This week’s Torah Portion begins with the Mitzva [commandment] of lighting the Menorah. The word for lighting, as we know from Shabbos candle blessing, is “l’hadlik”, to ignite. However, in this week’s Parsha, when it comes to the lighting of the Menorah, the verse says, “baha’aloscha” when you cause the candles to “go up”. The Menorah represents learning (each object in the Tabernacle were manifestations of more abstract/spiritual concepts). The Kohain was the “teacher” of the nation. He had to not just light the Menorah, he had to make sure that the flame “went up”, which could mean two things: a teacher must make the student’s ego go up, not down; and, that it is not enough to teach, but to ensure that the student is able to eventually learn independently.
And in honor of that, I offer you a re-post about someone who gave me a gift of teaching me how to let my “flame go upward.” Here it is…
My principal and teachers probably had a countdown going – how many moments until I graduated – gone from their care. The night of parting finally came, the time of saying goodbye to high school years. I sat on stage with my fellow classmates, listening to speech after speech, but my mind was elsewhere. I was wondering where on the highway my parents’ car was at that moment and when my family would walk in to see me resplendent in my graduation gown.
Since I wasn’t paying much mind to the speeches, I have no idea who the speaker was at the moment my parents walked in. I rose from my seat, blithely jumped off stage and headed back up the aisle across the hall to hug my parents. Oblivious, of course, to the fact that every eye was now riveted on me instead of the speaker. Now let me reassure you, I had no shred of intention of hurting anyone. I was just clueless. Thought it more important to greet my parents than to stay on stage. Friends later said they saw the principal purse her lips tightly, a sure sign she was greatly displeased. But as I said, I was quite oblivious, busy hugging family, then returning, back up the aisle, a short hop up to stage and back to my front row seat. (Ah, the dangers of being raised in the boonies.) The speeches finally over, we graduates got to do our formal rehearsed walk off stage and begin to greet our well-wishers and get our gifts.
As I made my way through the crowd, my path crossed that of my principal. “You,” she said in her measured, stern tone, “what was that about?” I was mystified, “What was what about?” “Where did you go in the middle of the graduation?” “Oh, that was when my parents arrived so I went to say hello.” “In the middle of…” she began intoning in her icy reprimand tone when a jolly voice broke through, right in the middle of her sentence. “Goldy! Rebbetzin!” boomed Shragie Newhouse, coming up behind the principal. We both turned to face the good-natured man who always had a twinkle in his eyes and a grin on his face. “Two great people,” he continued his greeting. “Did you know, Rebbetzin, Goldy is going to be the one of the most famous of your students. Goldy, ah! She’s mamash unbelievable.” His lilting voice carried, uplifting and complimentary. By this time, I had ascertained that my principal was not the happiest with me, so I tried to rectify Shragie’s pronouncement, “infamous, you mean, not famous.” “No!” Shragie’s voice held more promise than mine. “You’re mamesh going to be something else. Such a special neshama [soul].” And my principal had to smile and agree. Now with all three of us sporting smiles and all of us now in a jollier mood with Shragie’s presence, the rest of the conversation was positive, a proper sendoff from my principal to me being ended on an upswing.
I graduated high school a couple of months after my seventeenth birthday, not yet done with my teen years. Early twenties, too, are not that much different than teen years in terms of confusion and struggles. On bad days, even good people can out-argue the devil. Many were the roads and byways I traveled in those days with many temptations. Yet when temptation raised its head at me, I heard a booming voice say, “You’re mamesh going to be something else.” And I remembered there were folks who believed in me and I had to live up to their belief.
Our sages tell us that each person must ask themselves, “when will my deeds measure up to Moshe’s.” We are told to dream big for ourselves and believe in our big potentials. Yet, do adults make sure children believe in their big potentials? Shragie did, and for that, I am eternally grateful, for his short sentences that night of graduation have been a life preserver which has pulled me through many a turbulent time. “Such a special Neshama,” he had said. And whose isn’t, my friends, whose isn’t? Shouldn’t we tell our youth how big their potential and how special their soul?