For the week ending 6 June 2015 / 19 Sivan 5775

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.


Hands Up!

“In your ascending…” (8:2)

In the battle against Amalek in Parshat Beshalach, Moshe raises his hands toward the Heavens, and the Jewish People prevail over their enemy; when he lowers them, they begin to lose. For many years, the classic Jewish pose of prayer was with the arms outstretched above the head. It was only changed when the non-Jewish world started copying this position.

What is the symbolism of the hands outstretched upward?

The Jewish people accepted the Torah with the words “na’aseh v’nishma” — “we will do and we will hear.”

Only if we are prepared to lift our hands above our ears; only if we say, “We’ll do it before we hear and understand it”, will we be able to move outside our spiritual comfort zone and become closer to G-d.

The hands above the ears — the “na’aseh” above the “nishma” — is the classic pose of receiving from G-d.

“In your ascending…”

In front of the Menorah there were steps. We learn this from the word that begins this week’s Torah portion, “beha’alotcha”, which literally means “in your ascending”, i.e., “in your going up to kindle the lights.”

The Menorah was three amot high. That’s somewhere between 54 to 72 inches or 1.37 to 1.83 meters. Not enormous. Almost anyone can reach up to that height. Why then was it necessary for the Kohen Gadol to ascend to prepare and light the lamps of the Menorah?

On his forehead, the Kohen Gadol wore the tzitz — a golden plate secured by ribbons. On the plate was engraved the Tetragrammaton, the ineffable four-letter name of G-d. It’s true that the Kohen Gadol could have reached up to perform the service of the Menorah, but that would mean that his hand would be higher than G-d’s Name, and that would be disrespectful.

One of the jobs of the kohanim was to teach Torah to the Jewish People. Once the Jewish People has received the Torah, once the tzitz sits on the head of the Kohen Gadol, our job is to hear what the Torah tells us, and not stretch out our hands above our heads, above the tzitz looking for our own definition of spirituality.

  • Sources: Malei HaOmer in Mayana shel Torah and others

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