This week’s parshah starts with the command that Aharon light the seven lamps of the golden menorah in the Mikdash every day. He had to do so until the flames rose on their own.
The human soul is compared to a lamp, as Mishlei (20:27) states: “ner Hashem nishmas adam – the soul of man is a divine lamp.” The seven lamps of the menorah represented seven groups of Jews, each with a distinctive approach to serving Hashem based on its distinctive character. And just like Aharon kindled the menorah’s lamps, so too he worked to kindle the flame latent within the soul of every Jew until each “rose” and assumed responsibility to fulfill the Torah on his own.
Aharon did not accomplish this task through spiritual influence alone. Our Sages tell us that he worked to make peace between individuals and couples in ingenious ways. He didn’t wait to be approached; he sought out those who needed his help and brought peace and kindled the inner soul-flames of many individuals, leading Hillel to declare: “Be of the disciples of Aharon, [not only] loving peace [but] pursuing it, loving the briyos [created beings] and bringing them close to the Torah” (Pirkei Avos 1:12).
Note that Hillel uses the word “briyos,” implying one should take this approach even towards Jews who have no virtue other than having been created by G-d (see Tanya, chapter 32). Aharon did not help only those with special qualities or visible spiritual potential. Within every Jew is an exalted soul, “literally a part of the Divine” (Tanya chapter 2) – an inexhaustible reserve of spiritual potential that, once tapped and revealed, enables him or her to make bondless advances in Yiddishkeit.
Indeed, in our generation, we have seen countless individuals who superficially seemed lost to Yiddishkeit, yet were inspired to turn their lives around and are now ardently devoted to Torah study and observance.
Hillel also specifies that we should “bring them close to the Torah” – not bring the Torah close to them – for the Torah is not subject to change. Over the centuries, all those who modified and adapted the Torah to the spirit of the times ultimately met with resounding failure, usually leading to the tragic loss of multitudes of Jews through assimilation. Only those who insisted that the Torah remain in its full pristine grandeur and refused to tamper with any of its essential principles have succeeded in bringing many alienated Jews closer to the Torah.
Of course, great Torah leaders in every generation explain the Torah’s principles in contemporary terms to make them understandable to those influenced by the prevailing culture. Furthermore, when encouraging Jews to fulfill mitzvos they didn’t grow up observing, we take into account the difficulties they may experience. Obviously, most will be unable to jump into a totally observant lifestyle all at once. But we don’t say, as some compromisers do, that not all mitzvos are valid today – that you can pick and choose from a menu of Jewish observances, fulfilling those you find personally meaningful and discarding the rest.
Instead, we explain that the Torah is a total lifestyle involving many facets. Even those of us who have always been totally committed to the Torah are continually improving ourselves – trying to absorb every nuance of conduct desirable according to the Torah – and we may never fully complete this life-long task. Accordingly, we say: If you find it difficult to start observing all the mitzvos at once, try to observe one or more at a time and gradually working up from there. That way, we preserve the Torah’s completeness and avoid undermining its integrity, and we simultaneously open a path through which those new to Torah observance can start getting involved.
Aharon’s special approach to attracting every Jew to come closer to the Torah is a challenge to all of us. Each of us should feel a personal responsibility to become one of his disciples, working to illuminate our own lives and the lives of those around us until the flames we kindle rise on their own and all the flames merge into a single worldwide flame that brings Moshiach very soon.
(Based on teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe)