Yesterday, we noted Rashi’s famous comment explaining why the mitzva of kindling the menorah in the Beit Ha-mikdash is reiterated in the beginning of Parashat Behaalotekha. Based on the Midrash Tanchuma, Rashi writes that Aharon felt distressed over having not participated in the festive inauguration of the altar, which was celebrated by all the other tribal leaders offering special sacrifices. In order to reassure Aharon and alleviate his uneasy feelings, God reminded him of the great privilege he had to light the menorah each day.
Rav Aryeh Leib Baron, in his Yesamach Chayim (p. 184), offers a novel explanation of Rashi’s comments (in addition to the first approach Rav Baron suggested, which we mentioned yesterday). He writes that the Torah here refers not to the daily kindling of the menorah, but rather to the initial kindling on the day of the Mishkan’s inauguration. Rav Baron notes the Rambam’s ruling in Hilkhot Bi’at Mikdash (9:7), based on the Gemara (Yoma 27), that the kindling of the menorah does not require a kohen; this mitzvah can be fulfilled even by a non-kohen. Already the Ritva (cited by the Kesef Mishneh) raises the question of why God here in Parashat Behaalotekha directs the command regarding the kindling of the menorah specifically to Aharon, if any member of Benei Yisrael can perform this ritual. Rav Baron answers this question by suggesting that the command here relates specifically to the initial kindling with which the menorah was formally consecrated. Although a non-kohen is generally eligible to kindle the menorah, the formal consecration of the menorah when the Mishkan was inaugurated required specifically Aharon. As a precedent to this concept, Rav Baron notes the famous question surrounding the Chanukah miracle, as to why the Chashmonaim did not kindle the menorah with impure oil, in light of the halakha permitting performing the Temple service in a state of impurity if most of the nation is in such a state (tum’a hutra be-tzibur). The Chiddushei Ha-Rim answered that while performing the service in a state of impurity is generally allowed under such circumstances, in the case of the Chashmonaim, they needed to rededicate the Mikdash after it had been defiled by the Greeks. And when the Temple is formally consecrated, the Chiddushei Ha-Rim asserted, tum’a is unacceptable, even in a situation where the majority of the Jewish Nation is in a state of impurity. Rav Baron suggests that if, indeed, stricter standards apply when the Mikdash is formally inaugurated, then we may consider the possibility that specifically Aharon needed to perform the initial kindling of the menorah, even though this mitzva can normally be performed by a non-kohen.
On this basis, Rav Baron explains Rashi’s comments. He writes that God pointed to Aharon’s initial kindling of the menorah as an example of his unique stature. The twelve nesi’im offered special sacrifices to celebrate the Mishkan’s inauguration, but what effected the consecration of the altar was the service of the kohanim who tended to the sacrifices – not the nesi’im’s gesture. Just as the menorah’s consecration required specifically Aharon’s kindling, likewise, the altar’s formal consecration was effected specifically by Aharon and his sons, and not by the tribal leaders. And thus although Aharon did not offer special sacrifices along with the other nesi’im, he was reassured with the knowledge that the formal consecration of the altar – like that of the menorah – was effected only by the kohanim.