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B'haalotekha. What does the Hasid do when the world crumbles?

As Bnei Yisrael continue their initiatory journey through their desert (lit. baMidbar), the narrative of their wanderings suddenly pauses to invite us to observe an object inside the mishkan: the menorah, the seven-branched candelabrum that has become a symbol of Judaism.

After the lighting instructions, which give the title to our parasha (behaalotekha—'when you make the light rise'), are given to Moshe for his brother, the High Priest, the text says: "And Aaron did so" (Numbers 8:3).

וַיַּ֤עַשׂ כֵּן֙ אַֽהֲרֹ֔ן

Beyond the laconic commentary, this type of mirror structure where, echoing the given instructions, the narrator informs us that what was commanded was indeed performed as instructed—is not new in the biblical narrative.

It is part of what could be called "a didactic of humility."

Often misunderstood and misinterpreted as a lack of self-worth, the notion of humility, anavah in Hebrew, is, according to Jewish tradition, the key to wisdom.

To be humble is to have a clear awareness of who we are in the world -that is, not much.

Humility arises from our ability to recognize our place as humans before the Great Mystery of the Life. And from this arises the simple, quiet greatness of wisdom, which we embody through repeated acts of devotion.

It is indeed, without naming it, such an ethic that Rashi seems to refer to in his commentary on verse 3 (following the Sifrei), when he focuses on this discursive detail, the "ken": 'yes" of "And Aharon did so".

Rashi sees in it "a praise of Aaron for he did not change," that is, he did not deviate from the divine instructions.

לְהַגִּיד שִׁבְחוֹ שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן שֶׁלֹּא שִׁנָּה

At a time when dissent is seen as the only sign of self-assertion (the famous "divestment" of the American Woke Movement), in today's paradigm of the self-referential reign of boundless subjectivity, Aharon's scrupulous obedience stands out as almost countercultural.

The Mei HaShiloakh takes it a step further.

For him, Aharon's "lo shina," (didn't change) from the faithful fulfillment of the given commandment, refers to the virtue of habit, hergel in Hebrew.

How can habit, almost as unpopular today as obedience, be a virtue?

Habit involves doing the same thing regularly.

Such is the case, phenomenologically, with daily prayers and ritual.

If in the era of zapping, swapping, and scrolling, this attitude tends to be seen as synonymous with boredom, the problem, reminds us the Hasidic master, does not lie in the action itself. It lies in its "how".

It is the way we do an action that gives it meaning—or not.

For the Mei HaShiloakh, this is the virtue of Aaron:

תמיד היה עושה את המצוה כדבר חדש שאדם עושה בשמחה ובזריזות

"He always performed the mitzvah as something new, with joy and diligence".

It is indeed devotion to the repeated act that gives it all its meaning. From this comes mastery of any Art, devotion in any Worship, and deepening, as the Little Prince taught us through the daily watering of his rose, of all Love.

The danger, for the Mei HaShiloakh, is when one acts without joy, that is, without life.

Taking a detour through the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16b) and through the wordplay between habit/hergel and festival/regel, he uses the metaphor of the neveilah (carcass) to highlight the importance of bringing life into our actions:

חייב אדם לטהר את עצמו ברגל שנאמר ובנבלתם לא תגעו.

"One must purify oneself at the Festival, as it is said: 'Do not touch a carcass"."

According to the laws of Kashrut, a neveilah is an animal that is theoretically kosher but becomes unfit for consumption when found lifeless.

Thus it is with human action devoid of its inner vitality: joy.

"It is the same," he tells us, "for one who performs a mitzvah without joy or diligence, merely as the commandments of people taught by rote: it becomes similar to something that has no life."

וכן הוא העושה מצוה בלא שמחה וזריזות, רק כמצות אנשים מלומדה דומה שאין בה חיים.

Just as at the sacred time of regel, the hergel, the habitual act, requires us to be alive in what we do.

For this, we must start by distancing ourselves from the neveilah.

The Mei HaShiloakh is not speaking here of intention but of joy in action.

Beyond the importance of kavannah/intention at the heart of human action, he takes it a step further by urging that our actions be profoundly alive- that is, filled with this true, deeper joy. The one we can feel no matter the circumstances.

We can, with the best intentions, tie our tefillin with the utmost seriousness, recite the Birkat haMazon with all the application in the world, give tzedakah, or very conscientiously visit the sick .

But here is the audacity of Reb Leiner. If this is done without joy, it is worth neveilah, a lifeless body of flesh.

The Jewish ethos remains a praise of the wisdom of doing: it is indeed only in action that one realizes the profound meaning of things.

But this, from a Hasidic perspective, must be as internal as it is external.

The action of the hasid (etymologically "one who loves" the source of Life) calls not only for the arms. It also requires the heart.

Between the mitzvah and the meaning, one doesn't need to choose. Both are needed, and one must also be alive, that is to say, in joy, in what one does.

Speaking of joy today can make us bitter.

In a context of political collapse in Israel and around the world, as the human in us tries to stay afloat amid polarizations, bad faith, actions, and real concern for the future of our societies, the notion of joy can seem such a distant horizon that such discourse might seem indecent.

And yet.

Perhaps it is precisely now that its reminder makes sense.

Once again, the Torah comes to remind us of a timeless message, the call of spiritual work to elevate us above circumstances and to continue to perform acts that will endure beyond human folly:

if we want to raise the light, we must start by lighting the lamps.

If we want to bring life into this world, we must continue to choose, without naivety and with as much humility as courage, joy.

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Jun 21
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Beautiful, deep and inspiring. Thank you, Mira. Shabbat Shalom.

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