What's Bothering Rashi? Parshat Be'halot'cha: And Aaron Did So
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Be'halot'cha(Numbers 8-12)

And Aaron Did So

The rule for understanding Rashi: Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Numbers 8:3

"And Aaron did so. Toward the face of the menorah he kindled its lamps as Hashem had commanded Moses."

 

RASHI

And Aaron did so - RASHI: [This is stated] in order to tell the praise of Aaron, that he did not deviate.

Those familiar with Rashi will recall that he has made similar comments on other verses in the Torah. (See Exodus 12:28; Leviticus 8:36; 16:34; Numbers 8:22.)

Our analysis here is relevant to Rashi's comments there as well.

Let us begin our analysis somewhat differently this time. Do you know what prompted Rashi to make this comment?

Your Answer:

 

WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?

An Answer: These words are totally unnecessary. Of course Aaron did what Moses told him to do. Would we have expected him to be insubordinate? So the Torah does not have to mention this at all. It should be obvious that Aaron fulfilled this mitzvah. Thus these words are unnecessary.

This is what's bothering Rashi. How does Rashi deal with this?

Your Answer:

 

UNDERSTANDING RASHI

An Answer: Rashi says that these apparently extra words tell us that Aaron fulfilled the mitzvah exactly, without the slightest deviation. This phrase then, is necessary because it tells us of Aaron's faithful fulfillment of God's command.

But, this is a strange statement. What would you ask on this comment?

Your Question:

 

QUESTIONING RASHI

A Question: It is strange to say that Aaron should be praised for doing as he was told. What is so special and deserving of praise if Aaron did as he was told to do? The question is especially cogent when this is a command from God. Most of us would follow faithfully any mitzvah for which God singled us out personally, by name, to do. Why, then, is Aaron entitled to any special mention for this?

 

SOME SUGGESTED UNDERSTANDINGS OF RASHI

Before we go on to see Rashi's important message, let us look at two explanations of this:

 

  1. "This teaches us that Aaron carried out this mitzvah personally and did not assign the task to one of the other Cohanim, even though it included the menial aspect of preparing wicks involving soot and oil."

     

    This explanation raises a simple question: If I were in that situation, would I assign a mitzvah given to me by God to someone else? Certainly not; and it is hard to imagine that Aaron would do so.

     

  2. "Aaron did not deviate from his initial fervor in carrying out the mitzvah. It never became a matter of routine for him."

     

    This explanation raises other difficulties: This verse is speaking of Aaron on his first day of his work in the Tabernacle. How can we deduce that his fervor did not wane later on? Secondly, where does the Torah refer to Aaron's fervor? It says "he did so." It doesn't say how he did what he did.

There is an important point to make here. If we are to fully understand Rashi's brilliant work, it is not sufficient to give an explanation for his words. We must search for a reasonable explanation. Rashi wrote his commentary to be understood in a reasonable way; it is for us to think reasonably, likewise in our effort to probe the depth of his thought.

Do you have a reasonable explanation for this comment?

Your Answer:

 

UNDERSTANDING RASHI

An Answer: All our assumptions may be correct – it is obvious that Aaron would do what he was told to do; it is equally obvious that we too would have fulfilled this command to the letter, since it is a divine command given to us personally. It is, therefore, no big revelation that Aaron did what he was told to do without deviating, and the Torah needn't have told us this. What is a revelation is that the Torah did make a point of mentioning his obedience. The explicit mentioning of Aaron's positive behavior - even though his behavior wasn't unusual - is precisely the lesson Rashi is telling us. We must take Rashi at his word quite simply. He wrote, "This is in order to praise Aaron..." This verse, as Rashi's comment shows us, teaches us the importance of acknowledging recognition for any good act, no matter how unexceptional it might be.

 

THE EDUCATIONAL LESSON

There is a cynical saying that goes, "No good deed goes ... unpunished!" Unfortunately, that may be so (occasionally) in human affairs, but the Torah tells us how God deals with people and how we should also deal with people. No good deed, however obvious, should go unrecognized. The important educational message here should be evident. When a child, a student, a spouse or a worker does good work or a good deed, even though we expect it of him, we must always show recognition for his positive behavior, acknowledge it and hold it up for praise. A good act remains a good act, whether it is exceptional or not.

 

Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek


Published: June 8, 2005

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