For the week ending 29 May 2021 / 18 Sivan 5781

Parashat 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 the korban 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.


Two Drops of Rain

“He (Yitro) said to him (Moshe), 'I shall not go; only to my land and my family shall I go.’ ” (10:30)

I live a few hundred meters from a road called Levi Eshkol Boulevard. Ostensibly, there's nothing particularly interesting about this highway. There are many extremely similar roads in Jerusalem, but Levi Eshkol Boulevard marks a watershed. Quite literally.

Two drops of rain falling right next to each other on Levi Eshkol Boulevard. The one that falls to the east side of the road will make its way down through East Jerusalem, through the wadis of the Judean desert, and end up as a saline solution in the Dead Sea. And the one falling to the west will make its way down the slopes of the Judean Hills, ending up in the Mediterranean. Two drops of rain that begin their journey together, yet end up as far from each other as east from west.

I was talking on the phone with an old friend. He’s probably the oldest friend I have. We were English schoolboys together some fifty years ago. To say the least, we went on to travel very different roads. He married twice. The first time was to a Jewish girl. It didn’t work out. They divorced without children. Now he’s married again. They have one child, a boy. His name is something like Sebastian.

One Shabbat, at the third meal, I was watching my grandsons sitting at the table (well, jumping all over the table really). My eldest grandson was 'saying over' words of Torah heard from his rebbe. Words that his rebbe had once heard from his own rebbe. Words that were thousands of years old and full of holiness.

And I thought of my friend and his son. I remembered our conversation. My friend told me that his son was very bright and ran rings around his (Christian) Bible teacher. “Sebastian” had asked his teacher, “Who created G-d?” This left the Bible teacher in a lather of half-muttered apologetics, such as, “You can’t ask such questions” and “You don’t understand”. My friend was pleased that his son was showing no signs of incipient Christianity. In his eyes, he had bequeathed to him the ‘casual atheism’ that he was brought up to believe was Judaism. I said to him that I was surprised the Bible teacher had been stumped by such an easy question. “If someone had created G-d, then He wouldn’t be G-d. By definition, G-d exists beyond creation. He created creation. Nothing can exist before Him or after Him. Time has no dominion over Him because He created time.”

There was a slight pause on the line. For a moment, my friend wasn’t quite sure whether I was preaching Christianity to him.

And here, at the Shabbat table, I was looking at my grandson speaking his little heart out with words of Torah, and I reflected about what it had ‘cost’ to get to this table. Breaking your teeth on a language taught you so poorly as a child that you would be better off not having learned it at all. Having to reply, “Ich nisht redt Yiddish,” when someone mistakes you for an FFB. Having to explain to your daughters why their grandmothers don’t wear sheitel s. Feeling that you will never quite fit in — that there will always be ‘edges’ which will never be rubbed smooth.

Was it worth it? Of course, it was! How can you compare a Jewish life to any other? And that’s just in this world. And, yet, when I think back, my decision to re-embrace the faith of my ancestors was not based on some huge life changing event. Rather, one small commitment led to another, which led to another.

“He (Yitro) said to him (Moshe), 'I shall not go; only to my land and my family shall I go.’ ”

Yitro eventually changed his mind and stayed with the Jewish People.

Sometimes one decision can change your whole life.

Like two drops of rain.

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