Shedding Light on Living Well – B’ha-alotekha 5783

D'var Torah | Numbers

The Torah (Numbers 8:3) describes that the flames of the seven branched menorah ought to give light “towards the front.” Rashi explains this to mean that all the flames in the lamps should point toward the middle light; the one in the center. For fifteenth century Italian commentator Rabbi Ovadia Seforno, the verse is more an insight into societal affairs than Rashi’s comments on the physical placement of the lamps.

Seforno explains that in society we will always find extremists: those who advocate policies and positions that are in radical opposition. Following any extreme position will only result in alienation and conflict that is detrimental to society itself. To avoid the extremes, people ought to follow the middle path, symbolized by the central light of the menorah. The motives of the extremists are not in question. Both groups are dedicated to their principles. Denying the legitimacy of the “other” will not advance anyone’s agenda. What is required is finding a middle road through respect and compromise. That is precisely the advice of Rabbi Moshe Schreiber, the Hatam Sofer (1762–1839).

Rabbi Shcreiber (Torat Moshe, Bemidbar 8:2) understands RaShI’s interpretation to be an halachic requirement. The lamps of the menorah should face towards the center.  Accordingly, he warns his readers not to deviate from the middle road. As long as Jewish Law is fully observed, one should not be too stringent or too lenient. The difference between Rabbi Schreiber and Seforno is that for Rabbi Schreiber the objective is not to find compromise, but rather, for each individual to live a life in which the extremes are altogether avoided.

Both insights offer sound advice. Seeking compromise and living by what Maimonides, after Aristotle, calls the “Golden Mean” will ultimately lead to the good of society and the good of the individual.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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