PARASHAT BEHA'ALOSCHA

 

Torah Reading: Numbers 8:1-12:16

Haftorah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7

 

After the dedication of the Sanctuary -- the portable Temple and repository of the Torah -- the Children of Israel were almost ready to start the journey to the Land of Israel. The purpose was to fulfill the mission of Abraham, the founding father: to take the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem so that the light of the Torah would shine from Mount Moriah to the entire world.

 

The opening sections of BEHA'ALOSCHA set forth some final details relating to the Sanctuary and its services (the lighting of the Menorah, the inauguration of the Levites and their service, the law of the Second Pesach). The Torah then relates the miraculous Divine providence visible in the encampment and journeyings of the Children of Israel in the wilderness. The sections dealing with the Sanctuary conclude with the command to Moses to make trumpets, after which the Torah relates the Children of Israel's momentous first journey from Sinai towards the Promised Land.

 

UNTIL THE FLAME GOES UP BY ITSELF

 

Rashi explains the thematic connection between the opening verses of BEHA'ALOSCHA, about the Menorah, and the concluding section of last week's Parashat of NASO:

 

"When Aaron saw the dedication offering of the Princes of the Tribes, he became demoralized because neither he nor his tribe was with them. The Holy One blessed be He said to him: By your life, yours is greater than theirs, because you kindle and tend the lights" (Rashi on the opening verse of our Parashat).

 

The Consecration of the Sanctuary and the offerings of the Princes were events of cosmic significance containing the keys of creation -- but they were one-time events. The service of Aaron and his tribe were daily.

 

The service of the Priest (Aaron, Chessed) is to light the Menorah. Each one of us is the Priest in charge of the lighting of our own Candelabrum: allowing the light of DA'AS, the understanding of Yahweh, to shine out from its source, in the Sanctuary, before the Holy of Holies, into our souls, minds and hearts. But how can we attain DA'AS?: "An amazing wonder is DA'AS, it is exalted far above me, I cannot reach it" (Psalms 139:6). How can a human being possibly attain the light of DA'AS, knowledge of the Infinite Yahweh? This is the work of the priest, whose task is to tend the lights and kindle them.

 

We tend the ears by heeding the words of the wise and their reproof. We tend the nostrils by breathing into ourselves the fear and awe of Yahweh, knowing that our very lives depend upon Him. We tend the mouth by not speaking falsehood -- EVIL SPEECH.

 

The priest must light the lamps "until the flame goes up by itself". When we do our work of tending the lamps, as detailed above, DA'AS will come upon us of itself, and we will be able to understand things that we could not understand before. DA'AS is obviously a spiritual understanding which we may not even be able to put into words. Spiritual understanding is metaphorically called "light", and "shines" in the form of "Seven Clouds of Glory" (i.e. from all directions). These are a surrounding canopy of holiness. From this canopy -- dark in relation to its Infinite Source, but a protective cloud radiating light to the camp below) shines the light of DAAS. The way to attain this light is by tending the lamps of the Menorah, as above. (Likutey Moharan I:21).

 

THE LABOR OF THE LEVITES

 

After the account of the daily service of the Priest (CHESSED) in each one of us, we come to the inauguration of the Levites (GEVURAH) and their service: the guarding of the Sanctuary/Temple and singing during the sacrificial services.

 

In the Generation of the Wilderness, the Levites carried the parts of the portable Sanctuary on the journeys. The highest service was that of carrying the golden Ark of the Covenant through the wilderness until it would reach its place in the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem. From there the light of the Torah would shine to the entire world.

 

It is said of the carrying of the Ark of the Covenant that, while its bearers were apparently carrying it, in truth it was carrying its bearers. However, this was a one-time service of the Levites in the Generation of Wilderness. After the entry into the Land of Israel, the essential service of the Levites that remained for all times was that of singing during the Temple services.

 

Why does this require GEVURAH? It may seem that singing is a simple, pleasant task that should be associated with CHESSED. Yet we see with our own eyes how hard it is to sing. It's not the singing itself that is so hard: in fact, once you start, like the Ark of the Covenant, which carried its bearers, the song carries you. What is hard is to START singing.

 

This is sadly apparent in today's MIKDASH ME'AT, the "portable Temple" that should be the Sanctuary of the Children of Israel in all their habitations, the BEIS HAKNESSES, the House of Gathering of the Children of Israel -- the SYNAGOGUE. There are some in which a good (or bad) Chazan is paid to sing, and occasionally a choir, and this may be inspiring. In many, however, there is an embarrassed prayer leader and a heavy congregation reluctant to get any form of SINGING.

 

It is this heavy, depressed reluctance to start singing (people start looking at their watches) that must be overcome with GEVURAH, forcing ourselves to sing. The act of "force" need not be brutish. Often all that is needed is just starting to lightly hum the NIGUN (melody), then keep going until the grace and beauty of the melody itself takes over, and the Ark of the Covenant carries its bearers.

 

The commandment of the Service of the Levites completes the account of the Sanctuary indicating the supreme importance of song in the Temple/Synagogue Service. Singing in prayer is a unique human ability that even the angels wait to hear. It is the crowning moment of the Service. We may want to hurry the prayers so we can get away from the Synagogue, but instead we "slaughter the animal", "offering ourselves" and stand there singing instead. The song is made up of air, RU'ACH, spirit. The song is GEVURAH, sifting the animal RU'ACH, the side that wants to run away and occupy ourselves with the secular world, from the uniquely human RU'ACH -- the air of our songs. This air or RU'ACH is the vessel through which the even higher faculty of DA'AT is able to enter and dwell, and then everything is complete: the Meat is on the Table (the offering), the Lights are kindled (the Menorah) and the Choir are singing.

 

THE SECOND PESACH

 

"The Second Pesach" has two senses in connection with our Parashat. In the first sense, so far there had only been one Pesach: the night of the Exodus from Egypt. The celebration of the one-time Second Pesach, a year later, free in the Wilderness, recipients of the Torah, with the Sanctuary newly erected, was itself an event. It showed that the Exodus, as the foundational event of the People, was henceforth to be institutionalized as an annual experience with the slaughter of the lamb on Passover.

 

The offering could only be offered by those in a state of ritual purity. So central to the attachment of the Individual to the Nation is this annual offering (failure to bring the offering makes one liable to excision) that some provision had to be made for those who were unable to bring it in its proper time on 14 Nissan. This might be because they were far away and unable to reach the Temple, or because of defilement for any one of a number of naturally recurrent reasons (contact with the dead, menstrual impurity, etc.) Accordingly they were given a "second chance" on the annual PESACH SHENI, Second Pesach (in the second sense of the term!) institutionalized now in Torah law.

 

The Torah narrates in our Parashat how this vital national law, integral to the annual functioning of the Temple as the central focus of the Children of Israel, came to be revealed because when Yahweh commanded them in the wilderness to observe the one-time "Second Pesach" on 14 Nissan, one year after the Exodus, a number of people in the camp were ritually impure.

 

Knowing there was no way they could participate in the celebration of this awesome one-time event -- institutionalizing for all time the annual celebration of the anniversary of the Exodus with the eating of the Paschal Lamb, they felt they had LOST OUT. They felt denied this central act of communion with fellows because of extraneous natural reasons: they had to attend to the dead.

 

"Why should we be worse off, not to be able to offer the offering of Yahweh in its appointed time among the Children of Israel" (Numbers 9:7). (The offering of the Paschal Lamb in the Sanctuary Temple was accompanied by the full Levitical choir and orchestra singing the Hallel, an awesome experience.)

 

"Why should we be worse off?" There was no way that they could offer the Offering but they longed to be able to. It was their longing that elicited the commandment of Pesach Sheni, the annual "Second Pesach" that gave a SECOND CHANCE to those who lost out the first time -- a tremendous act of love and compassion.

 

Longing and yearning elicits love and compassion. It is our longing for the Second Pesach, the Pesach of GEULAH, when we too, now impure through contact with the dead etc., will have a SECOND CHANCE and won't have to feel we lost out because we didn't experience the Pesach in Jerusalem.

 

THE CLOUDS OF GLORY and MOSES' TRUMPETS

 

As indicated above, the Clouds of Glory constitute an exalted state of consciousness in which a high DA'AS, knowledge of Yahweh, dwells, because we seek to sanctify ourselves and order our lives in the proper order (the Israelite camp). With DA'AS one can understand that everything that happens is under Yahweh's control: there are times when you stay still for different periods, times when you have to venture and journey for different periods.

 

We may wonder when we will come to the end of the journey through the wilderness? When will we reach the Promised Land? We know when the Generation of the Wilderness reached the Promised Land, but when will OUR generation get there? When will we see the Ingathering of the Faithful to the Holy Temple on Mount Moriah, from which the Torah will shine to the world? When will WE sing the Hallel in Jerusalem?

 

The answer is given in our Parashat, in the commandment given to Moses: "Make for yourself two trumpets of silver." (Numbers 10:2).

 

Moses is the central NESHAMAH, the root soul of all the Children of Israel. Moses, who brings the TORAH to Israel, must be in command. In his hand are the trumpets to summon the Children of Israel and their leaders together. In addition, in the Temple, the Priests had trumpets which were sounded.

 

One of the occasions for sounding these Trumpets of Moses -- Trumpeting the TORAH of Moses -- is in times of war. "When you come to war in your land against the enemy oppressing you [such as now], and you shall BLAST ON THE TRUMPETS [the trumpets of the Torah of Moses] and you will be remembered before Yahweh your Yahweh and you will be saved from your enemies" (Numbers 10:9). The verse speaks of war in the land against THE enemy. Asks the Midrash: "Who is THE enemy? This is in the war of Gog and Magog, after which there will no longer be any enslavement to the nations" (Sifrey).

 

It is in this war against Gog and Magog that we will be remembered before Yahweh when we hear the blast of the Trumpet of Moses, making us remember the Torah of Sinai.

 

THE JOURNEY THROUGH THE WILDERNESS

 

The Torah account of the one-time journey of the Generation of the Wilderness is a paradigm of the entire history of the Children of Israel. Before we arrive at the trials and tribulations, the Torah sets forth the ideal form in which the Children of Israel advance through history, organized into tribes and families travelling in formation.

 

Only when the Hebrew and the Righteous Gentile link together on this journey through time can the Torah dwell in the Promised Land and shine forth from Mount Moriah. [Yael, righteous proselyte wife of Hever HaKeini, Jethro's descendent, delivered Israel from Sisera; Ruth (same letters as Jethro) was the great grandmother of David, who made the Torah rule in Israel. Shmayah and Avtalion, Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir and many other important Israelites were from families of proselytes. Sometimes the proselytes shames the Israelite, because the proselyte exposes his weaknesses, having become tired after years on the road, while the proselyte is fresh with the clear vision of the beginning, the Exodus, which we have to re-experience each year at Pesach.

 

THE INVERTED NUNN'S

 

"And it was with the travelling of the Ark, and Moses said: Arise Yahweh and let your enemies be scattered and those who hate you will flee from before you. And with its resting, he will say: Return Yahweh to the tens of thousands of thousands of Israel" (Numbers 10:35-6).

 

In the Torah scroll, these two verses, the opening verses of the sixth Aliyah, are preceded and followed by an inverted letter NUNN. The two verses are thus set off apart, as a separate entity. (A scroll with 85 letters, corresponding to the number of letters in this Parashat, halachically has the same status as a Torah scroll and must be treated with the proper respect.) The two verses are of central importance in the entire Torah. It is when Moses stands up, blasting forth the TORAH OF YAHWEH, that Yahweh's providence is shown in scattering the enemies of Israel and returning His indwelling Presence to the longing and yearning thousands and thousands.

 

Why was it necessary to make a separation between all of the book of Numbers that came before these two verses and all that comes afterwards? With the census of the people, erection of the Sanctuary and the ordering of the Camp of the Israelites in its proper order, the entire Order of Creation in its ideal form was complete.

 

From now on, the task was to actually take the Torah up to Zion. Actually implementing and adhering to the Torah day to day on the arduous journey of life, amidst all the trials of the wilderness is an entirely different story.

 

The two verses separate between the Ideal and the Actual. One of the two verses speaks about a state of war. The other speaks about a state of peace. In each case it is Moses who must speak, to bring the Divine Presence upon Israel. "And Moses said.. And he will say."

 

THE SCHOOLBOY RUNS AWAY

 

The rabbis said that they left Sinai like a schoolboy running from school (or like worshippers after the service). There is a side that simply rebels against the discipline of Torah and Mitzvos, the same dry diet of words and letters on a scroll, songs, prayers amore prayers, day after day. "MANNA". Spiritual sustenance. Great! But what about some Coke?

 

As soon as the real, actual hardship of the wilderness become apparent during the first three days of the journey, the first complaints began to be heard about FLESH. Man is made of two sides, the Spiritual and the Physical: that is his entire challenge in life. Dinning out the Trumpets of Moses, Trumpets of the Torah, are the cries of our appetites and desires for physical comforts and pleasures like in Egypt, where they come HINNOM, "free" (free of the burdens of Torah and mitzvos, see Rashi on Numbers 11:5).

 

The admixture of yeast in the dough, the ERUV RAV ("Mixed Multitude", the opposite of the Righteous Proselyte, the fallen HEVEL, Balaam) raise their voices in LOSHON HORA, evil speech, about the dull, boring diet: the Manna, The source of all evil lies in evil speech. [Thus today, in the time of exile in the war of Gog and Magog, aspersions are cast upon the Diet of Moses, Manna, Torah, and upon Moses himself, in the form of the true Talmidey Chachamim, who are considered to smell putrid in the time of Mashiach. The aspersions are cast by the ERUV RAV, those who lust for the material world and those led astray by them.]

 

Moses could not take it. If his voice was not going to be heard, what was the point of living?

 

The only solution was to spread the spirit of Moses around among the people, kindling from Moses' MENORAH of Prophecy and lighting up 70 other Prophets, making a Sanhedrin of 70 Elders with Moses, the root of the Tree, at the Center: the King. These would bring the prophetic spirit back to the people.

 

When Moses is King, order is restored, DA'AS reigns, and we learn that material lust is from the side of death and must be buried. That first stop on the journey through the wilderness was named "The Graves of Lust" -- "for that is where they buried the people who had the lust" (Numbers 11:35). It is necessary to overthrow the ERUV RAV and to make Moses the king.

 

THE UNIQUENESS OF MOSES

 

Our Parashat contains Yahweh's own testimony about the uniqueness of "My servant Moses, who is faithful in all My House." (Numbers 12:7). This too was occasioned by a one-time event, a nearly fatal sin of LASHON HARA that is to be inscribed daily in our memories: "Remember what Yahweh your Elohim did to Miriam on the road when you went out of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 24:9). Miriam criticized Moses.

 

Even the saintliest are human. Sometimes even they may be tempted to cover over and disguise their own faint residue of pride under a veneer of piety. "Why is he any different?"

 

Only Moses is beyond all pride. "And the man Moses was very humble more than all man on the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3).

 

Evil speech kills. The punishment is "death" -- leprosy, the withdrawal of life and vitality from the flesh.