Parashat Beha’alotekha begins with a brief discussion of the menorah, the kindling of which is referred to with the verb a.l.h., conjugated here as “be-ha’alotekha” – “when you kindle.” This verb, which normally means “rise” or “ascend,” is used in reference to the kindling of the menorah also in other contexts (Shemot 25:37, 27:20 and 30:8; Vayikra 24:2).
Rashi, commenting here on the word “be-ha’alotekha,” explains that this verb is used to indicate that the candles of the menorah must be lit in such a way that “shalhevet ola mei-eileha” – “the flame rises on its own.” The source of Rashi’s interpretation is the Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (21a), and Rashi there explains that the flame must be independently steady, without the need for any human intervention after kindling. The Gemara establishes on this basis that the wicks and oils used for the kindling of the menorah in the Beit Ha-mikdash must be of the type that produce a steady flame which does not flicker and thus does not require any human involvement after its kindling.
Symbolically, this halakha has often been viewed as reflecting the essence of religious education. The menorah is commonly understood as a symbol of the “light” of Torah, and thus the kindling of the lamps of the menorah has been explained as symbolizing the process of education, of using our “flame” to produce new flames by raising and teaching youngsters. The goal of education is that “shalhevet ola mei-eileha,” the youngster should become independently motivated and driven to follow the Torah’s commands without having to rely on the teacher’s constant involvement and instruction.
Rav Yechezkel of Shinova, in Divrei Yechezkel, suggested an additional symbolic explanation of this halakha. He writes that although it is not possible for us to immerse ourselves exclusively in Torah study, given our physical and material needs which we must attend to, nevertheless, we must all strive to have the “flame” of the Torah’s values and teachings “shine” for us throughout the day, at all times. And the way we can do this, the Divrei Yechezkel writes, is by “kindling” the “flame” in such a way that it “shines” on its own, even when we are not involved in learning. If we learn with passion, with attention, with reverence, and with a genuine desire to be molded and guided by the Torah’s words, then the “flame” will remain steady throughout the day. Just as the lights of the menorah were to shine throughout the night (and, according to some views, throughout the day) despite not being actively lit, similarly, we are to strive to be inspired and guided by the light of the Torah at all times, even when we are not actively engaged in Torah. And this is done by ensuring that our periods of study are substantial, and approached with seriousness, fervor and focus.