Pursuing Peace Between the Candles

Each day of Hanukah, traditional Jews read about the ritual dedication (hanukah) of the desert sanctuary (mishkan) (Numbers, Chapter 7).  Just after this passage, the Torah describes the very first lighting of a menorah (Numbers, Chapter 8), a sort of precursor to our own Hanukah candle-lighting ritual. The text tells us that God gave the honor of kindling the seven lights of the desert menorah to Aaron, the High Priest. We know that Aaron was also described in rabbinic literature as the paradigmatic ohev shalom verodef shalom (lover of peace and pursuer of peace), who honored every human being and delighted in bringing wholeness to the community.

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef HaKohen of Polnoye, (1710-1784, student of the Ba’al Shem Tov) astutely connects these two facts about Aaron, explaining that Aaron was given the sacred task of lighting the candles because he was a rodef shalom, a person able to connect the three candles on the left and the three candles on the right, each representing different aspects of truth. The Rebbe imagines Aaron standing at the center point of the menorah, treating the candles on the right and the candles on the left with the very same attention, respect, and sanctity. Apparently in the Rebbe’s time, as in our own, it was a rare person who could connect right and left, loving and honoring every source of light and sanctity in the menorah and in the community.  He imagined that it required a “Rodef Shalom,” a person devoted to the wholeness and connectedness of all members of the community, to light the lights properly.

As we light our own Hanukah candles, may we dedicate ourselves to being pursuers of peace in our lives and in the different communities of which we are a part.  May we bring full attention, caring and reverence to each and every candle, knowing that the ritual would be incomplete if any of the candles was absent.  So too, may we remember the unique and inestimable value of every person and every perspective in our classroom or community.  In so doing, may we bring even greater light to our world.


A. Ketunet Pasim, Numbers, Bahalotcha 

And this that it is said “Speak to Aaron and say to him, When you light the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the menorah (candlestick).” (Numbers 8:2). That the (candles on the) left should be merged with the (candles on the) right, so that they all become merciful, and understand this….

And it is worthy for Aaron (to light the candles in the Temple) as it is written in the Mishnah (Avot 1:12), “Be of the students of Aaron lover of peace and a pursuer of peace…”, and then it is said (Numbers 8:2) “Speak to Aaron and say to him ‘When you light the lamps,”– that they should merit to rise in the levels of completeness and unity, “at the front of the menorah, let the seven lamps give light.’” – meaning that they will all be turned towards the candle in the middle.

כתונת פסים, במדבר, פרשת בהעלותך

וזה שכתוב “דַּבֵּר אֶל־אַהֲרֹן וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹת אֶל־מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה ” (במדבר ח:ב) –  לקבל השמאל בימין, אז יאירו שבעת הנרות, שנעשו כולן רחמי, והבן….
והוא ראוי לאהרן כמו שכתוב במשנה (אבות פ”א מי”ב) “הוו מתלמידיו של אהרן אוהב שלום וכו'”, ואז “וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹת” (במדבר ח:ב) – שיזכו לעלות במעלת השלימות ואחדות, “אֶל־מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה יָאִירוּ שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת”-

רוצה לומר שיהיו הכל פונים אל נר האמצעי.

About Amy Eilberg

Amy is the director of the Pardes Rodef Shalom (Pursuer of Peace) Communities Program, helping synagogues and Jewish organizations place the pursuit of peace in interpersonal relationships at the center of their communal mission. Amy is the first woman ordained as a Conservative rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Click here to read more.

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