Weekly Reading Insights: Beha'alocha

Overview of the Torah Reading

To be read on Shabbat Beha'alotcha 16 Sivan 5784/June 22, 2024

Torah: Numbers 8:1-12:16
Haftorah: Zachariah 2:14-4:7 (The vision of the Menorah)
Pirkei Avot:  Chapter 2

Beha'alotcha is the 3rd Reading out of 10 in Numbers and it contains 7055 letters, in 1840 words, in 136 verses

Overview: Beha’alotecha opens with the command to Aharon to light the menorah, followed by the inauguration and qualifications of the Levites’ Divine service. Then, G-d’s command to the Jews to observe Passover. Those who were impure through contact with a dead body (and therefore forbidden to offer the Passover sacrifice) were granted another chance to offer the Pascal lamb exactly one month after Passover. This day is known as ‘Pesach Sheni’—second Passover. The next section describes how a cloud resided above the Tabernacle and signaled when the Jews were to journey and when to encamp. The marching order of the tribes in the Jews’ desert journeys is described. At this point, Chovev (a.k.a. Yisro, Moshe’s father-in-law) leaves the Jews and goes back to his homeland to bring his relatives to Judaism. Next, we encounter the famous verse we recite each time we take out the Torah from the ark, about how the ark with tablets would go forth before the Jews during their desert travels. Then, the Jews began complaining about G-d. The first time, G-d punishes them with a fire which consumes many Jews until Moshe prays for the fire to stop. Then, the Jews complain that they miss foods they had in Egypt and about the mannah. To this, G-d promises an over-abundance of meat, but when it comes and the camp is covered with quail, those who complained were punished and died whilst consuming their improper desire. The parsha ends with Miriam speaking slightly negatively of Moshe to their brother, Aharon. Subsequently, they were rebuked by G-d, and Miriam was stricken with tzara’as (“leprosy”). The Jews wait for her to heal and only then journey forward.- - - - - - - -

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter, director of Ascent

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The word Torah means teaching. Sometimes the Torah's lessons are clear, like G-d taking the Jewish people out of Egypt to be G-d's servants rather than Pharaoh's. Sometimes we are required to dig a little deeper to get the message, as in the end of last week's portion, G-d speaking to Moshe from above the Holy Ark in a voice that only Moshe could hear.

Sometimes the message is so clear it is impossible to ignore it. This discussion of Pesach Sheni (the "second" Pesach), in this week's Torah portion, Beha'alotecha , is such a communication.

The Jewish people were in their second year in the desert. They were commanded to bring the traditional Passover offering and to eat its meat during their Seder that evening. The exception was those who had been become spiritually impure by coming in contact with Jewish dead. How could have that have happened? The Talmud (Sukkah 25 a & b) suggests two opinions: Those who were carrying Yosef's coffin from Egypt on the way to Israel or those who had to deal with the burial of Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aharon the Kohen. Since their impurity was a result of doing something required, they requested to be allowed to bring the offering. Moshe asked G-d and G-d agreed to make another date a month later, giving them time to purify themselves. Since then, the idea of giving a deserving person a second chance has been an inseparable part of Jewish tradition.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks an intriguing question. Those people who were unable to fulfill the Divine commandments of Passover at the appropriate time were G-d fearing, highly respected men of distinction. They believed in G-d and Moshe as their prophet and true leader. They had every confidence in Moshe that if he did not instruct them to bring the offering, it was clearly because they were not commanded to do so at that time. You could say that from Heaven's perspective, their sacrifice was not necessary. Since the Torah absolved them and they did not hear from G-d or Moshe about bringing it why did they not only ask, but demand, saying "lama nigara, why should we lose out?" to fulfill the mitzvah?

Here lies an additional powerful lesson for each of us.

Our holy Torah teaches us, in connection with fear [trepidation] and awe of Heaven - "Everything [that happens in the world] is in the hands of Heaven, except for fear of Heaven." (Talmud Brachot 3) Yirat Shamayim (fear of Heaven), is up to us. Yirat Shamayim is not limited only to the quality of awe of Heaven one feels when doing their actions. It also refers to the quantity of Jewish actions I do! If there is a case where a Jewish person sincerely feels that they are missing out because they have not had the opportunity to do a mitzvah, then this episode is clearly teaching us that they should not rely on anyone, not even Moshe! It is incumbent upon on us to demand from G-d that we should not lose out. We should merit to be able to do G-d's will. This is teaching us to be proactive in our relationship to G-d in the world. The more we reach out to G-d, the more G-d reciprocates in every part of our lives.

When G-d sees that a Jew really cares about their spiritual connection to the depth of his or her soul, until they are ready to shout, "Why should we lose out?!", G-d accepts the plea and makes it possible for that person to fulfill G-d's will just as we find in this second Pesach teaching.

[Adapted from Likrat Shabbat #879]

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For last year's essay by Rabbi Leiter on this week's Reading, see the archive.


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Chasidic Masters

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By Binyomin Adilman, based on the teachings of Rabbi Avraham of Slonim

The Torah describes the manna again here, a year after it's initial appearance in parashat Beshalach, The Beit Avraham of Slonim comments that the manna is the symbol of a stable livelihood. Manna came from heaven and each individual of the Jewish nation received a divinely allotted portion, as does one's livelihood.

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