In The Public Eye by Rabbi Steven Finkelstein


There are several occasions where Halacha emphasizes the importance of performing a Mitzvah with others as a group.   The lighting of the Menorah is unique in that we require the presence of an audience in order to fulfill the Mitzvah properly.  It is for this reason that we are careful to place our Menorot in a place with maximum visibility to the outside. We also select a time when our Menorot can be seen by the greatest number of people.  We do not want to light to early in the day while people are still at work.  We also are careful not to wait too late when most people will have already returned to their homes for the night.  In fact, the Mishna Brura (672:11) instructs that if one comes home very late at night, he should wake up a member of his household (and drag him out of bed) so that he can serve as an audience for the lighting of the Menorah.  While the primary goal of having this audience is Pirsumei Nisa, publicizing the miracle that Hashem performed for us, it also serves a secondary purpose.  Knowing that an audience will observe our Menorot encourages us to light our Menorot with the utmost care and concentration. 

When someone else is watching us we have an added incentive to put our best foot forward. We make an extra effort to complete the Mitzvah with love, enthusiasm, and meticulous care to detail.   Our heightened level of care and enthusiasm for this Mitzvah helps to remind us that by lighting the Menorah we are commemorating the Macabim who entered the Beit Hamikdash with renewed excitement, enthusiasm and devotion following the conclusion of their war with the Greeks.   Indeed, human nature causes us to present ourselves well when we are in the spotlight of the public eye.  The Torah reading this week takes this idea one step further.  The Torah tells us "Vayishma Reuven Vayatzilehu Miyadam,” (Genesis 37:21).  The Rashba points out that in this Pasuk the Torah goes out of its way to highlight for us the Mitzvah that Reuven performed by saving the life of his brother Yosef.  In fact, he concludes, as a matter of Halacha it is appropriate to write and publicize the name of a person who performs a Mitzvah.  At first glance this Rashba is difficult to understand.  Would we really want to set up a system that encourages people to perform Mitzvot in order to receive public recognition and praise? 

The Midrash tells us that had Reuven realized that God was recording his action in the Torah, he would not have simply done the bare minimum in saving Yosef's life, but he would have taken Yosef on his shoulders and returned him to the safety of his father's home.  The awareness that we perform better when we know our deeds and actions are being observed and recorded can be helpful information.  How do we use this information to help improve ourselves as human beings and bring us closer to Hashem? The Midrash goes on to explain, telling us that we should live our lives with the vision of Eliyahu Hanavi watching and recording our every action.  As we light the Menorah and read Parshat Vayeshev this Shabbat we are reminded of the words “Shiviti Hashem Lenegdi Tamid.” G-d is always in the audience watching and recording all of our actions.

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