-Rabbi Tzachi Lehman-
The parasha opens with the following psukim: “Hashem spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him: ‘When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah.’”
The Sages in Midrash Rabbah juxtapose the commandment to light lamps in the Temple with a pasuk from Psalms: “Even darkness will not obscure [anything] from you, and the night will light up like day; as darkness so is the light,” and ask why Hashem commands man to light lamps in the Temple, as certainly Hashem does not require that man provide him with light!
The Sages answer through a parable: “To what may it be compared? To the case of a king who had a friend. The king said to him: ‘I want you to know that I shall dine with you. Go then and make preparations for me.’ His friend went and prepared a common couch, a common candlestick and a common table. When the king arrived there came with him ministers who encompassed him on this side and that, and a golden candlestick preceded him.
His friend, seeing all this pomp, felt ashamed and put away all that he had prepared for him, as it was all common. Said the king to him: ‘Did I not tell you that I would dine with you? Why then did you not prepare anything for me?’ His friend answered him: ‘Beholding all the pomp that accompanied you, I felt ashamed and put away all that I had prepared for you, because they were common utensils.’ ‘By your life!’ said the king to him, ‘I shall discard all the utensils that I have brought, and for love of you I shall use none but yours!’ So in our case. The Holy One, blessed be he, is all light, as it says: “And light dwells with him,” yet he said to Israel: ‘Prepare for me a candlestick and lamps.’”
Through the parable, the Sages explain that the king’s desire to be hosted by the “commoner” is not a result of the host’s unique hospitality, but rather an expression of the emotional connection between the king and the host. The essence of our relationship with Hashem is not for us to provide Hashem with something physical that he is otherwise lacking, but rather to provide us with an opportunity to express our love for Hashem. When giving is an expression of affection, it is not measured in the value of the gift itself, but rather in what it represents. The monetary value of the item is secondary to the emotional expression that the gift embodies. The gift of a flower from a man to the woman he loves represents an emotion whose value completely transcends the monetary value of the flower.
In my opinion, the Sages’ use of a parable in their explanation of this idea provides that these principles be relevant not only with respect to the relationship between Hashem and man, but also with respect to interpersonal relationships between man and his fellows. The question addressed by the Midrash is not only one of our philosophical approach to Hashem, of what is the essence of His need for mankind, but also of a deep, existential human feeling of futility when compared with the awesomeness of God. This feeling can be present not only in our
relationship with Hashem, but sometimes also in relationships between people of different background or social stature. A person of lesser economic means may sometimes feel insecure when facing a person of greater wealth or status. A person with a physical or other disability may sometimes feel that having a real relationship with “regular” people is virtually impossible. Life often presents us with relationships that begin on uneven ground, in which someone starts out as the “king” and the other as the “commoner.” One party is opens with higher status than the other. This is the reality that the parable brings to the forefront.
It is interesting to note that in the parable it is the commoner who is ashamed to host the king, thus leading him to put away all of the utensils he had prepared for the king’s visit. The commoner is the one who measures his ability to provide on a monetary scale; he is the one who feels insecure in the relationship. The Midrash does not address the reality of the upper classman, but rather focuses on the member of the lower class and encourages him to feel secure and meaningful in his relationship with members of higher classes in society.
According to the parable, the king feels affection toward the “commoner” and wants to have a relationship with him. The king desires the commoner’s affection, not his money, and therefore does not take his financial capabilities into consideration. According to the parable, the member of the higher social class is not interested in finding someone of similar financial means to his own, but rather in discovering the affection and warmth that are found in members of other social classes besides his own.
I have been told numerous times by people with elevated financial or other means that they feel constantly measured within their own class solely based on their abilities and accomplishments, while their relationships with their “peers” are lacking in true affection. This brings them to search for affection in other social classes, even if these are considered “lower” than their own. The warmth and depth of a relationship between people, or between man and Hashem, is not measured in accomplishment or social achievement, but in the depth of the feelings themselves.
Rabbi Tzachi Lehman is the co-director of the Tzohar organization