Parshat Beha’aloscha 5774 — Contrasting Aaron HaKohen’s Enthusiasm and Constancy of Service With Our Recitation of Aleinu

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Parshat Beha’aloscha 5774 — Contrasting Aaron HaKohen’s Enthusiasm and Constancy of Service With Our Recitation of Aleinu

by Moshe Burt

Our Parsha notes:

“Hashem spoke to Moshe, telling him to speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall illuminate the menorah.'” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 8, posukim 1-2, translation as rendered by R’ Aryeh Kaplan, z”l in “The Living Torah” Chumash)

“And Aaron did so, toward the face of the Menorah he kindled the lamps, as Hashem had commanded Moshe.” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 8, posuk 3 translation as rendered in the Artscroll Chumash, page 775)

Many commentators including Rashi and the S’fas Emes, as cited by by R’ Zelig Pliskin in “Growth Through Torah”, note that this posuk expresses the epitomization of the enthusiasm and constancy of Aaron HaKohen’s Service in the Mishkan as a paradigm for B’nai Yisrael to emulate.

R’ Pliskin writes (Sefer “Growth Through Torah”, Parsha Beha’aloscha, page 318):

Rashi comments: “This is to tell the praise of Aaron that he did not change.”

The S’fas Emes explained that usually when a person starts something new, he feels very enthusiastic about what he is doing. He is excited about the good he is doing and feels very motivated. But after some time passes the enthusiasm and excitement get lost. This is the praise of Aaron. Every time he lit the lamp in the Tabernacle [Mishkan] he did so with the same enthusiasm as on the first day.

R’ Mordechai Katz, in his sefer “L’lmode U’lamed (page 136) expands on the citings from R’ Pliskin in citing an unnamed commentator who provides a “psychologically-based expanation” of Rashi’s comment:

It is human nature to begin an assignment with the greatest enthusiasm. Gradually, however, this initial ardor cools. After a while, the person performs this task more out of habbit than out of devotion. But this was not the case with Aaron. He began his duties in the Mishkan with the most fervent of devotion and maintained that devotion throughout his years of service. His enthusiasm for serving Hashem never waivered. This then is what Rashi is informing us here.

Therefore, it seems clear that Aaron HaKohen’s lifetime constancy of service is l’chatchila (the way things ought to be), the paradigm for all of B’nai Yisrael to emulate for all time.

R’ Katz adds (“L’lmode U’lamed, page 136):

It is sad but true that we have become so used to many of our activities that we perform them mechanically, without any feelings whatsoever. This is why our Tefillos sometimes [?] become exercises in reading Hebrew rather than emotional communications with Hashem.

“Prayer without devotion is like a body without a soul.” (Yeshuos Meshilo)

In this context, Shem Mishmuel (translated to English by Rabbi Zvi Belovski) provides commentary on both Aaron HaKohen and the Kohanim and the service of the Levites (page 319-322). He cites Midrash Tanchuma, on Beha’aloscha 5:

…All of the tribes brought offerings, except for the tribe of Levi…. Aaron did not offer together with the other princes. He said, “Perhaps the tribe of Levi is not acceptable because of me.” Hashem said to Moshe, “Go and say to Aaron, I have prepared you for greater things than that! … As for the offerings, they are only applicable when the Beit HaMikdash stands. But the lights are everlasting… and all of their berachot which I gave to you so that you may bless My children will also never be cancelled.

Shem Mishmuel then cites Ramban from Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 8, posuk 2, and then comments:

…The whole tribe of Levi were servants of Hashem…. When the Beit HaMikdash is not extant and the korbonot are cancelled, lighting the Menorah becomes defunct. Rather, this midrash hints at the Chanukah of the Chasmonaim [the Chanukah familiar to us], which applies even after the destruction…

Thus, in place of the temporary offerings which the other tribes, Aaron was promised something which would be everlasting. The dynasty of the Chasmonaim, who were Kohanim…, fought against the Greco-Syrians in the time of the second Beit HaMikdash. They rededicated the defiled sanctuary and when they came to relight the Menorah, … one day’s quantity of oil burned for eight. In the merit of the Chasmonaim, Jews throughout the world have celebrated Chanukah celebrated Chanukah ever since.

He then contrasted the Kohanim and the Levi’im:

…The Levi… connect[s] earth to heaven. His role in the Beit HaMikdash is as a singer…. He inspires the people to turn heavenwards, lifting them from their physical limitations to the spirritual world. The Kohen, on the other hand , connects Heaven to earth. He draws Hashem’s presence into the Beit HaMikdash, the fire into the altar, and infuses the world with the Divine.

And so, whereas the offerings of the other Tribes at the inauguration of the Mishkan was temporary, the service of both the Kohanim and Levi’im are permanent, i.e. that even throughout the generations of Galut with no Beit HaMikdash, the Kohanim are able to perform Birkat Kohanim daily, or at least on Yom Tov, anywhere in the world, and the Levi’im can sing in any Shul, bringing man to lift soul to Shemayim, to the spiritual heights.

So, what does Aaron Hakohen’s enthusiasm and constancy, and the respective services of the Kohanim and the Lev’im have to do with Aleinu?

Firstly, let’s revisit this jaw-dropping comment and citation from R’ Mordechai Katz (“L’lmode U’lamed, page 136):

It is sad but true that we have become so used to many of our activities that we perform them mechanically, without any feelings whatsoever. This is why our Tefillos sometimes [?] become exercises in reading Hebrew rather than emotional communications with Hashem.

“Prayer without devotion is like a body without a soul.” (Yeshuos Meshilo)

Now, let’s look at excerpts from a piece dated 7 May, 2014 by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman (in Mishpocha magazine) “Where the Holy and Mundane Meet”:

Band-Aids, paper clips, zippers, earplugs, Bubble Wrap, tea bags: What do these items all have in common? This: They are indispensable fixtures of daily life, they make our lives much more livable — and they are taken completely for granted.

Take the lowly paper clip. Do we ever give it a second look? But try holding documents and papers in an orderly manner without a paper clip, and then you will appreciate what life would be like without one.

And what about those useful little Post-it notes? They come in all colors and sizes, and help us organize (or, in my case, un-disorganize) our activities. Our lives are filled with such ubiquitous little helpers: Scotch/cello tape, Saran Wrap, aluminum foil — all those anonymous household items that we take for granted but make life a little easier.

Atlanta’s Museum of Design is now presenting a special exhibition of these overlooked, everyday items, which they call “Hidden Heroes: The Genius of Everyday Things.”

Perhaps we should mount a similar exhibition in the museum of our minds, a …. special room featuring “taken-for-granted prayers.” Inside, you will find specially framed reproductions of overlooked but indispensable prayer fixtures of daily life. Here you will not find Kol Nidrei, or Ne’ilah, or Hallel; instead, in one corner is a framed reproduction of Ashrei (Tehillim 145), recited three times each day, 365 days a year. Ashrei is the paper clip of davening: We say it so frequently that we take it for granted, often mumbling the words while our thoughts are a thousand miles away. But Ashrei is the paper clip that keeps daily prayer together. It deserves a special gallery of its own that will remind us of its glorious role in Tehillim and in davening, and just why it opens up Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur afternoon.

The next frame would feature the Aleinu prayer. Pity the poor Aleinu, the majestic prayer that, because of its ubiquitousness, has been reduced to an exercise in speed reading at the end of the davening as we rush out to our mundane lives. The Aleinu frame would feature its provenance, its authorship (Yehoshua himself), and how it achieved its unaccustomed once-a-year recognition during the Yamim Noraim.

A third frame would show the tiny, three-letter word, Amen. Recited endless times each day by shul-goers, this is the poster child of neglected prayers. And it is a prayer, for it represents the affirmation of the brachah, or the Kaddish, that precedes it. How many people know of its crucial importance? Or that its proper pronunciation requires kavanah, or that its three letters (alef, mem, nun) stand for Keil Melech ne’eman — G-d, trustworthy King? This paper clip of our davening surely deserves a prominent place in our virtual museum.

But it seems that R’ Feldman may not have done Aleinu — Our Duty anything near its due justice.

Well, as if it weren’t enough that we blow through P’sukei d’Zimra and that the Sh’liach b’Tzibbor’s repetition of Shemona Esrei ranges between the speed of Kentucky Derby winner “Carry Back” and the 100-plus mph blur of an Aroldis Chapman fastball, not to mention slurred, mis-pronounciation or non-existent pronunciation — perhaps the cost of the glorification of one’s “chazzonut skills”; by the time we get to Aleinu, most blow through it at warp-speed in a mad rush out of shul. This author has several times previously noted that it seems as if Aleinu is but an after-thought to most. If it weren’t for Kaddish afterwards, gang-way for the stampede! So, from the beginning of Aleinu, the main focus of those saying Kaddish is to rush in a frenzy to surround the Bima — their minds and focus seemingly very far from the mission at hand — “Our Duty” — both paragraphs of it.

This mad dash described above sounds more like what R’ Pliskin subsequently writes on the above posuk (ibid – Sefer “Growth Through Torah”, Parsha Beha’aloscha, page 318):

…After doing the same thing over and over, people get bored… In order to accomplish anything, one needs to master the ability of sustaining enthusiasm…. as if it were the first time.

Aleinu L’Shabeiyach: The verbalization of OUR Chiyuv — it’s our obligation as Jews to praise and glorify Hashem’s name. Aleinu is the most often said, the most repetitious and unchangeable, yet the most under-rated, least respected, but perhaps the most important of all of our daily tefillot. Noone seemingly even bothers to take the time, when vocalizing the tefillah, to even focus on the meanings of it: that Yehoshua davened it forwards, backwards, sideways through as the Jews encircled Yericho and the Shofars blew until Yericho’s walls fell in heaps. Heck, a Shliach Tzibbor was recently timed at less than 30 seconds. He must’ve blown off the second paragraph Akhan’s teshuvah (Akhan’s repentance and striving to improve, to come closer to Hashem — to rectify his sin of taking spoils from battle) entirely.

Rabbi Ari Enkin makes this compelling statement regarding Aleinu in his Halacha Sefer (”Daled Amos” pge 24):

I have heard interpretations that the entire prayer service is simply one gigantic preparation for the recitation of Aleinu.

Rabbi Enkin then includes a reference footnote to the Mishne Berura 132:8A where the Rama tells us:

Say “Aleinu L’Shabeiyach” while standing after tefillah and be careful to daven it with kavanah.

From where and from whom did the impetus for Rabbi Enkin’s compelling statement come? R’Shimshon Pincus, who asks a startling question in his well-known and oft-referenced sefer on Tefillah; Nefesh Shimshon, as well as other sources, provide jaw-dropping citings, some of which are para-phrased here and give clues to back Rabbi Enkin’s compelling statement:

  • 1/ R’ Pincus cites a responsa of the Gaonim from sometime between 500 to 1,000 CE where someone asks: How is it possible that Aleinu is said in Chutz L’Aretz? Such a high-level tefillah shouldn’t be permitted to be davened except in a place close to Hashem, Yehoshua only davened Aleinu upon entering Eretz Yisrael.

    From this question, we see the specialness of Aleinu — that on no other tefillah is such a question asked. There must be something great, mighty and elevated in Aleinu which Gaonim felt can’t be appreciated in any other locale. This testifies to the deep and special meaning of Aleinu.

  • 2/ R’Pincus cites the Gry’z Z’l as noting that the whole power of the Yetzer Hora and its troops on the human mind is through the imagination, convincing man that he (man) is in control.

    If only man would say with vigor and strength that… [all that the Yetzer Hora has convinced man of man’s control of] are Hevel V’rik — vanity and emptiness and that there is nothing real in them, he (man) would then find it easier to recognize that… Hashem Keilokim — that there is nothing else. Afterwards, Satan would not have power to mess with man’s mind because man realizes that everything is dependent upon Him. R’Pincus brings as Aleinu’s purpose that it reinforces the feeling of the Jew, as he leaves tefillot, that he is totally dependent upon Hashem.

  • 3/ Another Sefer, L’David Shiur by Asher Elbaz seems to answer R’Pincus’ citing from Gaonim responsa citing R’Hai Gaon which indicates that by those in Chutz L’Aretz aiming their tefillahs toward Israel and toward the Beit HaMikdash, the Jewish world’s tefillahs rise to Shemayim from the Mikdash.
  • 4/ Sefer L’David Shiur cites the Rokeach who notes that Yehoshua Ben Nun repeated Aleinu on his knees in awe and in a loud voice in a tune which makes the heart rejoice. Therefore, a person should have kavanah to sing Aleinu with all of his might to his Creator. [Can this be done at break-neck speed?]
  • 5/ Sefer L’David Shiur cites the Chida which says to say Aleinu word-by-word [seeming obvious to not slur or mumble-jumble them] because it is a very awesome praise full of very high secrets.
  • 6/ L’David Shiur also cites the M’Chazik Bracha (Koof, Lamed, Bet) which indicates that there is no other praise to our Creator like Aleinu and that it is higher than all of the praises in the world.

But, yet we have the unmitigated gall to blow through Aleinu and then flee out of Shul three times a day, like kids running from school lest they be piled with more lessons and homework? Indeed! People don’t seem to realize, or they seem to discount, that Aleinu is an integral part of Our Service — Our individual and collective Divine Service. It’s Our chance to emulate Aaron HaKohen and pray for the world to cleave to Hashem — the Creator of the world and all that is in it..

And when someone questions why or how it is possible to give such short shrift to Aleinu, the responses seem to come with defensiveness, invoking oft-overused expression: “ti’erka b’tzibbor”, and with rationalization about how they have to get to work, drive the kids to Gan or to Yeshiva Ketanah, etc. — as they run out of Shul like a bunch of scared rabbits, afraid of their shadows, in dread fear of being fired, or of being yelled at by their spouse, etc. instead of acting like men.

But whose time is it anyway?? And if Hashem controls all, might it then stand to reason that, if they took a little more time — if the Shaliach Tzibbor slowed down and properly pronounced the repetition of Shemonah Essrei, even at the expense of cutting back of the “melodious” chazzonut, and didn’t rush through Aleinu, to get to the Kaddish afterwards, so that everyone could then flock out of Shul like a wild buffalo herd, that Hashem would then bring a reconfiguration to our day such that the extra time wouldn’t make kids late for school, wouldn’t makeadults late for their jobs, that all of their work would get done on time and that noone would fear for their jobs?? Or, if things didn’t happen precisely that way, that what did happen would ultimately be for the best anyway?

And could it be, that just as Hashem Gave unto the Kohanim and Levi’im eternal abilities far greater than the fleeting offerings, He Gave Kol B’nai Yisrael an eternal gift — our Aleinu prayer? Again Rabbi Enkin’s compelling comment in his Sefer:

I have heard interpretations that the entire prayer service is simply one gigantic preparation for the recitation of Aleinu.

Shouldn’t B’nai Yisrael always treat Aleinu with the same degree of seriousness to which Aaron HaKohen treated his daily service and to which Kohanim and Levi’im throughout our generations treated their respective service, with or without the Beit HaMikdash??

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.