For the week ending 6 June 2020 / 14 Sivan 5780

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 firstborn, who were disqualified after sinning through 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, Hashem commands Moshe concerning thekorban Pesach. Those ineligible for this offering request a remedy, and the mitzvah of Pesach Sheini — allowing them 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. Hashem 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. Hashem 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. Hashem 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 Miriam to be healed, and the nation waits until she is cured before traveling.


Keeping the Flame

“…When you kindle the lamps…” (8:2)

A few years ago LensWork magazine featured some of my photographic work for Ohr Somayach’s Jewish Learning Library. In the course of working together with the editor, Brooks Jensen, I learned something that I think has application for a lot of people who walk through the doors of Ohr Somayach.

Until quite recently, to make a photograph, as distinct from taking a picture, required a great deal of technical skill and practice even with a 35mm camera, let alone the artisanal experience in extremis required by 5x4 view camera in which you need to perform a series of 16 separate operations in precisely correct order even to get something onto the negative. Brooks noted that many aspiring Ansell Adams would put in years of practice, schlepping around kilos of equipment, and arrive at a decent level of technical precision — only to give up when they were just about ready to produce something really original and exciting.

I think that, in many cases that resemble my own, being a ba’al teshuva is a bit like being an aspiring photographer. We spend so many years breaking our teeth over Hebrew, Aramaic, Gemara, the minutiae of Halacha, and navigating the sometimes narrow channels of what is and what isn’t acceptable, only to give up when we we’re just on the brink of a real spiritual breakthrough. I don’t mean giving up and dropping out. I mean just coasting and being satisfied by being a reasonably well-integrated member of a Torah society. Did we change our lives completely just to be “mediocre”? (Even if that mediocrity is light-years above the level of the materialistic world that we left!) It’s often all too easy to “get tired” along the way.

At the end of the Mesillat Yesharim, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto describes how when we exert ourselves to the absolute maximum that we can, Hashem, so to speak, reaches down and raises us up to a level that is humanly impossible to achieve. True, Rabbi Luzzatto was describing the holiest and the most elevated souls in existence — but each one of us, at our own level, knows that we really didn’t try our absolute best. But we can. While Hashem blesses us with life and breath and another tomorrow, we can push ourselves just a little harder.

“…When you kindle the lamps…” (8:2)

The literal translation of the Hebrew word for ‘to kindle’ here is ‘to make ascend.’ When the Kohen Hagadol, the High Priest lit the Menorah, it wasn’t sufficient that he ignited the wicks — he had to hold the taper in position until each wick was burning to its maximum capability. Then it ascended.

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