Blog Behalotecha Sivan 19th 5779 בלוג בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ, י”ט סיון תשע”ט

This portion Behalotecha begins with the ordinances for lighting the menorah. What principles can we glean from it to apply to our lives today? We live in a world in which most people do not look to be a light to others, rather they prefer that the light be shone upon them. The Torah teaches us that you and I exist for the welfare of the community. The menorah pointed toward the inside of the ohel moed אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד- the tent of meeting, (which was completely dark) so that the High Priest, the Cohen HaGadol could see where he was going. It was his job to keep the flame lit. The Creator was demonstrating that we each need to continuously light the way for others.

The light of the menorah was prepared with especially pure virgin oil which wouldn’t produce smoke when lit. If we do not produce a pure light to others, we produce smoke which becomes a stumbling block for others to see the goodness of our Creator. Sadly, today, our people, directly or indirectly are becoming a stumbling block to the world. Instead of following the Torah, we have decided to be like the other nations. This dulls the clarity of the message that we as the Chosen People have been given to share with others. It is our responsibility to constantly check what type of oil we are burning.

The Levites were anointed by (Smicha) – the “laying on of hands” for all the people of Israel to witness. They, as the spiritual army of Israel, were to hold the people accountable before God for their moral turpitude because if they failed, who would be the keepers of the light? The Levites were to be the “servants” of the people, not to be served by them. I have spoken to some men here about smicha. This does not make them my servants rather they are being acknowledged by the community as true servants. The smicha doesn’t make anyone superior to the rest, rather it is a very humbling experience. Many of us have been intoxicated by the “me-first” mentality of this world. Those who are selflessly serving in their community are given little attention while the selfish, who regard themselves as Number One, are being honored. My job as your rabbi is to serve you, not be your overlord. This is very important…when we shine His light and not our own, we become a very powerful light. When our own light is too strong, we cannot show the Creator’s light.

In chapter 11, the Creator was irritated by the constant complaints of Israel. They had just left Egypt after crying out for help. The Creator gave them protection and cover as well as food and water. Here they were crying out for meat, for the food that they were “freely” given back in Egypt. Did they really have no meat? Didn’t they leave with their flocks which would be used for their offerings? It reminds me of those socialist politicians who are willing to freely give away other people’s money but give nothing of their own and instead fill their own pockets.

There’s a word הָאסַפְסֻף “asafsoof” in Numbers 11:4 used to describe those who fueled this fire of rebellion among the people. Our sages compare them with the erev rav עֵרֶב רַב or mixed multitude. This is not the case. We love to blame the outsiders for our own faults. It was the rebellious among the Israelites who failed and continue to fail today. That is why the Creator gives us the opportunity to repent and do teshuva, to return to Him and make things right. The Creator gave them meat until it came out of their noses. We are so spoiled that we don’t appreciate what we have until something happens that wakes us up one day. Finally, the people repented and made things right again.

In chapter 12, Miriam spoke to Aaron complaining about Moshe’s wife, הַכֻּשִׁית the Cushite. This was not his first wife, Tziporah since she was a Midianite. However, that is not the issue; if Miriam had a problem with her whatever the reason, she needed to go directly to Moshe to deal with it otherwise, it was “lashon harah”, gossip. Lashon harah is very destructive and affects the three people who are involved… the person who speaks about it, the person who listens and the one who is the object of the gossip. We might ask why Aaron wasn’t punished for his part in it. Although we will see later how much he suffered, here in verse 1, the Hebrew is clear. It says וַתְּדַבֵּר v’tedaber “and she spoke” not Aaron. Miriam, who was a prophetess, had played a very important part in Moshe’s life from the very beginning. It shows us that we all have our short-comings. Our lack of perfection helps us to be more humane and forces us to spend time making it right with the Creator. The people loved Miriam and didn’t move camp until she was restored after seven days of being isolated outside the camp. Moshe never judged her; he simply prayed for her. It is easy to point a finger at those who fail but we need to be careful not to judge. People can easily fall off track, so we need to be sensitive enough to help them return instead of destroying them.

All the teachings in this portion apply to us personally. We all need to be light; we are all chosen for a special role; we are all given smicha to serve the Creator; each of us complains when things are not going well. We love to make our sufferings into gods so that others will take pity on us. Stop looking for pity but be strong despite our situations because of the One who is sustaining us. When we are called to serve, let us not compare ourselves with others. The last of the Ten Commandments tells us not to envy others. Let us be glad for what they have. Be careful not to speak against others. If we have a problem with someone, go to them, caring enough about them to help them grow. The most difficult thing is to be honest because we don’t want to be judged. Moshe Rabenu interceded for Miriam: Oh LORD, please heal her! !אֵל, נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ. She learned her lesson and we have all learned through her.