Doing the Motions With the Emotions
Aharon did so; toward the face of the Menorah he kindled its lamps, as God had commanded Moses.(8:3)
This week's Torah portion begins with the commandment to Aharon Hakohen to light the Menorah. The Torah then confirms, "Aharon did so." Rashi explains that this is in praise of Aharon since he did not deviate from the commandment. It is difficult to understand why Aharon is praised for something so insignificant. It goes without saying that the high priest listens to God, so what praise is there to state that the he follows the commandments?!
There was once a flag boy in Russia whose job was to wave a lantern and direct the trains. One night a mistake happened which resulted in a major train accident. In Russia there is no room for mistakes. If you make a mistake, it's off with your head. The flag boy was sitting in the courtroom and the judge inquired, "Sir, were you by the tracks Monday night at 10:00 pm?"
"Yes your honor," he replied.
"Did you see the oncoming train?"
"Yes your honor."
"Did you wave the lantern?"
"Yes your honor."
The judge then said that the case was dismissed and found the defendant innocent. The prosecuting lawyer jumped up and exclaimed, "Judge, you forgot the main question! You didn't ask if the lantern was lit. Waving a lantern without the fire inside is nothing!"
The S'fas Emes explains that Rashi is coming to teach us about Aharon's never-changing attitude towards mitzvot, commandments. When Rashi told us that Aharon did not deviate from God's commandment, he was referring to Aharon's level of enthusiasm and motivation towards mitzvot. Serving God never became a matter of routine, stale or boring. On the contrary, his initial fervor and enthusiasm for the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah lasted his entire life. His passion for the mitzvah never faded; he always had a fire burning within.
Often, the frequency with which we must perform a mitzvah diminishes its importance in our eyes and it is done with less zest. Prayer turns into lip service and commandments involve merely going through the motions. One has to always make sure that he has a fire burning inside of him. Doing the motions without the emotions is not praiseworthy.