I. "To cause a lamp to burn (literally, to ascend) continually" (Exodus 27-20) - that the flame should ascend of its own. (Sifra on Leviticus 24-2)
This expression of ascending, describing the act of kindling a lamp, is only employed in respect of the candelabrum in the Tabernacle. It alludes to the action of the priest in applying the flame to the wick, which is ready to be kindled continually "until the flame ascends of its own". The task of the teacher of Judaism is to make himself superfluous to his pupils. It is not his function to keep the people - the ordinary folk who receive instruction from him - continually dependent on him. (Hirsch)
(a) Explain what the menorah and the act of its kindling symbolized in Hirsch's view. Where can you find support for symbolism in other parts of the Scripture?
In Rabbi Hirsch's view the menorah and its kindling symbolize the process of Torah education. The Kohen is the teacher who motivates his students (the wicks) with the sparks of Torah's message. Once the students absorb this initial light, they will be able to expand and enrich it on their own so that consequently they will be totally enveloped by its illumination.
A number of verses in Tanach can be cited to support this symbolism:
Proverbs (6-23) states: For the commandment is a lamp and Torah is light...
Proverbs (20-27) states: The soul of man is the lamp of the lord.
Psalms (119-105) states: Thy words are a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Light in general is used in Tanach to refer to Israel's role and function. The prophet Isaiah (49-6) stated: ... I will make you for a light unto the nations ....
(b) Where in the Torah can you learn that one of the functions of the priest was to teach the Torah?
From the blessing in Deuteronomy (33-10) that Moshe conferred on the tribe of Levi (from which the Kohanim descend) we find a description of the Kohen's functions: "They teach thy laws to Jacob , thy Torah to Israel; They place incense before thee, and burnt offerings upon thy altar."
The above verse is confirmed by the prophet Malachi (2-7) "for the lips of the priest guard knowledge, and Torah they seek from his mouth...."
(c) Whom is Hirsch criticizing when he describes the true relationship that should exist between the priest and the ordinary people, his disciples?
Rabbi Hirsch is directing his remarks to teachers with the message that they should not simply transmit information to their students without also giving them learning tools and skills, motivating them to ask incisive questions and undertake study initiatives on their own. Each day we pray that we be worthy "to learn and to teach...." Thus each learner must eventually become a teacher. Only a student who became independent of the teacher, can successfully ignite others with sparks of Torah's blazing light. Our challenge is to become worthy of fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy (above) and becoming a "mamlechet Kohanim" - a kingdom of priests/teachers both amongst ourselves and unto the whole world.
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman
veteran yeshiva educator (USA)
now residing in Jerusalem