19 Sivan 5776 פרשת בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ, י”ט סיון, תשע”ו
In this portion we read about the smicha which is the laying on of hands which signifies that a person is chosen for a special role or that we are transferring authority to this person. All the Levites would receive smicha because they would be the ones who would replace the first born males of Israel. The hand placed upon the animals doesn’t mean that the person is transferring his sin to the animal as payment for those sins although this has been taught in other religions. Rather, the animal is the means by which we can “draw closer” to the Creator and then He would accept this offering known as “Korban” from the Hebrew root meaning to draw near or approach.
Finally after two years, the people would finally be able to leave the base of Mount Sinai and begin the rest of their journey to the Promised Land. During these two years, they had been formed into the various camps surrounding the Mishkan and the Levites had been organized to perform their functions within it. The twelve princes of the tribes were now presenting their offerings and were being honored at this inauguration of the Mishkan. Why did the menorah come at this point? Our sages say that it was in order to honor the Levites who had not been able to present any offerings since they owned no property. They would have a special aliyah — beha’alotekha where they would ascend in order to light the lights of the menorah.
Our Creator told the people now that they were getting ready to head out to conquer the land and not to worry because He would be with them. He would be our cloud by day and fire by night. We would never be alone. He promised to take care of us. I want to bring you some ideas of leadership. We Jewish people see ourselves as very human, not perfect. Our Torah does not contain stories of super-heroes, quite the contrary — those who are our heroes failed but our Creator kept working with them, giving them the option to return to Him and to make things right. That is true teshuva. Next we read about the construction of the trumpets with their various sounds in order for the people to be alert and alive; a certain sounding would call all Israel to attention, another would call for the leaders, another would call Israel to war. Then out of nowhere we read about Hobab ben Reuel who was the father in law of Moshe, also known as Yitro or the son of Yitro. He knew the ways of the desert and we see Moshe begging him to be his eyes in the desert. How could he be doing this when our Creator had just promised that He would lead the people through the desert to the Promised Land? This demonstrates the humanity of Moshe Rabbeinu. The Torah always reminds us that we are just like our heroes, human and prone to failure. Moshe finally accepts the decision and Hobab leaves.
Next starting in Numbers 11:1, we read about the complaints of the people. Why were they complaining? I disagree with our sages who say that it was the fault of the “ha’safsuf” – הָאסַפְסֻף (vs 4) which is translated as either the “mixed multitude” or the “rabble”. I believe that this is doing a disservice to the Word of God. It is more logical that the complainers would have been the upper class. They were the ones who had lost the most. Remember, they were complaining about not having “the fish we used to eat in Egypt or the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic…withering away because there was nothing to eat but this manna!” The lower class would have not have had these luxuries nor did they have a good life back in Egypt. They would have been happy with whatever they had. Within this period of their first two years in the wilderness, the people of Israel had already forgotten what our Creator did for us. Moshe complained to our Creator — who was he to bear all these people upon his shoulders alone, how he would bring them meat. He said to Him, “they are your people, not my people”. Moshe was fed up with the people. When you are in leadership, at one point you may want to give up and run away. You complain about the good that all you were trying to do and the people don’t respond, just complain and turn on you. Were the people right or wrong? They wanted meat but where did they get the animals for sacrifices? Hadn’t they left Egypt with all their flocks and herds and weren’t all the animals offered except for the “ola” given as food for the people? That is human nature. We don’t want to spend what we have but we want to be given everything for free. They wanted a free ride. Can you relate this to so many of us today? Israel would now suffer the consequences of their disobedience. They would eat meat until it came out of their noses. This is not the first time that this had happened. How many times can we as humans fall in the same trap? Even a donkey won’t step into a hole a second time.
Moshe asked for help so our Creator asked him to bring Him 70 leaders. He would give to them a portion of the spirit He had given Moshe. Two other men Eldad and Medad were added to these men later giving us again an idea of our own humanity. There are two terms here that are important – ruach (spirit) and navi (prophet). The meaning of the word prophet has been changed today to mean someone who sees the future. The navi is a guide to lead us on the right path, warning us what not to do; to wake up our conscience. Yeshua our Messiah was a true prophet leading us onto the right way. The ruach, the spirit is almost a synonym for shechinah meaning to dwell. It means that His Presence is among us. When we receive His Presence it is in order to elevate us for a special role. Our humanity is displayed when Eldad and Medad started to prophesy alone in the camp and Joshua complained to Moshe to stop them. Moshe told him instead that he wished that all Israel would do as they did and be prophets. This would be so that we the people of Israel would be a light to guide all humanity. This is pictured in the menorah which was the light to illuminate the darkness. All Israel today were meant to be like the Levites who ascended to light the menorah in order to light up the world.
At the end in chapter 12, we read about Miriam speaking against her youngest brother Moshe to Aaron, the second brother. It says that Miriam spoke (the verb in Hebrew is in the singular feminine) to Aaron and here it infers that he listened. She spoke badly about Moshe’s wife, (cushit – כֻשִׁית in Hebrew meaning someone from Cush – also a dark person) and instead of Aaron stopping her, he lent an ear. We can see here that Miriam was jealous of her brother’s calling and authority. She thought, didn’t she also have power? And Aaron says nothing! We must not accept what everyone says and remain silent when it is wrong; we need to speak up.
Next we read that Moshe was the most humble of all men. The word humble in Hebrew comes from the word anav – עָנָו poor referring to poor in spirit. Those who know that they are strong can afford to be humble. I once walked on the street with a friend who was a champion in martial arts. Three bullies started to bother us and I was waiting for my friend to beat them up. Instead he gently spoke to them apologizing for bothering them. They felt good about that and left. This guy could have destroyed them with one finger but he didn’t need to prove anything. When we have nothing to prove, we can be humble. Moshe spoke to face to face with the Creator. He didn’t need to show off.
Miriam had taken care of Moshe all her life and now would pay for her “lashon harah” against him. There is a beautiful prayer in verse 13 by Moshe to the Creator: “El na refana la” – אֵל, נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ , “Please God, please heal her”. He didn’t say look at what she did to me, she deserves it. Instead he prayed for her. Here we have a beautiful teaching – the prayers of the righteous avail much. That is why we pray and intercede for each other. He brings us refua shalema.
When our creator gives us a role of leadership, let us take it very seriously and be ready for problems because they will come. The leader is not at the top but at the bottom. He is always in the front, not in the back. We will go through hard times but that is the time to remember the easy times and in the easy times, remember the hard times. If Miriam, Aaron and Moshe suffered for their mistakes and short-comings, how much more will we. Let us not complain but be grateful that He is taking care of us. He is the God of beginning again. Our Messiah Yeshua was also a most humble man, always pointing us toward the Torah and advising us to go in the right direction. When we take away his humanity, we do a great disservice to him. He relied on the Creator for all things showing us that like Moshe Rabeinu that we cannot do things on our own and reminding us that the Creator will always be there with us. True healing begins within, at home; true repentance starts at home. No one will do this for us. Believing that someone else will take all our problems on their shoulders for us and we get off easy is a cop out. When a baby starts learning to walk, he will fall down over and over again. That is a picture of our life. Our Creator allows us to continually fall so that we have to learn to get up and finally stand on our own two feet.