When Ahron was instructed to light the Menora, we find that the Torah emphasises something seemingly out of place:
דַּבֵּר, אֶל-אַהֲרֹן, וְאָמַרְתָּ, אֵלָיו: בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ, אֶת-הַנֵּרֹת, אֶל-מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה, יָאִירוּ שִׁבְעַת הַנֵּרוֹת. וַיַּעַשׂ כֵּן, אַהֲרֹן–אֶל-מוּל פְּנֵי הַמְּנוֹרָה, הֶעֱלָה נֵרֹתֶיהָ: כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה – Speak to Ahron, and say to him; “When you rise to kindle the lights on the Menora, light seven,”. And Ahron did so; he lit the candles on the Menora, just as Hashem had commanded Moshe. (8:2-3)
Rashi picks up on how וַיַּעַשׂ כֵּן, that the person commanded did what they were meant to, is not regularly found in the Torah. Rashi explains that this is to tell the praise of Ahron, which the Sfas Emes teaches to mean that Ahron was meticulous to light the Menora every day himself, when in fact, it could have been done by any member of his family. That is to say, he retained his initial enthusiasm for the mitzva his entire life – וַיַּעַשׂ כֵּן.
Later in the parsha, we find this lesson lost:
וַיִּסְעוּ מֵהַר ה’ דֶּרֶךְ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים – They travelled from the mountain of God a three-day journey. (10:33)
The Gemara in Shabbos 116a teaches that this verse is an allusion to the Jews straying from their relationship with Hashem. They literally left where God was. Rashi writes that it was within those three days that they cultivated their craving for meat. The Ramban writes that their attitude in leaving their encampment at Sinai was like “a child running out of school.” That is to say, they left Mount Sinai – the place where they were exposed to the Torah – in excitement that the “class” was over.
The Chasam Sofer explains that had Klall Yisrael not thrown off the yolk of Torah and fled “like a child running out of school,” they never would have developed their infamous craving for meat. As the Mishna in Avos 3:5 says: “Whoever throws off the yoke of Torah, they place the yoke of drech eretz upon him.” Derech eretz here refers to physical desires.
This catalysed an unfortunate chain of events. The Jews were supposed to go straight from receiving the Torah into Eretz Yisrael. Yet, because of the attitude with which they left Mount Sinai, they developed their craving for meat. Because of their craving for meat, they were delayed for 30 days while many fell dead. This delay allowed the opportunity for Miriam to slander Moshe, causing a further delay of seven days while waiting for her purification. The episode of the spies followed, as Rashi teaches, based on the juxtaposition of the episodes of Miriam next to the episode of the spies; due to which the fate of that generation was sealed. They were to die out over the course of the next 40 years, never to reach Eretz Yisrael. It was during that time that Moshe Rabbeinu himself was denied the opportunity to enter Eretz Yisrael because of the incident where he hit the rock. Had Moshe Rabbeinu entered Eretz Yisrael, there never would have been a destruction of the Holy Temple, and the ensuing exile. History could have been drastically different.
What is clear from this is that Judaism is not only about learning Torah and doing mitzvos, regardless of one’s intentions and attitude. Chovos halevavos, duties of the heart and spirit, are critical. This point is especially important to those learning in yeshiva in a “zman,” or semester, format. Usually around this time in the zman one’s mind can wander to the summer plans and the thought “When will this be over already?” can surface. We need to take this message which these parshios are teaching us to heart. It is because this very attitude that we live here in galus all these years later.
We need to retain the state of וַיַּעַשׂ כֵּן.