I would like to title this, the final D’var Torah of the 2018-2019 school year, “The student has become the teacher and the teacher has become the student.” Two of the most central elements of this week’s Parsha, B’halotcha, come by way of unexpected reversals. The first relates to the lighting of the Menorah in the Mishkan and the very name of the Parsha itself, “B’halotcha.” At the beginning of the Parsha we learn about the Menorah – We learn about what the Menorah looked like in its dimensions and form and the Parsha opens with the expectation that Aaron and the other Kohanim will be responsible for lighting the Menorah.
The word used for “lighting” the Menorah is unexpected, B’halotcha, which comes from the root עלה to elevate or raise up as opposed to the typical root used for lighting, דלק (as in להדליק נר של שבת). The most obvious reason for this word, B’halotcha, is because the flames raise up and there is an association with flame and height. The Midrash Tanhuma takes a reverse approach, however, for why the Torah uses this unexpected verb. It is explained that the lighting of the Menorah served to elevate the holiness and the merit of the Kohanim who were lighting the candles, not the other way around. So while the Kohanim were lighting the candles of the Menorah, the Menorah was elevating the Kohanim.
Following that, the Levites are all elevated when they are appointed to service in the Mishkan. However, again, this ritual seems to be reversed from the expected. While you might expect that the ritual process of elevating the Levitical status would come from Aaron, Moses or even God, part of the ritual of appointing the Levites involved the Israelites placing their hands on the Levites. We often think of placing hands on someone, ritualistically, as a top-down model of conferring status but in this case the power came from below. The followers conferred the power to their leaders in an ultimate sign of equality and respect.
So both of these elements of the Parsha describe unexpected reversals of hierarchy. We would think that the Menorah is lit by the Kohen, but the word B’halotcha implies that the Kohen’s motivation is sparked by the Menorah. And we would think that the Levites would transmit holiness to the other members of B’nai Yisrael, but we learn that the Israelites are charged with transmitting the holiness upwards. And I must say, on behalf of the faculty and staff, as I look back on this school year, the students were very much our teachers. They motivated us as much, or even more, than we motivated them.
Student leadership and student centered initiatives were a major focus of our entire school program. Creating more opportunities for students to shine was a priority for us. Our teachers worked hard to facilitate moments when students could learn from one another, both inside and outside of the classroom. Each student grew, matured, and changed in remarkable ways that are much easier to notice as we look back on the scope of the entire year. I know that we as a faculty and staff are motivated to do our work because of these moments of growth and advancement. Though we may have mastered our disciplines over the course of more years of study, there is no doubt that the most effective teachers and motivators this year were our students.
We are grateful to our teachers. We are grateful to our students. We are elevated in holiness because of our profound work of education, a work that we all partner in during the course of the year. We are leaving the 2018-2019 school year on a high of accomplishment and pride, and we will only get higher when we come back from the summer for another wonderful year. Have a restful, enjoyable, and well deserved summer vacation everyone! L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!