How does the fact that it was Aharon who lit the lamps elevate their importance?
(8,2) “Speak to Aharon and say to him: When you light the lamps, towards the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast their light.”
The choice of the word בהעלתך with the letter 'beis' at the beginning and which therefore means “when you light” is strange, because Hashem is giving instructions to Aharon concerning the menorah and therefore we would have expected it to be the form of a command - "light the lamps". Another difficulty with this choice of word is that it literally means “when you raise up”, and instead it should have written בהדלקתך which does mean "when you light".
It seems to me that these difficulties are what the Midrash is coming to answer. Says the Midrash: “when you light the lamps” - we find that there were twelve tribes who brought offerings for the inauguration of the altar, but the tribe of Levi did not offer anything and they were distressed and said: Why were we distanced from making an offering for the inauguration of the altar? After the inauguration Hashem said to Aharon and his sons: All the tribes made an inauguration, but your tribe did not. Therefore, “speak to Aharon and say to him: When you light”.
It is clear from this Midrash that the lighting of the lamps was Aharon’s act of inauguration. But this itself is difficult - why did Hashem wait until now and cause Aharon so much distress. He should have commanded Aharon to also bring an offering at the inauguration in order to avoid his being distressed. Why did He wait until afterwards to give him the task of lighting of the lamps?
It seems to me that this was in order to give honour to the lamps, in order to demonstrate that they were something very great and important, so that Yisrael would not think that they are a small, insignificant thing, merely to give light to Hashem’s dwelling. This idea is brought explicitly in another Midrash wich says: “towards the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast their light” - so that Yisrael will not disparage the menorah. We see from this that there was a concern that they would disparage the menorah and consider it a small thing, and therefore Hashem wanted to show them that on the contrary, the menorah was more beloved to Him than everything, and therefore He commanded Aharon specifically to light the lamps.
We can illustrate this with a parable about a king who distributed valuable gifts to all his ministers and friends, and to one of his special friends whom he loved the most he also gave a gift. Nobody understood what this gift was, nor did they know whether it is worth a large or small amount. But since they saw that he gave all the others very expensive gifts, they assumed that the gift that he gave to his beloved friend was worth much more, and it was due to its great worth that they did not understand what it was.
Here too, everyone knew that Aharon and his sons were more beloved to Hashem than all the tribes, since they had been chosen to be the priests. So when the tribes saw how very important were the things which they had merited to give for the inauguration of the altar, and they saw that Hashem had allocated to Aharon the lighting of the lamps, it was clear how greatly superior and important were the lamps, because Aharon certainly must have been chosen for something much more important than them. Thus we see that Hashem’s commanding to Aharon to light the lamps was an honour and an elevation for the lamps, because from this Yisrael would see their great importance to Hashem.
Thus we now understand why Hashem told Aharon not to be distressed that his tribe had been pushed off from bringing offerings to the inauguration, and that because of this He was giving him the task of lighting the lamps. He should not think that it would have been better to have brought offerings together with the other tribes rather than suffering distress and as a result be given the lighting of the lamps. Because, as we saw from the parable and as the Midrash explained, it was the very fact that all the tribes apart from him had brought offerings which demonstrated the importance of the lamps, and that it was an honour for the lamps if Aharon would light them.
This is what it means “when you light (elevate) the lamps” - by your lighting of the lamps you will elevate them. When Yisrael see that Hashem allocated the lighting to Aharon, they will become very important in the eyes of the observers.
What was so praiseworthy about Aharon doing what he was commanded to do?
(8,3) “And Aharon did so; towards the face of the menorah he lit its lamps, as Hashem had commanded Moshe.”
With what we explained above we can understand the next posuk which says that “Aharon did so”. Rashi brings the Yalkut Shimoni which teaches that the Torah is praising Aharon for not deviating from that which he was commanded. This Midrash is astonishing - why would I think that Aharon would deviate from Hashem’s word, G-d forbid, and why does this point need to be made here?
But behold, the passive language of the previous posuk, “towards the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast their light”, is difficult; it should have used an active expression of command, “towards the face of the menorah you shall light its lamps”, similar to what it says in the current posuk, “towards the face of the menorah he lit its lamps”. The passive expression implies that Aharon was not commanded to set the lamps like this, but that it would happen automatically.
But it is clear from the Midrash on this parsha that the intention of having the lamps cast their light towards the face of the menorah was to demonstrate that the lamps were not for the needs of Hashem, to light up the enclosure of the Mishkan or the Beis Mikdash. They cast light on the menorah (which alludes to the whole of Klal Yisrael) to allude that the light of the menorah was in order to bestow wisdom upon Klal Yisrael, and for this reason the menorah was on the south side of the enclosure, as is well known.
According to this we can explain that it was not Hashem’s intention to command Aharon that he should set the lamps thusly, but rather the intention was to inform Aharon what would come from his lighting the menorah, that through his lighting Yisrael will realize the lamps’ great importance. Everyone will understand that the casting of the lamps’ light towards the face of the menorah was a great matter, and that the menorah was not coming to light up the Mishkan but rather to cast light, wisdom, on Klal Yisrael, and thus its benefit to them was very great.
Now, if Aharon had let himself think that the truth of the matter was that through him would come honour to the lamps, and that the benefit of the menorah would become known, then he would not have needed to light the lamps towards the face of the menorah, since Hashem had not intended that he do this, but that it would happen by itself. But Aharon was extremely humble, and therefore he could not explain that the intention was that his important status would give honour to the lamps, and that this was the intention of towards etc, and so he had to explain it according to the simple understanding, that it was a command to him to actually set the lamps to face the center.
Therefore it says, “and Aharon did so, he lit the lamps towards the face of the menorah as Hashem had commanded Moshe”, and as the Yalkut explains this is coming to praise Aharon, to tell us that in his great humility he did not deviate from the simple explanation of the posuk - that he had been commanded to do so.