R’ Moshe Hauer: Parshas Behaaloscha – “Repetition & Renewal”


Life can be boring – even mind-numbing – if we keep doing the same thing day after day. While doing things without thinking may be helpful for multi-tasking, it is not good for the spirit.

The challenge and the opportunity of boring routine is the subject of a classic Chassidic thought shared by the Sfas Emes. Our Parsha begins with Moshe instructing Aaron about the daily ritual of lighting the Menorah, following which the Torah says that Aaron did so. Rashi cites the Sifrei that notes how the verse is sharing the praiseworthiness of Aaron, l’hagid shiv’cho shel Aharon she’lo shina, that he did not deviate from Moshe’s instruction.

This is surprising. While obedience is a valuable trait, it would hardly seem to be so exceptionally praiseworthy. Aaron indeed followed the instructions sent specifically to him by G-d via Moshe Rabbeinu. Wouldn’t you do the same?

Sfas Emes therefore suggests a more creative reading of the words “shelo shina,” which typically translates as “he did not deviate,” but can also mean “he did not repeat.” What was praiseworthy in Aaron was that his daily Mitzvah never became a mindless repetitive action. He never repeated it; it was always an original and novel experience. As the Talmud (Berachos 29b) says when defining the negative phenomenon of routine in prayer, oseh t’filaso keva, the challenge lies in the inability to introduce novelty of perspective and experience, kol she’eino yachol l’chadesh bo davar. And as famously noted by Ramban in the name of the Midrash at the end of last week’s Parsha (7:12), what appears as repetition or copying is not that at all when the act is infused with novel and personal perspective and meaning.

It is striking that this solution to the challenge of repetition is embedded in the term itself. A fascinating feature of the Hebrew language is that the same term is used for precisely opposite meanings, antonyms. As “repetition” is the opposite of “change,” the Hebrew term shina is used for both repetition and change! We avoid repetition by creativity of perspective. The very opposite of mind-numbing!

One of my teachers, Rav Moshe Shapira zt”l, used to note that while as people of faith we speak of the entire world being renewed and recreated constantly, “hamechadsh b’tuvo b’chol yom tamid maasei bereishis,” fire is the one element in creation where even the physics professor will acknowledge that this moment’s fire is entirely different than the next. Perhaps that is why the lesson of renewal, this battle with repetition, is best demonstrated in the lighting of the fire of the Menorah. And it is only our own fiery passion about our lives, our families, our faith, and our work, that will spare us from becoming hardened by repetition and routine.

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