SALT - Motzaei Shabbat, May 8, 2021

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The Torah in Parashat Bamidbar begins its detailed description of how the various components of the Mishkan were transported when Benei Yisrael traveled in the wilderness.  They were all carried by the Leviyim, with the materials being distributed among the three families of the tribe of Levi – Gershon, Kehat and Merari.  In discussing the articles assigned to the family of Kehat, the Torah informs us that one distinguished member of this tribe – Elazar, the son of Aharon – was assigned the ketoret (incense), the oil used for kindling the menorah, the flour used for the daily mincha offerings, and the anointing oil (4:16).
            The Ramban cites the comment of the Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbat 10:3) that Elazar was able to carry all these materials because he was blessed with unusual physical strength.  After all, the Ramban writes, Elazar carried with him a year’s worth of incense and a year’s worth of oil for the menorah, which was a considerable amount and thus very heavy.  The Ramban notes that a full year’s worth of oil amounted to 183 lug, as a half-lug was used each night, 365 nights a year.
            A number of later writers noted that the Ramban, curiously, includes only the oil used for just one of the seven lamps of the menorah.  A half-lug was needed each night not for the entire menorah, but rather for each lamp, and thus, seemingly, the quantity of oil carried by Elazar was actually seven times more than the 183 lug mentioned by the Ramban.
            Rav Meir Dan Platsky, in Keli Chemda, suggests that the Ramban worked off the assumption that indeed, Elazar carried only the oil needed for one of the seven candles.  The kindling of the menorah is valid even if only one lamp is lit – despite the fact that, quite obviously, they all optimally must be kindled – and so it sufficed for Elazar to carry only one candle’s worth of oil.
            Rav Moshe Sternbuch, in Ta’am Va-da’at, offers a much different explanation of the Ramban’s comments.  In his view, when the Torah writes that the incense, oil and flour were “pekudat Elazar” – “the assignment of Elazar,” this does not mean that Elazar was required to personally carry all these materials.  Rather, these materials were placed under his charge, and he was required to see to it that they were transported.  In his great love for mitzvot, however, Elazar decided to carry a large amount of the materials, despite the difficulty this entailed.  And so, Elazar took the amount of oil needed to kindle one lamp throughout one year, and left the rest for other members of the family of Kehat to carry.
            Rav Sternbuch adds that Elazar’s decision serves as an example of taking personal action, rather than conveniently delegating responsibility to others.  While on the one hand, we cannot, of course, complete every task ourselves, and we must be prepared to share the burden with others when necessary, on the other hand, delegating more than we need to often reflects a degree of apathy and disinterest.  When it comes to mitzvot, our passionate commitment to serve God should lead us to enthusiastically “carry” as much as we reasonably can, rather than delegating our burden purely for the sake of convenience.  We should joyously bear the “weight” of mitzva observance, appreciating the great privilege we have to serve our Creator.