The Cost of Light


And G-d said to Moses: “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel… And I shall cause to emanate from the spirit that is upon you, and place it upon them. And they shall bear the burden of the people together with you…”

Numbers 11:16-17

Was Moses’ prophecy perhaps diminished? No. This is comparable to a burning candle from which many candles are lit, yet its own light is not diminished. So, too, Moses lost nothing that was his…

Midrash Rabbah on verse

On the most basic level, this is the difference between physical and spiritual giving. In physical giving—as when one makes a charitable donation or lends a hand to help a fellow—the giver’s resources are depleted by his gift: he now has less money or energy than before. In spiritual giving, however, there is no loss. For example, if a person teaches his fellow, his own knowledge is not diminished—if anything, it is enhanced.[6]

Upon deeper contemplation, however, it would seem that spiritual giving, too, carries a “price.” If the disciple is of inferior knowledge and mental capability than the teacher, the time and effort expended in teaching him is invariably at the expense of the teacher’s own intellectual development; also, the need for the teacher to “coarsen” and simplify his ideas to fit the disciple’s mind will ultimately detract from the depth and abstraction of his own thoughts. By the same token, dealing with people of lesser moral and spiritual caliber than oneself cannot but affect one’s own spiritual state. The recipients of this “spiritual charity” will be elevated by it, but its giver will be diminished by the relationship, however subtly.

Indeed, we find an example of such spiritual descent in Moses’ bestowal of the leadership upon Joshua. In contrast to the appointment of the seventy elders, where he was told to “emanate” his spirit to them, Moses is here commanded to “Take Joshua, the son of Nun, and lay your hand upon him… and give of your glory upon him”[7]—not only to “lay his hand” on Joshua, but also to give him from his glory. Thus the Midrash comments: “Lay your hand upon him—like one who kindles a candle from a candle; Give of your glory—like one who pours from one vessel into another vessel.”[8]

In other words, there are two kinds of spiritual gifts: a gift that “costs” the giver nothing (“kindling a candle from a candle”), and a gift that involves a removal of something from the giver in order that the recipient should receive something (“pouring from one vessel into another”). While Moses’ appointment of the seventy elders was achieved at no cost to himself, his bestowal of leadership upon Joshua involved both elements of spiritual enrichment: “emanation” and “giving.”

At times we must indeed sacrifice something of ourselves for the benefit of a fellow. But there are also times when we might rise to a height of benevolence that transcends the laws and limitations of give and take. Times when we commit ourselves to our fellow so absolutely, when the gift comes from a place so deep and so true within us, that we only grow from the experience, no matter how much we give of ourselves.

Based on a letter written by the Rebbe in 5726 (1966)[9]

Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber


[6]. See Ibn Ezra on verse.

[7]. Numbers 27:18-20.

[8]. Midrash Rabbah on verse.

[9]. Likkutei Sichot, vol. VII, pp. 75-81.


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