“Hubris Revisited”

By Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this week’s parasha, parashat B’ha’a’lot’cha, G-d tells Moses to instruct Aaron concerning the lighting of the Menorah, the seven branched candelabra, that provides light to the interior of the Tabernacle.

In Numbers 8:3, the Torah confirms that Aaron received the message and fulfilled G-d’s instructions. וַיַּעַשׂ כֵּן אַהֲרֹן אֶל מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה הֶעֱלָה נֵרֹתֶיהָ,  כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה השם אֶת מֹשֶׁה, and Aaron did so; toward the face of the Menorah, he kindled the lamp as the L-rd had commanded Moses.

Rashi notes that the verse emphasizing that “Aaron did so,” is intended to serve as praise of Aaron, “Sheh’loh shee’nah,” that he did not deviate in the slightest from the instructions that he received.

The commentators on Rashi are perplexed. Would Aaron, or for that matter anyone, deviate from the instructions that they had received directly from G-d? What kind of praise is this then for Aaron, and what is Rashi trying to teach?

B. Yeushon, in his highly-regarded compendium of commentators, Meotzarenu Hayashan, cites Rabbi Meir of Premishlan who suggests that the purpose of stating that Aaron did as G-d had instructed, serves to underscore that even though Aaron had reached the highest spiritual level by lighting the Menorah and entering into the Holy of Holies, he did not let success go to his head and remained the same modest person that he was before–a person who “loves peace and pursues peace.” (Avot 1:12)

The Sapirstein edition of Rashi cites the Maharik who states that even though the responsibility of lighting the Menorah involved menial tasks, including preparing the wicks that were covered with soot and oil, Aaron chose to fulfill this important task himself, rather than assign it to a lay priest.

The Chatam Sofer states that the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, has the option of performing whatever procedures in the Temple service that he chooses. Although Aaron would be in charge of the lighting of the Menorah for the rest of his life, he might have assumed that on the first day following the passing of his two sons, Nadav and Abihu, someone else would be assigned that task. Instead, Aaron chose to do it himself, demonstrating to all that he accepted the Divine decree regarding the death of his sons, without question.

The Sefat Emet states that the phrase “and Aaron did so” underscores the fact that the lighting of the Menorah never became a matter of routine to Aaron. His fervor remained intense throughout his life, even though the same ritual was repeated every single day.

The Da’at Sofrim states that this was not the first time that Aaron was called on by G-d to perform an action that required great attention to detail. However, the lighting of the candelabra involved not only very specific physical tasks, but also highly intense thoughts and intentions. While the physical task of lighting the candles was relatively easy for Aaron to master, having the proper attitude, thoughts and intentions were much more challenging. Yet, he did so with full focus and total sincerity, enabling the lighting of the candelabra to achieve its utmost impact and efficacy.

There is a well-known story circulating in the Yeshiva world about a young, recently married, gifted scholar, who complained to his Rosh Yeshiva that his wife showed insufficient respect for Torah, because she had asked her husband to take out the garbage. The Rosh Yeshiva, feigning anger, told the student that the next time his wife has the “chutzpah” to ask him to do such a thing, he should immediately call the Rosh Yeshiva, and he will personally attend to the matter with dispatch.

The next time the wife asked her new husband, the young scholar, to take out the garbage, he immediately phoned his Rosh Yeshiva, who quickly arrived at the house to take out the garbage!

It is not uncommon for those who become successful in business and more elevated in stature and public esteem, to become filled with hubris.

As the Director of NJOP, I have been fortunate to meet many successful people, young and old. Not only are almost all those I have met fine and respectful, and, of course generous, they are, for the most part, exceedingly modest. Many even feel that giving charity is a privilege, and that NJOP is doing them a favor by giving them the opportunity to share in the many good deeds and good works that our organization performs.

I am often humbled by the young men and women who have studied with NJOP, who, though they began with very little, achieved unusual financial success. Yet, they feel strongly that the wealth is not theirs. Some spend hours each day dispensing charity when they could be vacationing on exotic islands or circling the world on luxury yachts.

I too learned an important lesson when my name was included several years ago on a list of the top 50 American rabbis. When I told my wife about the honor, she said to me, “Number 24, please take out the garbage.”

The fact that I have shared this story with you, shows that I still have not sufficiently mastered the fine art of modesty.

May we all learn from the example of Aaron, the High Priest, to walk humbly with G-d, and not take ourselves too seriously.

May you be blessed.