Emor III - THE OLD MAN
WE READ in the Torah concerning two important functions that the kohanim-the priests-had to perform in the Sanctuary: placing the lechem ha-panim-the show-bread-on the table, and kindling the Menorah.
In discussing the significance of these services, the sages relate a fascinating story concerning the High Priest Simeon the Just. They say that during the forty years that he officiated as kohen gadol, there was a blessing in the show-bread. No matter how small a share was apportioned to a kohen, he was satiated and satisfied. During the same period, the Menorah burned brightly in the House of God. And when Simeon entered the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur, he had a vision of a Zaken echad lavush levanim, of a patriarch garbed in white, who entered and made his exit with him.
One year the High Priest was shocked and chagrined by what had transpired. On Yom Kippur he noted that there was a dramatic change in the garb of the Zaken who walked with him. Instead of the bright colors in which he had appeared for so many years, the patriarch was lavush shecharim-dressed in black. Furthermore, nichnas imo velo yatza imo-"he entered but did not go out with him." That, however, was not the only change that took place that year. "A curse set into the show-bread." It no longer satiated the kohanim, who began to look for sustenance elsewhere. And to his utter dismay, Simeon noticed that the Ner Maaravi-the Western Light of the Menorah-was extinguished (Yoma 39 a and b).
At first this story sounds rather mysterious and bizarre. Upon closer analysis, however, one can discern in it a commentary on Jewish life. Those of us who remember the not-so-distant past can recall the prominent role that the Zaken-symbol of our ancient heritage-has played in our lives. Torah was the much-loved and benevolent ruler of our people. The Zaken was lavush levanim-dressed in attractive garb. His teachings and way of life were appealing in our eyes. We did not find any faults or flaws in him. Nichnas imo ve-yatza imo. The Zaken accompanied us through the Ages. When we entered our Sanctuaries--the Synagogue and the Bet Hamidrash-that venerable patriarch was beside us, and when we departed from those holy environs and entered our places of business, our shops and fields, he accompanied us. He taught us the rich and ennobling message of Sinai, and guided us to deal fairly, honorably and kindly with our fellow beings.
Is there any wonder that the Jew was a sameach be-chelko-that he was satisfied with the lechem ha-panim-with the lot that was apportioned to him by the Almighty? He felt that each morsel came to him mi-shuichan Govoha- from the table of the Lord. He shunned greed and seldom murmured against the dispensations of God. He had no grandiose ambitions to conquer worlds, or to chase after vain honors and power.
Need I stress that as a result of such a sound philosophy, the Menorah of Judaism burned brightly and warmed our hearts and our homes? You and I know that the study of Torah was a privilege shared by a vast majority of Israel. The rabbi and layman, the professional and craftsman, young and old were convinced that Talmud Torah k'neged kulam-that "the study of Torah excels them all (Peah 1:1; Sabbath 127a). In every sizable community there was a Talmud Torah, a Yeshiva and study groups for Mishnah, Midrash, Talmud and Psalms. The lamps of learning were lit, and the Zaken was respected and beloved by all.
In the past number of decades however, a radical change took place. The Zaken lost his halo and became a burden to many. People began to find fault with his "ancient" ways, and to complain that he interfered with their freedom to do as, when and what they please. They said that he was out of date, out of place and out of style; that he was lavush shechorim-unattractive and sad. In many places the Zaken continued to be tolerated only once a year, on Yom Kippur. Nichnas imo. He entered the Sanctuaries with a vast number of Jews on the holiest day in the year, but velo-yatza imo, but was not permitted to accompany them when the Service of the day was concluded. The rest of the year he was treated as a stranger and an unwanted guest.
What was the result of such a negative attitude? The story in the Talmud and the story of life give the same answer: nishtalcha meorah belechem ha-parnim. We work, toil, rush and break our backs in an effort to satisfy a voracious appetite for wealth, honor, glory and power, and fail. There is little of contentment and happiness in the lechem ha-panim that is ours; we are deprived of serenity and peace.
Fortunately, there was a she'erit hapleitah-a remnant of clear-visioned and far-sighted men and women-who did not abandon the Zaken. They evinced their reverence and need for him by inviting him to their homes and places of business. It is that small group of loyal and valiant Jews who refueled and rekindled the Menorah-who built Synagogues and centers of learning. If the Ner Maaravi is flickering and its brilliance is increasing with every passing day, credit is due to the tireless efforts of those stalwart devotees of the Zaken of Israel. May their tribe increase!