task is manifold.”

This can be understood within the context of our Sages’ interpretation of the verse, “And you shall again discern between...one who serves G-d and one who does not serve Him.” “One who serves G-d” refers to someone who reviews his subject matter 101 times, while “one who does not serve Him” refers to someone who reviews his subject matter [only] 100 times.

Tanya explains that in that era it was customary for each person to review what he was studying 100 times. Therefore, reviewing the subject matter for the 101st time required a person to break his habit and rise above his natural tendencies. Expending the effort to do this makes him worthy of the title “one who serves G-d.” In contrast, a person who does not expend this extra effort, although he carries out his service in a complete manner, is still referred to as “one who does not serve Him.”

A person who labors to “serve G-d” in this fashion will always feel that “the day is short and the task is manifold.” Since he desires to go beyond his nature, he does not see how he can fit this service within the limits of time given him. He is always worried that “the workers are lazy,” i.e., unwilling to make the effort to go beyond their natures. Nevertheless, for such a service “the reward is great,” much more than is given for serving G-d within the limits of one’s nature.

In this context, we can also understand the final clause, “the Master is pressing.” G-d pushes a Jew, not, ch’v, to cause him difficulty, but because G-d “desired to bring merit to the Jewish people, therefore He multiplied Torah and mitzvos for them.” G-d pushes a Jew to reveal a higher quality of service, service that comes “on his own initiative.”

Based on this explanation, we can understand the connection with Rabbi Tarfon, the author of this teaching. A Hebrew name suggests service within the natural limits of holiness. A name taken from a secular tongue, on the other hand, implies that one extends himself beyond those limits and — in a manner which parallels the service of teshuva — transforms the secular into holiness.

The name Tarfon, related to the Hebrew word tarof (to seize), in particular, alludes to such a service. We “seize” the sparks of holiness that have fallen into the material world and elevate them to holiness.

The practical directive derived from the above is that each person must seek to kindle the flame of his soul with “the light of Torah and the candle of mitzva” until “the flame rises up by itself.” Simultaneously, he must seek to kindle the souls of others in keeping with the directive to “raise up many students.”

It is worthy to mention the importance of each man, woman, and child in establishing public shiurim of Torah study. Preferably these shiurim should include at least ten students. May they be expanded until they include “many students,” as the Mishna instructs. Regardless of the number of students one has “raised up” until now, one must work to raise up more, conscious that “the day is short and the task is manifold.”

These efforts will cause “the Master to press,” i.e., G-d will press for the coming of the Messianic redemption. The Jews are tired of exile. Furthermore, since “I am with them in difficulty,” i.e., G-d empathizes with the Jewish people and shares their suffering, as it were, in exile, He also cannot bear the exile any longer. Particularly after the sufferings of the last generation — may they never be repeated — it is time for the Jewish people, together with G-d Himself, to demand the coming of Moshiach. May it be in the immediate future.



Since the concept of the flame “rising up on its own” is connected with a Jew’s potential for free choice, how is it possible for the Torah to promise that ultimately each Jew will reach this level? Giving such a promise appears to nullify the possibility for choice.




The Jews are tired of exile. Furthermore, “I am with them in difficulty,” i.e., G-d empathizes with the Jewish people and shares their suffering, as it were, in exile. He also cannot bear the exile any longer.


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