Parshat BeHa’alotekha

Summary: The Book of Numbers, fourth of the Five Books of Moses, spans the 40 year period in which Bnei Yisrael wandered in the wilderness.

BeHa’alotekha  is the 3rd parasha covering chapters 8:1-12:16. It begins with G-d commanding Aharon to light the seven candles of the Menorah, continuing with the consecration ceremony inaugurating the Levites.

At the beginning of the 2nd year since the Exodus, BeHa’alotekha describes Pesah in the Wilderness and makes allowance for those ritually impure to bring their Paschal offering the following month (Pesah Sheni).

The Parasha goes on to describe how pillars of cloud and fire signalled the Israelites when it was time to move and when to set-up camp. A special pair of silver trumpets were made for broadcasting instructions to the nation. Their first journey began on the 20th day of the 2nd month in the 2nd year.

Verses describing the initial movement and setting-down of the Aron Kodesh initiated each journey. (These are set apart from the rest of the Torah text by inverted letters.)

As they began marching the people complained and a fiery plague broke out along the fringe of the camp. Realising their error, they called out to Moshe whose prayers stayed the plague.

A second group began to complain there wasn’t any meat and that a diet of Manna failed to quench their appetite compared to the delicacies they’d eaten in Egypt. In despair, Moshe cried out to G-d for help and was promised 70 elders to assist him, and that the nation would be given a month’s worth of meat. Moshe couldn’t comprehend how it was possible to find enough food for such a large population.

G-d chastised Moshe for his lack of imagination. First, a spirit of prophesy was given to the 70 elders and then flocks of quail descended upon the encampment. But those who gathered, slaughtered and ate the meat died from plague. The place was called Graves of Desire.

Miriam and Aharon spoke badly about Moshe’s wife and were punished. Miriam contracted Tsa’ra’at and was quarantined for 7 days before they travelled again.

Please look here for an Aliyah-by-Aliyah summary.

Comment: In the classic work of modern Jewish religious thought, Halakhic Man by R Joseph B Soloveitchik, he defines the purpose of mankind to bring Divinity into this material world. Unlike some who see religious life as mystical and esoteric, who wish to transcend to the supernal realms, Jews have the duty to bring Heaven down to earth. We celebrate and glorify life, aiming to reflect the light of the Divine in ordinary ways.

Dr Tali Loewenthal in his weekly Dvar Torah reminds us that Mannah (daily food provided by G-d to Bnei Yisrael) was consumed by all people – some righteous and others not. There was no discrimination as to who was worthy of collecting and consuming it.

Similarly, he suggests there is a modern-day substitute for the Mannah. Shabbat was given to the Jewish people to taste a part of the World to Come (Me’ein Olam HaBa). It is as equally accessible to those who are fully observant as to those who are on a journey toward greater observance.

The principle lesson is that what comes from Heaven is for everyone, including those of us who are less than perfectly righteous. The Talmud informs that whoever ate Mannah was better able to relate to and understand the teachings of the Torah.

Shabbat also has the ability to enrich our lives. Through family togetherness and community prayer, it brings a bit of Heaven into our world. And, if this is true for Mannah and Shabbat, how much more so for the Torah which was a Divine gift received on Sinai.

Torah is intended for everyone, one could say for all humanity, regardless of our level of commitment. Study brings spirituality into the world, into the lives of imperfect human beings. Ultimately, though, because it comes from Heaven, it will transform ignorance into wisdom, darkness into light and sadness into Joy.

Rabbi Soloveitchik’s Halakhic Man inhabits a physical world populated by real men and women, striving to live together with the Divine Presence.

After the 3rd UK terror incident in as many days, where thus far in London 8 have died and more than 40 have been injured, we pray the Almighty will comfort the mourners, bring healing to the injured; strengthen those who protect us, and enlighten us all toward living together peacefully.

May we be among those who help bring more light and blessing into a deeply troubled world!