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Speak to Aron and say to him, when you kindle the lamps, toward the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light (Bamidbar 8:2).
The word beha’aloscha in the above posuk is loosely translated as “kindle.” The literal translation of this word is “when you raise.” Indeed, Rashi comments that due to the Torah’s precise selection of this word, chazal derive that there was a platform with steps in front of the menorah upon which the kohen would “raise himself” to properly see the preparation and kindling of the menorah. The menorah was approximately the same height as an average man and the preparation and kindling of the lamps could not be seen from above and performed with precision without the kohen being elevated.
It is noteworthy that with regard to the mizbayach the Torah states, “You shall not ascend with steps upon My Altar, so that your nakedness shall not be uncovered upon it” (Shemos 20:23). Chazal teach us that instead of steps, there was a long ramp upon which the kohanim would ascend. The gradual incline of the ramp would prevent any slight exposure of the kohanims legs as they ascended. This is in contrast to the possible exposure that occurs when taking wide steps to ascent steps. Rashi there explains that the reason for this requirement was due to the holiness of the stones of the mizbayach.
We may ask, why did the mizbayach have a ramp and the menorah have steps? The reason the Torah gives for the prohibition of steps in connection to the mizbayach appears to apply to the menorah as well. The question may be compounded by noting that the mizbayach was located in the courtyard whereas, the menorah was located inside the holy chamber, a place with a higher degree of sanctity. Certainly the menorah should have had a ramp and not steps due to its own holiness and the holiness of the place.
Homiletically, we may suggest that the reason why the Torah is concerned that a kohen’s legs not be slightly uncovered is not only because of the holiness of the altar but also in order to prevent a kohen from becoming slightly embarrassed. Indeed, the first mention of the body being uncovered in the Torah is associated with embarrassment. The posuk says that before the sin of eating from the tree of knowledge Adam and Chavah were without clothing and were not embarrassed, implying that after the sin they were embarrassed (Bereishis 2:25).
The mizbayach is place were one offers animal and meal sacrifices to Hashem. This is symbolic of sacrifices that one makes in life in order to properly serve Hashem. The Torah emphasizes that when one makes sacrifices to serve Hashem he must not feel embarrassed in any way whatsoever. Embarrassment may cause regret or resentment of the sacrifices that one makes in honor of Hashem. A sacrifice must be offered with dignity and honor.
However, the lighting of the menorah is symbolic of Torah study. The Mishna teaches, ve’lo ha’bayshan lomaid (Avos 2:6), the one who is embarrassed will not succeed in his Torah study. In order to succeed in Torah study one must be willing to take the risk of embarrassment. The Torah emphasizes this by requiring the menorah to have steps in contrast to the mizbayach which has a ramp.
© Efraim Levine 5760/2000 - 5763/2003