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Parsha and Manuscript: Beha’alotecha – 'Why does the candelabrum follow the dedication of the altar: A missing commentary'

Thursday, 11 June, 2020 - 4:50 pm

MS. Canonici Or. 35, fol. 163 (1401-25).pngIn the Torah portion of Beha’alotcha it discusses the kindling of the Menorah following the description of the twelve-day inauguration of the altar by the princes of the tribes of Israel. It states,[1] The Lord 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 question arises: why is the kindling of the candelabrum in the Tabernacle juxtaposed with the inauguration of the altar? It does not seem to have happened in this order chronologically, as the kindling of the candelabrum seems to have occurred before the inauguration of the altar by the princes of the tribes, immediately when the Tabernacle was completed.[2]

 

In this essay we will present the interpretations given to explain the reason for juxtaposition of the lighting of the candelabrum by Aaron and the inauguration of the altar by the princes of the tribes through the Midrash with a focus of how the commentary of Rashi appears to bring the reasoning of the Midrash. In particular, we will try to explain why the reasoning of the Midrash is omitted in all the Oxford manuscripts of Rashi though included in a single marginal note in the 17th century Chumash and now in all the printed editions.

 

Midrash: Aaron was distressed

 

In the Midrash Tanchuma[3] and Bamidbar Rabba[4] it explains the reason for the juxtaposition of the lighting of the candelabrum by Aaron and the inauguration of the altar by the princes of the tribes is because after Aaron witnessed the offerings of the princes in the inauguration of the tabernacle, he felt distressed that he was not included in these offerings. For this reason G-d comforted him with the commandment to light the candelabrum. The Midrash Tanchuma states:[5]

 

“When you set up the lamps.”[6] You find that, when twelve tribes presented offerings at the dedication of the altar, the tribe of Levi did not offer anything. They were depressed and said, “Why were we removed from making an offering at the dedication of the altar?” A parable: To what is the matter comparable? To a king who made a banquet and each day invited various artisans. Now he had a certain friend who he loved exceedingly, but he did not invite him along with them. So he was depressed saying, “Perhaps the king harbours some grievance against me in his heart. Perhaps it is for this reason that the king has not invited me to any of the feasts.” When the days of the feast had passed the king called the friend and said to him, “For all the people of the province I made that feast, but for you only I am making one single feast for yourself. Why? Because you are my friend.” So this king is the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. You find that the twelve tribes brought offerings for the dedication of the altar and the Holy One, blessed be He, accepted them, as stated:[7] “Take it from them.” But the tribe of Levi did not bring an offering. When the dedication of the altar had passed, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Aaron and his sons, “All the tribes have made a dedication. Now you make a dedication by yourselves.” It is therefore stated:[8] “Speak unto Aaron and say unto him, ‘When you set up the lamps,’” and afterwards it is written:[9] “Take the Levites.”

 

A similar reasoning is given in another Midrashic teaching:[10]

 

What is it that is written just before this passage? It says:[11] And it came to pass on the day that Moses had made an end of setting up the Tabernacle that the princes of Israel offered, and after that:[12] Speak unto Aaron, and say to him: When you light the lamps. This bears on what Scripture says:[13] O fear the Lord, ye His holy ones; for there is no want to them that fear Him. You find that eleven tribes brought offerings, and the tribe of Ephraim brought an offering; in fact, all the princes brought offerings except the prince of Levi. Who was the prince of Levi? It was Aaron; for it says:[14] And you shall write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi. Now Aaron did not bring an offering with the other princes, and so he thought: Woe is me! Perhaps it is on my account that the Holy One, blessed be He, does not accept the tribe of Levi? The Holy One, blessed be He, therefore said to Moses: ‘Go and tell Aaron: “Do not be afraid! You have in store for an honour greater than this!”’ For this reason it says:[15] Speak to Aaron, and say to him: When you light the lamps. The offerings shall remain in force only as long as the Temple stands, but the lamps shall always give light in the front of the candlestick, and all the blessings with which I have charged you to bless My children[16] shall never be abolished.

 

MS. Canon. Or. 81, fol. 132 (1396).pngIbn Ezra: G-d communicated during the night

 

Ibn Ezra explains the reason for the location of the commandment about the lighting of the candelabrum is not because of a juxtaposition with the offering of the princes of the tribes but rather with the passage that appears immediately before the lighting of the candelabrum by Aaron about how G-d communicated with Moses in the Tabernacle:[17] ‘When Moses would come into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the voice speaking to him from the two cherubim above the covering which was over the Ark of Testimony, and He spoke to him.’ The purpose of the commandment about the lighting of the candelabrum is to indicate that the time when G-d would communicate to Moses would be during the night, similar to the time when the candelabrum remains kindled – during the night-time - and is not extinguished.[18]

 

Nachmanides: Scripture did not want to interrupt the sacrifices

 

Nachmanides[19] explains a further reason for the juxtaposition: due to the fact that the Torah first desired to complete the subject of the construction of the Tabernacle and the sacrifices that immediately followed and then move to a new subject – the candelabrum. It would not have made sense to interrupt the completion of the subject of the offerings with another even though in chronology of events it took place earlier.

 

Rashi: Aaron was distressed

 

Ibn Ezra and Nachmanides follow a more literal reading of the text that the reason for the juxtaposition is to either fill in a detail about the subject that was spoken of immediately prior – the communication of G-d to Moses took place during the night or to complete one subject before moving to another. Rashi however follows the interpretation of the Midrash that the reason for the juxtaposition is due to the distress of Aaron feeling excluded from the offerings of the princes of the tribes. Rashi states:

 

When you light: Why is the portion dealing with the menorah juxtaposed to the portion dealing with the chieftains? For when Aaron saw the dedication [offerings] of the chieftains, he felt distressed over not joining them in this dedication-neither he nor his tribe. So G-d said to him, “By your life, yours is greater than theirs, for you will light and prepare the lamps.”

 

MS. Huntington 389, fol. 19 (1301-1400).pngSource

 

As mentioned, the comment of Rashi appears to be similar to the Midrash Tanchuma and Rabba mentioned above, that the reason for the juxtaposition is that Aaron was distressed over his omission from the offerings of the princes of the tribes. Nachmanides writes that the source is in fact from Midrash Aggadah in Megillat s’tarim by Rav Nissim Gaon (990-1062), part of which was recovered in the Cairo Geniza.[20] Interestingly, however, this comment of Rashi, while it is found to be quoted as a commentary of Rashi by Nachmanides it is not found in any of the Oxford manuscripts of Rashi[21] and also not in the Bomberg Chumash with Rashi’s commentary (1518 and 1547) or in the Amsterdam Chumash with Rashi commentary of 1680. It is also not quoted in the 16th - 18th commentaries of Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi (1455-1526), Rabbi Judah Loew (1520-1609), Rabbi David Halevi Segal (1587-1667) and Rabbi Shabbetai Bass (1641-1718).[22]  In the printed Dehrenport Chumash with Rashi commentary (1693) it appears to have been added by hand in the margin of the Rashi commentary. It was subsequently at some point added in all contemporary printed editions of Rashi’s commentary on the Chumash.

 

Questions

 

Based on the above discussion, we would like to ask the following questions: 1.Why does Rashi not follow the more literal interpretation of Nachmanides and Ibn Ezra. 2.  Why is the comment of the Midrash in the Rashi commentary omitted in all the manuscripts, though it appears to have been in the medieval copy of Rashi’s commentary belonging to Nachmanides, indicating that it was in an earlier manuscript of Rashi’s commentary.[23] 3. Why was it then added again into the commentary as found in contemporary printed editions. 4. If the comment was initially added and subsequent included again, why didn’t Rashi follow the comment more closely to the text found in the Midrash Tanchuma and Rabba.[24]

 

MS. Michael 384, fol. 99 (1399)a.pngDistress because of dedication, not service

 

We will explain this by first explaining what exactly the reason for Aaron’s distress was. The commentaries on the Midrash explain that the distress of Aaron was not the fact that he did not take part in the offerings, since in fact Aaron was the one who offered up the offerings of the princes of the tribes and had a far greater role in the service of the offerings in general than the other princes; Aaron offered the daily offerings and the festival sacrifices and other offerings. His distress was the fact that he did not take part in the dedication of the altar.[25] The comfort then came in the form of not merely that Aaron was given the service of the candelabrum that was of greater virtue than the offerings, since it was kindled inside the inner courtyard, as opposed to the outer courtyard where the offerings took place,[26] but rather that the lighting of the candelabrum that Aaron performed was itself the dedication of the candelabrum. Being that the service of the candelabrum is more sacred than the offerings on the altar, as indicated by its location in the Tabernacle and Temple,[27] its dedication is also greater than the offerings and Aaron has nothing to feel distressed by the fact that he was left out from the dedication of the altar by the offerings of the princes of the tribes.

 

Chronology – first lighting and then offerings

 

The idea that Aaron was distressed about the fact that he was omitted, not from the service of the princes of the tribes, but from the dedication, is consistent with the fact that Aaron had in fact performed the service of the lighting of the candelabrum before the offering of the princes of the tribes. The chronology of events was as follows: the Tabernacle was constructed on the first of Nissan and the kindling of the candelabrum and the daily offerings began on the same day[28] - as recorded in Exodus[29] and mentioned in the Talmud.[30] This was then followed by the twelve days of the dedication of the altar by the offerings of the princes of the tribes. While the service of the lighting of the candelabrum occurred earlier, the distress of Aaron about the insignificance of his lighting of the candelabrum as its dedication occurred either on that day when the offerings of the princes of the tribes began or after they had been completed. The linking of the two texts in the Torah – offerings by the princes of the tribes and the lighting of the candelabrum - is intended to clarify this chronology: they are juxtaposed only to explain how Aaron was comforted by the omission in the dedication after seeing the dedication of the princes of the tribes of the altar – but not that the service of the lighting of the candelabrum actually took pace at that point for the first time. The comfort then was to inform Aaron that his lighting of the candelabrum was in fact its dedication.[31]

 

Chumash Dehrenport (1693).pngRashi selection not from Tanchuma and Numbers Rabba

 

Based on this understanding of why Aaron was distressed, consistent with Rashi’s view of the chronology of events, we can explain why Rashi does not bring the text of the first Midrashic text above, as it appears to state that the lighting of the candelabrum in fact took place after the offerings by the princes of the tribes: ‘When the dedication of the altar had passed, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Aaron and his sons, “All the tribes have made a dedication. Now you make a dedication by yourselves.”’[32] Rashi also doesn’t bring the second midrashic text above, since it appears to focus on the omission of Aaron and his tribe from the service of the princes of the tribes, as opposed to the dedication. This is indicated in the response that focuses on the eternity of the lighting of the candelabrum – ‘the lamps shall always give light in the front of the candlestick, while the offerings shall remain in force only as long as the Temple stands’ - as opposed to its lighting by Aaron at that time.

 

Why the commentary was omitted

 

A reason why the commentary about the juxtaposition was left out from the commentary of Rashi in all the manuscript versions may have been due to a different understanding in the comment of Rashi. As mentioned, the comment of Rashi appears to be a paraphrasing of the Midrash Tanchuma and Numbers Rabba about the distress of Aaron having seen the offerings by the princes of the tribes. Based on this interpretation of Rashi’s commentary – that it’s merely paraphrasing of the Midrash that after the offering by the princes of the tribes, Aaron was distressed of having been left out, and then comforted by the lighting of the candelabrum – it is inconsistent with the view of Rashi himself who follows the view of the Talmud that the lighting of the candelabrum by Aaron took place on the first of Nissan before the offerings by the princes of the tribes.

 

Based on the interpretation of the commentaries of the Midrash[33] that Aaron was only distressed about his omission from the dedication of the Tabernacle but his actual service in lighting of the candelabrum took place earlier - consistent with the view of Rashi about this chronology, the comment of Rashi that clarifies this[34] is included once again in his commentary, as found in all contemporary printed versions of Rashi’s commentary.

 

Finally, the reason why Rashi does not follow the reasons for the juxtaposition given by Ibn Ezra and Nachmanides – that the communication of G-d to Moses took place during the night similar to the kindling of the candelabrum or, to complete the subject of the offerings before moving to another subject - the kindling of the candelabrum - is because they are both problematic in different ways, as pointed out by the commentaries. Ibn Ezra’s reason is problematic, as Nachmanides points out, because G-d communicated in prophecy to Moses during the day time, not the night.[35]  The problem with Nachmanides’ reason is that the text of the Torah gives the impression, according to his interpretation, that it is out of chronological order.[36] If it is possible to explain the text in a way that it is in chronological order, as explained according to Rashi, it is a preferred interpretation.[37]

 

Conclusion

 

We posed a question about the reason for the juxtaposition of the offerings of the princes of the tribes in the inauguration of the altar and the lighting of the candelabrum. We gave three interpretations: a. due to Aaron’s distress of being left out of the offerings, b. its connection with how G-d communicated to Moses – at night time, like the lighting of the candelabrum and c. to complete the subject of the offerings first before moving to the candelabrum. The reason that Rashi follows in the contemporary printed editions of Rashi is that Aaron was distressed.

 

A key question we posed was: why is this comment of Rashi found in his commentary in the medieval period as quoted by Nachmanides but omitted in every 12-15th century manuscript at Oxford, among others early manuscripts, but found again to have been inserted in the 17th century as a marginal note in Rashi’s commentary and found its way into the printed edition nowadays. An explanation for this is because the exact reason for Aaron’s distress was explained by later commentaries on the Midrash to have been due his omission in the dedication, as opposed to the service of the princes of the tribes, in the Tabernacle. In this light, the service of kindling the candelabrum came in fact before the offerings by the princes of the tribes, while the complaint of Aaron about his omission in the dedication of the Tabernacle became relevant afterwards.  Since this understanding of the chronology of events – kindling of the candelabrum first and then offering of the prince of the tribes - is consistent with Rashi’s view, following the Talmud, it validates the commentary of Rashi, perhaps thus facilitating its return back into the commentary as an authentic commentary of Rashi.

 

 

 


 

Footnotes: 

 

[1] Numbers 8:1-2.

[2] Talmud Gittin 60a-b: ‘Rabbi Levi, as Rabbi Levi says: Eight sections were said on the day that the Tabernacle was erected, on the first of Nisan. They are: The section of the priests (Leviticus 21:1–22:26); the section of the Levites (Numbers 8:5–26); the section of the impure (Leviticus 13:1– 14:57); the section of the sending away of the impure (Numbers 5:1–4); the section beginning with the words “After the death” (Leviticus, chapter 16); the section dealing with priests who have become intoxicated with wine (Leviticus 10:8–11); the section of the lamps (Numbers 8:1–7); and the section of the red heifer (Numbers, chapter 19), as all of these sections are necessary for service in the Tabernacle.’ Rashi on the Talmud comments that ‘the section of the lamps’ refers to Beha’alotecha because on that day (1 Nissan) they kindled the Menorah. See also Rashi on Numbers 5:2.

[3] Midrash Tanchum Beha’alotecha 3.

[4] Bamidbar Rabba 15:3.

[5] Midrash Tanchum Beha’alotecha 3.

[6] Numbers 8:2.

[7] Numbers 7:5.

[8] Numbers 8:2.

[9] Numbers 8:6.

[10] Bamidbar Rabba 15:6.

[11] Numbers 7:1.

[12] Numbers 8:2.

[13] Psalms 24:10.

[14] Numbers 17:18.

[15] Numbers 8:2.

[16] The priestly blessing.

[17] Numbers 7:89.

[18] Iben Ezra on Numbers 8:2. Nachmanides rejects this interpretation since G-d in fact communicated to Moses during the daytime (Mechilta Bo 1; Numbers 12:6).

[19] Nachmanides on Numbers 8:2 and 9:1

[20] he.wikipedia.org/wiki/רב_ניסים_גאון.

[21] CCC MS 165 (12th c.), fol. 107, MS. Oppenheim 34, fol. 80 (1201-25), MS. Canon. Or. 81, fol. 132 (1396), MS. Huntington 389, fol. 19 (1301-1400), MS. Michael 384, fol. 99 (1399), MS. Canonici Or. 35, fol. 163 (1401-25), MS. Huntington 425, fol. 18 (1403), MS. Oppenheim 35, fol. 77 (1408).

[22] Likkutei Sichot 18:92, footnote 1.

[23] It does appear however in the copy of the Rashi manuscript edited by his student Rabbeinu Shemarya - MS Lepzig 1: https://rashi.alhatorah.org/Dual/Rashi_MS_Leipzig_1/Bemidbar/8.2#m7e0nf.

[24] Differences include the use of the word chalsha dato as opposed to metzerin, amongst other differences. Likkutei Sichot 18:94, footnote 22.

[25] Maharzu on Numbers Rabba 15:6. Aaron was distressed for not having participated in the Chanukah (dedication) from his own money and not because of the avodah (service) since Aaron and his sons in fact were the ones who offered up the offerings of the princes of the tribes. The lighting of the candelabrum however came from communal funds. The comfort of Aaron, according to the Midrash, then was, as Nachmanides explains, the fact that the lighting of the candelabrum was greater since they lasted for eternity - also post Temple - in the form of the lights of the Menorah on the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. The explanation of this point in the essay that focuses solely on the idea that distress of Aaron was due to his lighting of the candelabrum not having the status of ‘dedication’ is argued by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson in Likkutei Sichot 18:94.

[26] Maharzu on Numbers Rabba 15:6.

[27] Maharzu on Numbers Rabba 15:6.

[28] Chidushei Agadot on Talmud Gittin 60b.

[29] Exodus 40.

[30] Talmud Gittin 60a-b: ‘Rabbi Levi, as Rabbi Levi says: Eight sections were said on the day that the Tabernacle was erected, on the first of Nisan. They are: The section of the priests (Leviticus 21:1–22:26); the section of the Levites (Numbers 8:5–26); the section of the impure (Leviticus 13:1– 14:57); the section of the sending away of the impure (Numbers 5:1–4); the section beginning with the words “After the death” (Leviticus, chapter 16); the section dealing with priests who have become intoxicated with wine (Leviticus 10:8–11); the section of the lamps (Numbers 8:1–7); and the section of the red heifer (Numbers, chapter 19), as all of these sections are necessary for service in the Tabernacle.’ Rashi on the Talmud comments that ‘the section of the lamps’ refers to Beha’alotecha because on that day (1 Nissan) they kindled the Menorah. See also Rashi on Numbers 5:2.

[31] Likkutei Sichot 18:94-101.

[32] Likkutei Sichot 18:93, footnote 14.

[33] Maharzu on Bamidbar Rabba 15:6.

[34] Likkutei Sichot 18:93, footnote 14.

[35] Mechilta Bo; Numbers 12:6: ‘and He said, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!”

[36] Likkutei Sichot 18:93, footnote 13.

[37] Likkutei Sichot 18:93.

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