For the week ending 9 June 2012 / 18 Sivan 5772

Parshat Beha'alotcha

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Aharon is taught the method for kindling the menorah. Moshe sanctifies the levi'im to work in the Mishkan. They replace the first-born, who were disqualified after sinning at the golden calf. The levi'im are commanded that after five years of training they are to serve in the Mishkan from ages 30 to 50; afterwards they are to engage in less strenuous work. One year after the Exodus from Egypt, G-d commands Moshe concerning the korban Pesach. Those ineligible for this offering request a remedy, and the mitzvah of Pesach Sheini, allowing a "second chance" to offer the korban Pesach one month later, is detailed. Miraculous clouds that hover near the Mishkan signal when to travel and when to camp. Two silver trumpets summon the princes or the entire nation for announcements. The trumpets also signal travel plans, war or festivals. The order in which the tribes march is specified. Moshe invites his father-in-law, Yitro, to join the Jewish People, but Yitro returns to Midian. At the instigation of the eruv rav - the mixed Egyptian multitude who joined the Jewish People in the Exodus - some people complain about the manna. Moshe protests that he is unable to govern the nation alone. G-d tells him to select 70 elders, the first Sanhedrin, to assist him, and informs him that the people will be given meat until they will be sickened by it. Two candidates for the group of elders prophesy beyond their mandate, foretelling that Yehoshua instead of Moshe will bring the people to Canaan. Some protest, including Yehoshua, but Moshe is pleased that others have become prophets. G-d sends an incessant supply of quail for those who complained that they lacked meat. A plague punishes those who complained. Miriam tries to make a constructive remark to Aharon which also implies that Moshe is only like other prophets. G-d explains that Moshe's prophecy is superior to that of any other prophet, and punishes Miriam with tzara'at as if she had gossiped about her brother. (Because Miriam is so righteous, she is held to an incredibly high standard.) Moshe prays for her, and the nation waits until she is cured before traveling.


Going Up

"In your lighting..." (8:2)

Once there was a rich nobleman who had a friend who was a simple laborer. The rich man told his friend that he would eat in his home. The laborer did not stint in preparing his home to the maximum of his ability. He cleaned and arranged his meager furnishings, set the table as lavishly as he could, and lit candles to welcome his friend. As it grew dark, the laborer went to the window and saw rising on the horizon a glow. At first, he thought it was the setting sun, but as the sky darkened, the glow continued to get brighter. Suddenly, his friend the nobleman appeared on the crest of the hill with a large group of servants all carrying torches. These torches were so bright that they lit up the night as though it were day. When the laborer saw this entourage approaching his cottage, he turned and looked at his room. The candles that he had arranged paled into insignificance in the glow of the torches that approached his home. Quickly, he extinguished the candles and hid the candlesticks in a drawer. The nobleman entered his cottage and saw the darkness and said, "Were you not expecting me tonight?" "Yes, I was," said the laborer. "Why did you kindle no lights?" enquired the nobleman. "I did," replied the other, "but when I saw the wonderful blaze of lights from the torches of your servants, I was ashamed and hid my candles away."

On hearing this, the nobleman dismissed all his attendants and said, "Tonight I will dine only by the light of your candles so you will see how dear they are to me."

People often ask why G-d gave us so many commandments.

Altogether, there are 613. It’s true, however, that not all of them can be performed by everyone. For example, there are mitzvot that only kohanim can do. There are those that only levi’im can do, ones that only women can do, as well as mitzvot that can only be done when the Beit Hamikdash exists. Nevertheless, that still leaves a tremendous amount of mitzvot.

Why does G-d need me to do all these things? What possible benefit is there to the Creator of the World if I put on tefillin, or if I love my neighbor as myself? Whatever little light I can shine into this world is infinitesimal compared to His Light. How can the little light that my kindness generates compare with G-d’s eternal kindness in creating the world and giving me the opportunity to exist and create a relationship with Him? Isn’t my little light swamped completely by His light?

This is exactly how Moshe felt when he entered the Sanctuary. When Moshe went in there he found the Sanctuary bathed in radiance of the Shechina, the Divine Presence. Moshe wondered how the poor earthly lights of the menorah could radiate any light. He thought they would be overpowered by the brilliance of the Shechina.

What possible use could G-d have for the wicks and oils of mere mortals?

G-d spoke to Moshe using the first word of this week’s Torah portion, "Beha’alotcha". This word is usually translated as "When you light"; however it can also mean "In your elevation." G-d was telling Moshe that the mitzvah of the menorah would elevate him. And so it is with all the mitzvot. Every mitzvah is a chance to become spiritually elevated.

The Torah is 613 ways to become closer to G-d.

  • Based on the Midrash

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