For the week ending 2 June 2018 / 19 Sivan 5778

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.


Against the Tide

“Take the Levi’im” (8:6)

One of my least favorite experiences is to be part of a large crowd.

A multitude of humanity can all too easily lose its humanity. It can so easily become an untamed beast. The herd instinct is ever-present in man, albeit lurking beneath the surface.

And this herd instinct has its more subtle forms as well. Most of us don’t like to be out of step with our peers, be they clad in torn jeans or black suits. To step out and be a little different is very difficult and uncomfortable.

“Take the Levi’im.” The Midrash Tanchuma (Beha’alotcha 8) associates this verse in our weekly portion with the verse “G-d will test the righteous one” (Tehillim 11:5), and says: “The Holy One, Blessed is He, never elevates a person to a position of authority until He examines and tests him first. You find this also with Avraham Avinu: G-d put him to the test with ten trials and he withstood them all. Subsequently G-d chose him, as it says: 'And G-d chose Avraham from all…' Similarly, the Tribe of Levi gave up their lives to sanctify the Name of the Holy One, Blessed is He, lest the Torah be negated, for when the people of Yisrael were in Egypt they despised the Torah and brit mila, and they were all idol worshipers… But the Tribe of Levi were all righteous and kept the Torah.”

This Midrash seems difficult to understand. There was no physical danger to a person for keeping Torah in Egypt. How can the Midrash teach that the Tribe of Levi gave up their lives just by observing the Torah?

Though there is no mention that the Jews of Egypt physically oppressed the Tribe of Levi or tried to seduce them to spurn the Torah, the Midrash is telling us that the mere fact that the Tribe of Levi stood against the overwhelming majority is also called “giving up your soul.”

There’s a lesson here for our times: When many of the Jewish People despise the Torah and are very far from keeping mitzvot, to be able to stand against the tide takes tremendous strength. But that’s also called Kiddush HaShem — sanctifying the Name of Heaven — and there is no greater merit than that.

  • Source: based on the Chidushei HaLev

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