Beha’alotcha


You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Beha’alotecha.

35 thoughts on “Beha’alotcha

  1. Wendy

    B”H

    Week’s Energy for Parshas Beha’alotsecha
    Rav DovBer Pinson

    Forward Motion
    ==========

    As the journey through the desert towards the promised land, progresses, it veers off track. Until this point – the way was smooth and the destination in sight – In this portion we read – ‘vayehi binsoah aron, vayomer moshe’/ as they lifted the aron – the ark – and carried it on their journey, Moses promises that they will find peace in this journey. They need this promise, for there will be much angst and confusion on the way.

    After this verse, things start going awry for the Israelites, arguments ensue, politics and war, rebellions and strife abound. Yet, in the future, they will arrive at their destination.

    The journey of the Isrealites through the desert is a metaphor for our own journey throughout life. While our progression is constant, the journey is taken in small steps. Sometimes we get sidetracked, things go wrong, the destination is unclear, yet we must always be moving, and always going forward.

    Transformation occurs with baby steps – it can’t happen all at once- and this week’s energy is the embrace of the small step forward. When we want something, or ourselves, to change, we want it to happen immediately. Yet real change occurs very slowly and gradually, in small increments.

    This week’s portion is ‘Beha’alosecha’ – The portion begins with the verse – ‘when you will kindle the lights.’ The literal translation of that verse however, is – ‘when you make the lights rise.’ When we experience inspiration or a desire for change, we must touch the flame to the wick, until it rises on its own. The inspiration must be combined with a very real action, to make it last and continue to grow.

    THE WEEK’S ENERGY
    This week, take stock of your destination and decide on one baby step that will take you in that direction. No big life changing action – just a small movement in the right direction.

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  2. Wendy

    From Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman

    Weekly Torah Portion

    Beha’alotcha
    In the Torah portion of Beha’alotcha there appears a phenomenon that is found in no other place in the entire Tanach – two sentences are bracketed by two backwards facing Hebrew letters, nuns, as a way to set them apart from the rest of the text.

    “And when the ark would journey, Moses said: ‘Arise God and let your enemies be scattered, and let those that hate You flee from before You.’ And when it [the ark] rested he would say: ‘Rest peacefully God among the myriad thousands of Israel” (Numbers 10:35-36).

    The first sentence is recited in synagogues around the world when the ark is opened and the Torah removed for public readings, and the second sentence is recited when the Torah is placed once again in the ark.

    Rashi, quoting the Talmud, (Shabbat 115b-116a) explains that these two sentences are set apart due to the fact that they are not in their natural chronological place. This alone would not seem sufficient reason as Rashi tells us many times that various events recorded in the Torah are not in a sequential order. What then, according to the Talmud, is the reason that they appear here? Rashi informs us: in order to separate between a series of sins which occurred in the desert.

    The Talmud continues by stating that these two sentences actually are considered an entirely separate book! In this manner the five books of Moses are actually seven, as this two sentence book actually divides the book of Numbers into three books.

    As with all verses, mitzvot and stories in the Torah, there are multilevels of understanding, especially when there is a one time phenomenon such as inverted letters that create a separate book of just two sentences.

    The Slonimer Rebbe quotes a Torah from the Maggid of Koznitch who suggests that the ark represents a Torah scholar who is compared to an ark containing the Torah. The Torah has been so integrated into his being that he is like a “walking Torah scroll.” The word for “journey” in our verse shares the same root as the word for “test.” Therefore, anytime the ark, in this case a Torah scholar, journeys, it is inevitable that he will face challenges and tests. The Slonimer explains that this idea really applies to every person who wants to journey from one spiritual level to a higher, more refined level of consciousness, which is the ultimate goal of Torah and mitzvot.

    The first prayer of Moses (in the first sentence) is that God should come to the aid of all those longing to elevate themselves and protect them from all their enemies, that is, from all those forces in the world that oppose positive and constructive spiritual advancement. In this sense, God’s enemies are our enemies, and visa versa, in as much as our greatest desire is to do God’s work in the world and for this very reason we were chosen by Him. The desire to advance spiritually represents the first part of a verse from Psalms – “Turn from evil and do good…”

    The second prayer of Moses (in the second verse), represented by the request that God rest peacefully among Israel, relates to the second half of the above verse in Psalms – “and do good.” In truth, once God helps us defeat His/our enemies, our work of doing good only begins. The culmination of all service of God is to draw near to Him in love and create a vessel for God to dwell in the world, and even more, within each and every person. Since, according to the Slonimer Rebbe, the ideas presented here form the very basis of serving God they are separated in order to show their crucial importance.

    The question remains though as to why it is the letter nun that was chosen to set these verses apart. Among the many concepts represented by the letter nun is the idea of falling, due to the fact that the word “to fall,” begins with the letter nun. The 145th Psalm written by David is constructed as an acrostic according to the Hebrew alphabet. Only the letter nun is missing as David did not want to even allude to any future “fall” and hardships the Jewish people would go through. Nonetheless, the next verse states that God supports all those who have fallen, in order to strengthen all those who do experience the inevitable setbacks of life.

    David is referred to in the Talmud as the “fallen one,” literally a miscarriage. According to tradition the soul of David was not given any time in this world. When Adam saw this he volunteered to give up seventy years from his life. Adam was meant to live till age 1,000, but died at age 930. Despite the time given to him, David experienced each moment of life as if he was in a constant state of existential falling, while simultaneously feeling the constant support of God. When reciting the grace after meals on Succot we add the additional phrase: O Merciful One, lift up the fallen succah of David. All the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people over the years are referred to symbolically as David’s fallen succah.

    The inverted nuns therefore represent prophetically the many trials and challenges facing the Jewish people in their attempt to fulfill God’s will in the world. According to Rashi, they come to separate between a series of sins in the desert, times when challenges overwhelmed them, or mistaken judgment or following their baser desires caused them to stray from their appointed course. Moses’ prayer reverberates throughout the generations and addresses each individual as well as the nation to stay the course and know that no cause truly worth it comes without opposition and trial.

    In fact, within a very short time Moses would need his prayer answered for himself. Immediately following these two verses the Torah relates how the people complained about the manna and the lack of meat. In a moment of obvious dismay and feeling a lack of strength to carry the whole nation on his shoulders alone Moses cried out to God: “I alone cannot carry all this people, for it is too heavy for me. And if this is how you deal with me, then kill me now” (Numbers 11:14-15). In relation to the time when Moses defended the people after the sin of the golden calf and exclaimed that God could wipe him out of his book if He would not forgive them, this request for God to kill him represents a severe “fall.”

    God in fact supports Moses by appointing the seventy elders to assist him, nonetheless the complaint of Moses was very significant. All the elders became prophets as Moses conferred upon them the spirit of prophesy. Two of the members, Eldad and Medad, began to prophesy in the camp and Joshua ran to Moses to stop them. According to the Sifre what they prophesied was: Moses will die and Joshua will bring them into the land.

    When the ark traveled in this Torah portion the people were in fact on their way to Israel and very close to entering, but ended up wandering for forty years due to the sin of the spies, as related in the following portion of Shlach. Here we see though that immediately following the complaint of Moses to God, already it was prophesied that Moses would die and not enter the land. In a sense, the words of Moses were a self fulfilling prophesy regarding both himself and all the people. Yet, despite all that the Jewish people have been through, God has never let us completely fall and has time after time scattered our enemies.

    One of the names of the Mashiach according to the Talmud is yenun, very similar to the letter nun (Sanhedrin 98b). The Mashiach, like King David, will experience many falls and will in fact fall purposely in order to redeem all the fallen sparks of holiness trapped in the impure shells and allusions of this world. The Baal Shem Tov explains that in order to extract someone from a low level one must be able to descend to their level in order to extract them from where they have sunk. In this sense, falling has a very positive connotation and may account for the nuns being inverted. This would allude to the concept of “descent in order to ascend,” a service of the righteous which will be brought to its manifest completion by the Mashiach.

    The numerical value of Mashiach is 358, the same as nachash, the primordial snake of the Garden of Eden, whose name begins with a nun. For when the energy of the snake is rectified and inverted, its power will be used for only good. The Baal Shem Tov taught that each individual contains a spark of the Mashiach and must work at revealing this spark in the world. When a critical mass of sparks have been revealed this will draw the soul of the Mashiach into the world. Until then, each person must struggle and ask, like Moses, for God’s assistance to overcome all obstacles in the way of fulfilling our individual purpose in life and the ultimate mission of the Jewish people to make a place for God to rest among the Jewish people and the entire world.

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  3. Wendy

    From Rav Kook

    Beha’alotcha: The Seven Lamps of the Menorah

    “Speak to Aaron and tell him, ‘When you light the lamps, the seven lamps should shine towards the center of the Menorah.'” (Num. 8:2)

    Why does the Torah emphasize this particular detail — that the seven lamps should face the center of the Menorah? Why not begin with the overall mitzvah — to light the Menorah each evening?

    Also, what is the significance of the Menorah’s seven branches?

    Different Paths of Wisdom

    The Sages wrote that the Menorah and its light represent wisdom (Baba Batra 25b). All wisdom has a common source, but there are different approaches to wisdom. Every individual pursues those spheres of knowledge to which he is naturally drawn.

    The Midrash (BaMidbar Rabbah 15:7) compares the seven lights of the Menorah to the seven planets in the solar system, shining in the nighttime sky. What is the meaning of this symbolism?

    The ancients understood that the planets and constellations affect our nature and personality traits. A person under the influence of Mars, for example, will have different traits then one under the influence of Jupiter (see Shabbat 165a). In other words, God created each of us with a unique character in order that we should perfect ourselves in the particular path that suits us. In this way, all of creation is completed; through the aggregation of all individual perfections, the universe attains overall perfection.

    Just as each planet symbolizes a distinct character trait, each branch of the Menorah is a metaphor for a specific category of intellectual pursuits. God prepared a path for each individual to attain wisdom according to his own character and interests.

    Towards the Center

    However, we should be careful not to follow our natural intellectual inclinations exclusively. The Torah stresses that “when you light the lamps” — when we reach for that individual enlightenment that suits our particular character — we should take care that this wisdom will “shine towards the center of the Menorah.” What is the center of the Menorah? This is the wisdom of the Torah. We need to draw specifically from the light of Torah, whose source is the underlying unity of all wisdom.

    In truth, the seven branches of the Menorah are not truly distinct, separate paths. All seven receive light from the unified wisdom with which God enlightens His world. For this reason, the Torah describes the Menorah as being formed from a single piece of gold, “mikshah zahav”. The special manner in which the Menorah was formed reveals the underlying unity of all forms of wisdom.

    (adapted from Midbar Shur, pp. 53-55)

    Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
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    Beha’alotcha: A Tale of Two Prayers

    A Short Prayer for Miriam

    When Miriam was stricken with leprosy, Moses beseeched God to heal his sister with a remarkably brief prayer: “Please God, please heal her” (Num. 12:13).

    The Talmud (Berachot 34a) took note of the unusual brevity of this prayer in the following story:

    Once, a student led the prayers in Rabbi Eliezer’s house of study, and his prayers were unusually lengthy. The other students complained, ‘Master, how slow this fellow is!’ Rabbi Eliezer responded to them, ‘He is no slower than Moses, who pleaded on behalf of the Jewish people (after the sin of the golden calf) for forty days and forty nights.’

    On another occasion, a different student led the prayers. This student recited the prayers quickly. The other students complained, ‘How hasty this fellow is!’ This time, Rabbi Eliezer replied, ‘He is no hastier than Moses, who pleaded for his sister’s recovery with a few short words.’

    What determined the length of Moses’ prayers? Why did his own sister merit only a brief, one-line prayer?

    Two Types of Prayer

    Prayer serves two functions. The first function is to refine character traits and deepen knowledge — either for the person praying, or for those being prayed for. This type of prayer requires tenacity and perseverance, since correction of flawed traits requires extended effort, and usually occurs gradually over time.

    For this reason, Moses needed to pray extensively when he prayed for the Jewish people. Why forty days? This period is the time it takes for an embryo to develop limbs and become recognizable as a human fetus. The forty days of Moses’ prayer indicated a rebirth of the Jewish people, with a new heart and spirit.

    There is, however, a second function of prayer. Sometimes the inner emotions and character traits have already been refined and purified. Prayer only comes to express that which already exists in the inner soul. In such cases, an extended prayer is unnecessary; even a brief prayer may express many holy feelings. In the case of Miriam, she had already conceded her mistake. Her healing, both physical and spiritual, required only a short, simple prayer.

    (adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 163)

    Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison

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  4. Wendy

    From Chabad.org

    When you raise light in the lamps (8:2)

    When the Kohen came to kindle the menorah’s lamps each afternoon in the Holy Temple, he found them fully prepared for lighting: earlier in the day, the lamps had been cleaned and filled with oil, and fresh wicks had been inserted. All he had to do was bring near the flame he carried, so that its proximity to the waiting lamp would unleash the potential for illumination which the lamp already holds.

    Therein lies an important lesson to the spiritual lamplighter: do not think that you are achieving anything that your fellow could not, in truth, achieve on his own; do not think that you are giving him something he does not already possess. The soul of your fellow is a ready lamp, filled with the purest oil and equipped with all that is required to convert its fuel into a blazing flame. It only lacks the proximity of another lamp to ignite it. If your own soul is alight, its contact with another’s soul will awaken its potential for light, so that it may illuminate its surroundings and kindle other souls, in turn.

    (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
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    If any man of you, or of your future generations, shall be unclean… or be on a journey afar off, he shall keep the Passover to G-d on the fourteenth day of the second month… (9:10-11)

    The meaning of the “Second Passover” is that it is never too late; there is always a second chance.

    (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch)

    Why was the mitzvah of the “Second Passover” not commanded directly by G-d in the Torah from the very start, as were virtually all other mitzvot?

    Because the Second Passover represents the power of teshuvah–the power to “return” and rectify past failings and transform them, retroactively, into merits. This cannot derive from Torah itself, since Torah, which defines what is desirable and undesirable in the eyes of G-d, cannot regard a failure to fulfill a Divine command as something “positive.” The mitzvah of the Second Passover could come only as the Divine response to the profound yearning of a soul superceding “Torah,” as it were, crying out for attachment to G-d from a place so deep within itself that it transcends failing and merit, and can therefore reach back to transform the failing into the merit.

    (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
    ———————————————————————————————————-

    And at times it was, that the cloud abode from evening until morning… then they journeyed (9:21)

    The Sanctuary was a formidable structure, consisting of hundreds of foundation sockets, wall sections, pillars, tapestries and furnishings; a work crew of several thousand Levites assembled the Sanctuary at each camp and dismantled and transported it when the Divine command would come to move on. Yet the “Tent of Meeting” was erected at every encampment–even if only for a single day!

    This teaches us that each and every one of our “stations” in life is significant unto itself. A person may find him or herself in a certain place or in a certain situation for a very brief period, and it may seem to him that he is merely “on the way” to some other place. Yet there is always something in that place or situation to be sanctified–something that can serve as a “Tent of Meeting” between Heaven and earth.

    (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)
    —————————————————————————————————–

    And I will emanate of the spirit which is upon you, and will bestow it upon them (11:17)

    On the most basic level, this is the difference between physical and spiritual giving. In physical giving, the givers resources are depleted by his gift–he now has less money or energy than before. In spiritual giving, however, there is no loss. When a person teaches his fellow, his own knowledge is not diminishedif anything, it is enhanced.

    Upon deeper contemplation, however, it would seem that spiritual giving, too, carries a “price.” If the disciple is of inferior knowledge and mental capability than the teacher, the time and effort expended in teaching him is invariably at the expense of the teachers own intellectual development; also, the need for the teacher to “coarsen” and simplify his ideas to fit the disciples mind will ultimately detract from the depth and abstraction of his own thoughts. By the same token, dealing with people of lower moral and spiritual level than oneself cannot but affect ones own spiritual state. The recipients of this “spiritual charity” will be elevated by it, but its giver will be diminished by the relationship, however subtly.

    Indeed, we find an example of such spiritual descent in Moses bestowal of the leadership upon Joshua. In contrast to the appointment of the seventy elders, where he was told to “emanate” his spirit to them, Moses is here commanded to “Take Joshua the son of Nun, and lay your hand upon him… and give of your glory upon him” (Numbers 28:18-20). Here the Midrash comments, “Lay your hand upon himlike one who kindles a candle from a candle; Give of your glorylike one who pours from one vessel into another vessel.”

    In other words, there are two kinds of spiritual gifts: a gift that “costs” the giver nothing (“emanation”, which is like “kindling a candle from a candle”), and a gift that involves a removal of something from the giver in order that the recipient should receive something (“pouring from one vessel into another”).

    There are times we indeed sacrifice something of ourselves for the benefit of a fellow. But there are also times when we commit ourselves to our fellow so absolutely–when the gift comes from a place so deep and so true within us–that we only grow from experience, no matter how much we give of ourselves.

    (The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

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  5. Wendy

    ~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~

    Beha’alotekha

    (When You Raise Up)

    NUMBERS 8:1 – 12:16

    Beha’alotekha describes the Israelites’ departure from Sinai, beginning with directions for lighting of the Menorah. God also commands the making of two silver trumpets which are to be sounded at the time of setting forth on the journey.

    THE BLESSING

    BEHA’ALOTEKHA DESCRIBES THE INNER GESTURE of “setting forth” as we continue to move through the wilderness. Our journeys are in some sense always just beginning. Wherever we stand in our lives can be perceived as the place of infinite potential, the intersection of Being and Becoming, the threshold of the beyond. From this vast potential of “here and now” we are either sent to who we are becoming or we get stuck in the traps of illusion or fear.
    The blessings of Light and Sound are given to us to help us break through these obstacles and move forward on our path.
    The blessing of Light and the blessing of Sound can inspire us forward. They are the tools we use to release ourselves from the slavery we carry within.
    The name Beha’alotekha refers to the “lighting” of the menorah, the golden candelabra in the Mishkan. This is the fire that lights our way forward. The gold of the sun is awakened in us through the service of the menorah.
    The silver trumpet is a priestly instrument. The silver of the moon is awakened in us through the service of the trumpet. Its tones serve two purposes: first to call us to our center, and then to send us on our journey.
    We journey by stages. When we are ready to move to the next stage of our journey we must open ourselves to the call of the silver trumpets. Their sounding will help to gather us – giving us access to both inner and outer resources. And their sounding will reveal the obstacles before us – clearing the way forward and sending us newly inspired to our destiny.

    THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE

    WE EMBARK UPON THIS JOURNEY of purification without knowing how far or how long it will be. Obstacles arise in the form of resistance. Resistance arises in the form of cravings, doubts, weariness, restlessness, or aversion.
    I used to think, “If only I didn’t have such resistance I could really do my spiritual work.” Then I realized that recognizing and confronting resistance IS my spiritual work. The very obstacles that arise to block my way home serve to show me the face of my own enslavement. Looking into that face I will know where my work lies. The face of resistance always wears a mask. It masquerades as THE TRUTH. My work is in unmasking resistance and freeing myself from its compelling power so that as I stand at the crossroads of this moment, I can choose my path in conscious, loving clarity.
    Having left Sinai to renew their journey, we hear the story of the Israelites’ murmuring and rebellion in the wilderness. Their behavior is a merciless mirror which reflects our own tendencies towards resistance on the spiritual path.

    THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE OF BEHA’ALOTEKHA is to hear the murmurings and rebellions of our ancestors and recognize them as our own places of enslavement calling for freedom and healing.
    When I witness my ancestors’ complaints, I must listen to my own bitter whining. Listening deeply with compassion, I hear the fear inside my voice and I remember when that fear was born. Then I know that my spiritual work will be to heal the wounds that gave birth to that fear and to work at cultivating trust.
    When I witness my ancestors’ lust for meat and for the food of Egypt, I turn to investigate my own cravings. When I discover a hunger that seems never to be satisfied; a thirst that is never quenched; a hole inside me that can never be filled; then my spiritual work consists of investigating that craving by entering into that “hole” and experiencing the emptiness within. This will lead me to Truth.
    When I witness my ancestors’ weariness with their journey, I turn to examine my own lack of energy for practice. When I hear their expressions of doubt in the leadership of Moses, my work becomes that of unmasking the face of my own doubt and coming to understand how and why I sometimes silence the voice of the prophet within me.

    (Thank you to Sylvia Boorstein for her teachings on the hindrances.)

    For Guideline for Practice please click link to website.
    http://rabbishefagold.com/Behaalotekha.html

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  6. Wendy

    From Academy for Jewish Religion/CA

    Parshat Beha’alotcha
    Torah Reading for Week of June 7 – June 13, 2009

    “Shining Our Light”
    by Rabbi Paul Shleffar, ’06
    Director, Center for Contemporary Jewish Spirituality

    G-d Spoke to Moses, saying, speak to Aaron and tell him “In your going up to light the lamps, the light of the seven lamps shall shine forward.”

    The High Priest is instructed to kindle the lamps that are to burn continually. It is interesting that in this Parsha following the instructions for the kindling of the lamps, we also find the instructions for the Pesach offerings in the wilderness. The Rabbis of the Talmud, in Pesachim, which begins with the word ohr or light, outline the search for Chametz in dark and hidden places, discussing in great detail, among other things, how far back one must search in one’s wine cellar to find Chametz. It is in this relationship between the kindling of the eternal light and the imperative to seek out and illuminate the dark and hidden that I believe we can find relevant meaning and instruction for how to live our lives.

    We are being asked to constantly kindle our inner light, but even more than this we are being urged to shine a continual bright light in those dark corners of our psyches, searching out and removing that which threatens to harm our internal balance, that which harms our ability to relate with others and ultimately with the Divine. This is according to the Jewish mystics, our only purpose for having been created, and there is no greater joy in this world than to fulfill one’s purpose. The 20th century Chasidic master, the Sfat Emet, had this to say, “…This process is dependent on the light within us: the more we expand and grow our souls, the more G-d is revealed in every place. This is the meaning of “when the Lord your G-d expands your borders” – the light reveals itself and there is an expansion within the totality of the human soul.

    This then is our charge: to rise up using our highest self – our inner High priest – constantly shining our light in search of our destiny and constantly on guard for anything that could stand in the way of our performing it. This work is not for ourselves, but for each other and for all created beings, anything that contains a bit of Divine light. It is in doing this that we become a ‘light unto the nations’ and ‘a nation of priests’ all aligned as one.

    Shabbat Shalom.

    Reply
  7. Wendy

    From Rabbi SaraLeya Schley

    Posted on this weeks newsletter from
    Chochmat HaLev

    Recalling the Brit Or. Parashat B’h’alotkha (Numbers 8:1-12:16). 12 Sivan 5770 May 25, 2010

    Last year as we read this parashah, we celebrated our Brit Or, our communal Covenant of Light. I would like to review a few of the words I shared with you then: The text begins with the lighting of the menorah after the Tabernacle was fully dedicated and anointed. The Sages teach that the golden menorah’s pure oil lamps did not shine ordinary light: the menorah allowed the celestial light that was created from darkness and chaos on the very first day of creation, even before there was a sun and moon, to beam into this world. This is the light of spiritual sight that allows us to see through veils, from one end of the universe to the other. The specific word of our text b’ha’alotkha tells us that in lighting the menorah we are “raising it up” so that we, too, are elevated and we add light to the world. When the text tells us that the light shines toward the panim of the menorah, the Hebrew hints that our faces shine while the inner light of our soul is kindled. In spiritual community, we are like the lights of the menorah, elevating each other to reflect different colors of the infinite light back to each other. We shine our light toward each other’s panim – faces- and we shine our light into each other’s hearts, our penimiut – our insides. The light generated by all of us together is brighter than the sum of our individual lights. And so we together focus and magnify the light of Divinity, bringing love and healing to our world.

    With blessing for deep, heart-wise meditation on the mystery of the menorah’s light,

    Rabbi SaraLeya

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  8. Aryae Post author

    Reb Sholom Brodt

    ב”סד

    The Lubavitcher Rebbe ztz”l often taught that the essence of the ‘parsha’ is contained in its name. The name of this weeks’ parsha is “B’ha-alotcha”, which literally translates as — when you are raising up. What a blessing it is to read the opening verses of this weeks’ parsha… we all need to be uplifted, we all need much more holy light and we all need to do our parts in bringing Hashem’s holy light into the world.

    The holy Bal Shem Tov brings taught that the service of lighting the Menorah corresponds to “Bereishis”, the very beginning of the creation of the world. By lighting the Menorah Aharon Hakohen was drawing down to each individual Jew, the light of the very Beginning, the light by which each person can start again, the light of renewal.

    This Shabbos parshas B’ha-alotcha, says the Kozhnitzer Maggid zy”a, is blessed with flashes of the Or Haganuz, the hidden light. Let us all make an effort to see each other’s light, to see the reflection of Hashem’s light in each other, o help one another light our Menorahs. Let us all remember that when we look at one another, we could actually yearn/learn to see a lamp of Hashem. Let’s learn about it.

    “VA-YEDABEYR H’ EL MOSHE LEIMOR. DA-BEYR EL AHARON, V’OMARTO EILOV,B’HA’ALOTCHA ET HANEIROT, EL MUL P’NAI HAMENORAH,YA-EERU SHIVAT HANEIROT”….(NUM.8: 1-2)
    “AND HASHEM SPOKE TO MOSHE SAYING,SPEAK TO AHARON AND TELL HIM
    ‘WHEN YOU [WILL BE ‘RAISING UP’] LIGHT THE LAMP,TOWARDS ‘THE FACE OF’THE MENORAH
    SHALL THE SEVEN CANDLES SHINE [CAST THEIR LIGHT].
    AHARON DID SO, TOWARDS THE FACE OF THE MENORAH,HE LIT ITS LAMPS JUST AS HASHEM COMMANDED MOSHE.
    THIS IS HOW THE MENORAH WAS MADE; BEATEN FROM A BLOCK OF GOLD FROM ITS BASE UNTIL ITS FLOWERS IT IS BEATEN OUT [ OF A SOLID BLOCK]ACCORDING TO THE VISION WHICH HASHEM SHOWED MOSHE – SO HE* MADE THE MENORAH”
    [*acc. to the Midrash–so He made the Menorah] (Num. 8: 1-4)

    AHARON’S YEARNING

    What is interesting is that instructions for lighting the Menorah and its construction were already given earlier in the Torah! So then why is Aharon receiving additional instructions, right here and now, following the ‘parsha of the Nesi’im’s dedication of the altar’?

    Rashi asks: “Why is the parsha of the Menorah adjacent to the parsha of the Nesiim [the princes of the tribes] ? To answer the question, Rashi brings us a Midrash:
    BECAUSE, WHEN AHARON SAW THE LEADERS DEDICATION OF THE ALTAR
    HE FELT HUMILIATED [HE FELT WEAKEND]
    SINCE HE WAS NOT ‘WITH THEM’ IN THE DEDICATION [OF THE ALTAR]
    NEITHER HE NOR ANYONE OF HIS TRIBE.
    THE HOLY ONE BLESSED BE HE, SAID TO HIM,
    “BY YOUR LIFE [I SWEAR TO YOU]YOURS IS GREATER THAN THEIRS!
    FOR YOU WILL LIGHT AND PERFECT THE LAMPS.

    Interesting! What was bothering Aharon, why did he feel humiliated? Because he was not ‘WITH THEM’. Aharon Hakohen was so connected to each individual yid, he was always making peace between people, he was always including everyone in what he was doing. So when he saw the amazing unity of the tribes in their service of the dedication of the altar, a dedication in which neither he nor anyone else from his tribe of Levi participated in, his ‘DA’AT’, his consciousness became weak. He wanted so much to be a part of the dedication and since he had no part in it he felt grief and on the verge of losing his self-confidence as a servant of Hsashem.

    So Hashem comes to comfort him and tells him: “YOUR SERVICE OF LIGHTING THE MENORAH IS GREATER THAN THEIR SERVICE OF DEDICATING THE ALTAR”.

    The commentators ask why did Hashem comfort Aharon particularly with the lighting of the Menorah, after all there were many other awesome services that only he performed in the Sanctuary, such as the daily Quetoret incense offering, among others? There are many layers of explanations in the teachings of Chassidus and Kabbalah, on this Midrash.

    The Ramban cites another two Midrashim that are very much related to the one quoted by Rashi. These Midrashim say that this parsha is an allusion to the re-dedication of the Temple that would be accomplished many generations later, by Aharon’s descendants, the Chashmonaim family with the miracle of the lights of Channukah – a miracle that continues to be celebrated to this very day with the annual kindling of the Chanukah lights. That is why Hashem said, “YOUR SERVICE OF LIGHTING THE MENORAH IS GREATER” since your service of lighting the Menorah would continue even after the destruction of the Holy Temple – the Infinite Light of the Holy One blessed be He, that you bring into the world will accompany the Jewish people until the ultimate redemption when the Menorah will be lit once again in the Third Temple – may it be quickly in our days.

    The holy Bal Shem Tov brings teaches that the lighting of the Menorah corresponds to “Bereishit” the very first utterance of Creation. [as explained further on [SO HE MADE THE MENORAH — SO HASHEM MADE THE MENORAH] By lighting the Menorah Aharon Hakohen was drawing down to each invidual Jew, the light of the very Beginning … the light by which each person can start again – the light of renewal.

    “..NEIR HASHEM …NISHMAS ADAM” – “THE LAMP OF HASHEM… IS THE SOUL OF MAN”….. [Psalms] Each soul is a ‘neir’ a lamp of Hashem. “B’HA-ALOTCHA ET HANEIROT …” when you will raise up (light) the lamps [of Hashem]. When Aharon Hakohen lit the Menorah, he was also lighting the lamps of each Jewish soul, by bringing Hashem’s Divine Light into the world. Anyone who truly seeks to see this spiritual light, and makes a serious the effort to attain it, can do so even today. Even today, when we still do not have the holy Temple, we can still receive of this light and we are still inspired by this light. Therefore, your portion in the service of the Mishkan, will last eternally. Every Jew will one day light the Channukah lamp; you will give over to every holy soul the ability to be holy Menorah lighters.

    On another level, what makes the service of the lighting of the Menorah greater is that while the service of the sacrifices brings atonement, it is the lighting of the Menorah that arouses intimate Tshuvah – as Hashem’s ‘or ganuz’, hidden light is revealed in our hearts and souls. (See Reb Shlomo’s teaching further on.)

    It was Aharon’s sincere yearning to “be” together with everyone, that brought him the blessing of being the servant who would bring Hashem’s spiritual light to each of Hashem’s camdles, in every generation. His yearning to “be” with each of us, to unite each one of us in peace, continues to “inspire” each of us to start again, and continues to help each one of us to “inspire” one another, with the spiritual light, with which Hashem created the world.

    “LEHAGID SHVACHO SHELO SHEENAH.”

    In verse 2 at the opening of our parsha we read, “AND AHARON DID JUST AS HASHEM HAD COMMANDED HIM.” All the commentators ask why is the Torah telling us this? Would anyone have thought that he would do otherwise? Rashi explains that the Torah is commending Aharon for doing everyday exactly as he was instructed to do, – “SHELO SHEENAH” – he did not make any changes. It seems like the question still needs to be answered – why would you think that Aharon would make any changes in the performance of this great mitzvah?

    The Mei Hashiloach explains “SHELO SHEENAH” – that he did not make any changes, as follows. It is common experience that in our practice of our daily mitzvot, we often lose some of our excitement and joy in their performance. All too often we sink into an autopilot mode, performing the mitzvot routinely without true excitement and joy. We become “old” and we fall asleep. [The word ‘sheenah’ is thus related to the word ‘shainah’ – sleep.] The greatness of Aharon was that each day he would light the Menorah with the same joy and anticipation, as if he was doing for the first time.

    Reb Shlomo zt”l provides a very dramatic explanation of “SHELO SHEENAH.” [L’ma’an Achai V’reyai p.56] Aharon haKohen was an extraordinarily holy man. Most people imagine a holy person as someone who keeps himself at a distance from the ordinary folk and remains aloof from their day-to-day life, protecting him or herself from the assumed ungodliness of the street.

    The problem with such descriptions of holy people is that we then see them as so beyond us that we can never imagine ourselves as being holy. When I used to teach in high school and elementary school, I had many opportunities to learn parshas Kedoshim [Va’yikra 19] with my students. In that parsha we are commanded to be holy. I would ask my students to close their eyes and visualize a holy person. After doing this, they would open their eyes again and I would then ask them the following two questions: 1] Was the holy person you ‘saw’, male or female? 2] What did they look like and how were they dressed? As you may have imagined, most of the ‘holy people’ were males and they [both the holyu males and females] were dressed quite differently from us. Sadly, this illustrates that most of us have a difficult time of perceiving ourselves as being connected to holiness, or ever being holy ourselves.

    But Aharon haKohen was not like that at all. Reb Shlomo describes our first High Priest in a very different manner. Aharon haKohen was indeed very holy, and at the same time very accessible.

    Aharon haKohen was the first Kohen and the first Kohen Gadol ever. All Kohanim until Moshiach is coming are his descendants and their sanctity stems from him. One would imagine that he surely spent all his time in the sanctuary, offering sacrifices, studying Torah, praying and meditating. He was so holy that the entire Yom Kippur service was done by him; he was the only one to enter into the Holy of Holies once a year on Yom Kippur on behalf of the entire nation, and only he pronounced the “Shem Hameforash,” the unutterable Divine Name of G-d. All this is true, yet at the same time he was able to be very close to his people – not despite his holiness, but, because he was so holy!

    What does it mean on a daily basis, that Aharon haKohen pronounced Hashem’s Holy Name in the Holy of Holies? What did it mean to Aharon and what did it mean to us on a daily basis? What does it mean to us today?

    Reb Shlomo explains that these very same lips that uttered Hashem’s Name, were making peace between people! The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot [Chap. 1] instructs us to be among the students of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving the peole and bringing them close to the Torah. It is explained that Aharon did not merely give lip service to peace. Instead of spending most of his time isolated in the protected holiness of the Sanctuary, he was among the people, talking with them, listening to them and actively helping them live in peace. He would make peace between husband and wife, between business partners, between parents and children, between friends, etc. The holiness of Hashem’s Name was on Aharon’s lips every single day. A holy person speaks holy; a holy person speaks healing words of comfort, reconciliation and peace. Because he was so holy, the Oneness of G-d was so very real to him. Because he was so close to Hashem he was so he could not tolerate people hurting one another. His holiness would not allow him to do the services in the Sanctuary, unless he gave it full expression in the street.

    When Aharon would meet someone who was ‘off’ in his religious practice, he did not tell him “Listen brother, you’re off, you are a mess and you better change.” Aharon haKohen saw with ‘Mashiach eyes’. He saw the depths of each person. He saw that people are truly holy on the inside. He actively loved them by being with them, by seeing and focusing on their good points and their inner holiness, by speaking with them lovingly, by helping them get along in peace, their Divine souls were aroused and strengthened. Then they would on their own, realize how holy they were and how connected they were. In his presence they became aware of the ‘natural’ holy fire that is aflame in their hearts.

    “Sheloh sheenah” – he did not change – means he did not try to make the other person change, says Reb Shlomo. This was the greatness of Aharon haKohen. Aharon actively loved everyone. When you see someone who is ‘off’, you need Moshiach eyes to love him and help him. You don’t learn to love from ‘outside’, it is a matter of the ‘inside’. As he would light the Menorah he connected all of Israel with the ‘or ganuz’, and thus inspired all of us to do intimate Tshuvah.

    Once during a television interview Reb Shlomo zt”l was asked what was the secret of his great success in ‘kiruv’ – in bringing so many thousands of Jews back to their roots, did he have some kind of formula? [Kiruv – is the widely used term by those doing religious outreach work. It means, bringing close.] Reb Shlomo zt”l said two things. First, he said that he doesn’t use the word ‘kiruv’ because who is to say that he is closer to G-d than the person that he connecting with – maybe this person who is seemingly less observant, is actually closer to G-d? Secondly, he said, that he does not have any formula at all. He just prays each time that Hashem should put the right words in his mouth and that these words should reach the heart.

    Have a wonderful and “lictigeh Shabbos” – a Shabbos filled with and radiating beautiful holy Shabbos light,
    b’Ahavah ubivracha
    Sholom

    Reply
  9. Aryae Post author

    Reb Avraham Greenbaum

    Beha’aloscha, Numbers 8:1-12:16
    Unity within Diversity

    by Avraham ben Yaakov

    “And God spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Speak to Aaron and say to him: When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the candlestick… And this was the work of the candlestick, beaten work of gold… according to the pattern which God had shown Moses, so he made the candlestick.”

    Numbers 8:2, 4

    Continuing on from the last two portions explaining the arrangements in the Sanctuary, our present portion opens with instructions to the High Priest about the daily kindling of the lights of the Candelabrum (Menorah). In parallel, this week’s prophetic passage (“Haftara”) traditionally read after the weekly Synagogue Torah reading includes Zechariah’s vision of the heavenly candelabrum (Zechariah 4:2-3).

    The design of the Temple candelabrum, with its central shaft and six branches, each supporting one of its seven lamps and adorned with decorative cups, knops and flowers, is set forth in Exodus 25:31-37. All of these components were to be made specifically “of one piece: the whole of it one beaten work of pure gold” (verse 36).

    This comes to teach us that diverse elements (the seven branches and their ornaments) can co-exist in unity (one piece of gold).

    Sevens in Nature
    The natural creation was traditionally thought to be made up of sevens, such as the seven continents, seven seas and seven classical planets (the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn). From the names of these planets come the names of the seven days of our week.

    The theme of seven recurs throughout the Torah, the opening verse of which contains seven Hebrew words introducing the account of Creation in seven “days” (Genesis 1).

    The sign of God’s Covenant with humanity after Noah’s flood was the rainbow (Genesis 9:13-16). This consists of the seven chief colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. All are refractions of white light: the different hues lie adjacent to and work with one another, so that the rainbow shines as one whole through the coherence and harmony of its component parts.

    Unity amidst diversity
    The seven-branched Temple Candelabrum, the Menorah, is a universal symbol of unity amidst diversity. Significantly, Torah law forbids one to make a candelabrum for one’s own personal use in the same form as that of the Temple Menorah (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Temple 7:10). The Menorah cannot be someone’s private, personal property. There can only be one Menorah: that of the Temple, dedicated to the glory of God and not to the glorification of any specific individual or group. (The Chanukah candelabrum lit annually in private homes and many public locations has eight branches, relating to the eight days of the Chanukah festival commemorating the Second Temple miracle when one remaining flask of pure oil was sufficient to kindle the Menorah for eight days.)

    The Temple was in no need of a lamp to provide interior lighting, because the Temple itself emanates light! The daily kindling of the Menorah by the priest was intended to radiate the light of God and His Torah from the Temple out to the entire world.

    Just as the seven colors of the rainbow emanate from one source of white light, so the seven branches of the Menorah make up a single “tree” of light. Its seven branches allude to the seven chief attributes from which the astonishing plurality and diversity of the world around us derives: Kindness, Strength, Harmony, Victory, Splendor, Purity and Kingship.

    Correspondingly, the human face has its own seven “lights”: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and one mouth, which rules over us like a king .

    In the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov :

    To gain spiritual understanding and awareness, you must sanctify the seven “lamps” of your head: your mouth, nostrils, ears and eyes. Guard your mouth from speaking any falsehood; through humility and patience, sanctify your nostrils with the fear of Heaven, as it is written: “…he will scent the fear of God” (Isaiah 11:3). Use your ears to attend to the words of the wise: believe in what they say. Lower your eyes and avert them from evil. Sanctifying the seven “lamps” of the head can bring you to deeper spiritual understanding and awareness, and your heart will then burn with passion for God… These heights of understanding are a blessing from God that is bestowed from above without preliminaries and introductions: this is the gift of holy spirit.

    Likutey Moharan I, 21

    The seven branches of the Menorah also correspond to the Seven Universal Laws of the Children of Noah, with whom God struck His Covenant after the flood with the sign of the seven-colored rainbow.

    A universal symbol
    The universal relevance of the Menorah as a symbol of unity amidst diversity for all humanity finds expression in Psalm 67, a paean of thanksgiving to God by all the nations and a prayer for universal blessing:

    For the Leader; with string-music; A Psalm, a Song:

    1. God be gracious to us, and bless us; may He shine His face toward us; Selah!

    2. That Your way may be known upon earth, Your salvation among all nations.

    3. Let the peoples give thanks to You, O God; let the peoples give thanks to You, all of them.

    4. Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for You will judge the peoples with equity, and lead the nations upon earth. Selah

    5. Let the peoples give thanks to You, O God; let the peoples give thanks to You, all of them.

    6. The earth has yielded her increase; may God – our God – bless us.

    7. May God bless us, and let all the ends of the earth fear Him.

    Besides the first line, which is a title or superscription, this truly universal Psalm consists of seven verses. As an aid to prayer and meditation, the Hebrew text of this Psalm is often written in the form of the Menorah. Note that verse 4 is the longest of all: this forms the central shaft of the Menorah and its base, while verses 1-3 and 5-7 are arranged on either side, corresponding to the six branches.


    Psalm 67 written in Hebrew in form of Menorah.
    Verse 1 is on left hand side, verse 7 on right hand side.

    Seventy branches
    When King Solomon built his Temple, he made ten golden candelabra which stood in two rows in front of the Menorah of Moses (II Chronicles 4:7, Talmud Tractate Shekalim 18a). These ten candelabra, each with its own seven branches, together had a total of seventy branches – corresponding to the seventy nations that developed from the offspring of Noah and his sons. All these individual branches, each with their own attributes and characteristics, derive their power from the refractions of the “colors” or “attributes” contained in the light emanating from seven branches of the archetypal Menorah of Moses, all made of one piece, corresponding to the colors of the rainbow, which are all refractions of unitary white light.

    When all work together in harmony, there is peace!

    © AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5770 – 2009-10 All rights reserved

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  10. Wendy

    From Reb Zalman

    Washing of Garments
    May 27th, 2010 The following text by Reb Zalman is from this week’s Torah portion, Shabbos Behaalotecha. [Notes by Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor]:

    » (Numbers 8:7) … then they shall wash their garments and be purified.
    [NOTE: This is from instructions for preparing the Levites for their service. Reb Shneur Zalman has pointed out that this is not just about the clothes they were wearing.]

    being that three “garments” of the nefesh / soul: Machshavah / thought, Dibbur / speech and Maaseh / action should be clean.

    [NOTE: Garments are, in general, the visible, external trappings that cover things behind, things not visible to the eyes. In the analogy here presented, the “garments” represent outward manifestation of realities. Behind them are invisible causes or mysteries.

    Simply put, we must clean up actions, clean up speech, and clean up thoughts. The deeper we clean, the closer we move, (as the Levites in our text), toward God’s service. ]

    For, there’s the remnant “neshama / soul that You gave me” – from long since – “it was pure.”

    [NOTE: When we enter the world, our Neshama is pure and it remains so despite anything we may do, say or think that is not. (Neshama and nefesh are both words for “soul” but the former is a part of us that is always close to God.)]

    Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
    from Yishmiru Daat (2009 revision),
    “Parashat Behaalotecha,” p. 34

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  11. Wendy

    From Rav DovBer Pinson
    B”H

    Week’s Energy for Parshas Beha’aloscha
    Rav DovBer Pinson

    Inspired Action
    This week’s Torah reading begins with the words;“Hashem spoke…saying…When you kindle the lights (of the Menorah/ Candelabra) the seven lamps shall cast their light.” (8:1-2)

    The literal translation of that the words “When you will kindle the lights” is – ‘when you make the lights rise.’

    When we feel that there is darkness and we have lost light, we must touch a flame to a wick, until a new flame rises on its own. In order to become inspired to move forward we must do a very real action. At times, our actions flow from our feelings, but always our feelings flow from our actions. Actions lead to feelings, what we do we eventually feel, the “heart follows the deed”, which then leads to further inspired actions.

    This truth is reflected in the journey from Egypt to the Promised Land.

    The journey from Egypt towards the promised land is progressing nicely, when suddenly the journey veers off track.

    Until about mid point in this week’s Torah reading the trajectory is clear, first comes the book of Shemos/Exodus, then following the exodus from Egypt is the book of Vayikra/ Leviticus, the laws and customs of the Priests and Levites who serve in the Mishkan / Temporary Temple in the desert, and then comes the book of Bamidbar/ Numbers, where everyone is counted, a formation of positioning of movement is put in order, and they are moving along nicely towards the Promised Land.

    This progression continues until “Whenever the ark set out, Moshe would say, Arise, Hashem, may Your enemies be scattered…(10:35) Moshe promises that they will find peace in this journey, and then immediately afterwards, the very next verse says “The people were looking to complain…” (11:1), and so begins one complaining after the next.

    After this verse, things start unraveling, arguments ensue, politics and war, rebellions and strife abound and instead of moving quickly into the Promised Land they get stuck in the desert for 40 years. Yet, in all this time of hardship, they are continuously moving forward towards their destination.

    The Torah is comprised of five books that were meant to take us from Creation directly to Destination.

    Bereishis/ Genesis: Creation
    Shemos/ Exodus: Redemption
    Vayikrah/Leviticus: Law/Revelation
    Bamidbar/Numbers: Journey
    Devarim/Deuteronomy: Destination
    Yet, the reality of life is that things don’t go completely smoothly in our life journey, and there are stumbling blocks along the way. We get side tracked, we lose our way occasionally, and therefore the Sages say, that in reality – while there are five books, they are actually divided into seven parts. In sequence they are;

    Creation
    Redemption
    Revelation
    Journey
    Setbacks
    Re-Alignment
    Destination
    Yet, for all the challenges that lay ahead of the Israelites, after 40 years, 40 being a number representing genuine transformation, they do finally arrive at their intended destination.

    THE WEEK’S ENERGY

    Inspired Action
    The journey from creation to destination is a metaphor for our own journey through life.
    While our progression is constant, the way is not always clear.

    At times we do not sense inspiration and a way forward, and yet, somehow we must find a way to move forward, and do the action.

    In order for the flame to ‘catch’, for inspiration to take hold, it must be held to the wick for some time, until it once again rises on its own.

    We start with a forward movement, an action, however small and insignificant it may feel.
    This action becomes inspiraton, that when lit, will lead to greater forward motion.

    Even the smallest step forward can get us back on track and heading in the right direction towards our destination.

    All true transformation occurs in increments, and experiences setbacks along the way.

    This week’s Torah reading imbues us with the energy to take that small, but necessary step forward towards experiencing inspiration. That small step will lead to the inspiration that will lead to further steps that will take us on the direct path to true transformation.

    This week, take stock of your destination and decide on one baby step that will take you in that direction. No big life changing action – just a small movement in the right direction, and watch the inspiration take hold and propel you forward.

    Reply
  12. Wendy

    From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
    Rabbi Gail Labovitz 2011

    The Fish We Ate in Egypt

    Torah Reading: Numbers 8:1 – 12:16
    Haftarah Reading: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7
    Close readers of the biblical text, be they the rabbis of the Talmud and midrash, medieval m’forshim (commentators), or modern academic bible scholars, have long noted that there are significant echoes and mirrorings and perhaps even repetitions that occur between the books of Exodus and Numbers. By now, many of us have at least heard of modern source critical theory, which posits that different strands of ancient Israelite literature were woven together into the text we have now; in this theory, one way of explaining these strange doublings might be that one well-known tradition was recorded in two different ways at two different times (often with two different ideological underpinnings) and then each fitted into the biblical narrative by a later redactor. Traditional commentators did not have such an option available to them. They understood the biblical text, or certainly at least the text of the Torah, to be the work of one Author. And yet they confronted the same textual problem and had to seek clever and plausible explanations, and it was not impossible even for them to imagine that the Torah might tell the same story twice in two different ways – or that similar events could occur twice, with the very significance of those events emerging from the ways in which they nonetheless also differed from each other.
    One half of such a story set occurs in this week’s parashah. In Num. 11, the people become discontent with their food supplies while in the wilderness. They complain that they want meat, and eventually God sends them quails to eat. A very similar episode occurs in Ex. 16. In order to illustrate both the common features and differences between these two episodes, it is worth looking at them side by side. Here are some of the key elements of each:
    Ex. 16

    2In the wilderness, the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died at the hand of the Lord in the Land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, when we ate our fill of bread! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to starve this whole congregation to death.’ 4And the Lord said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion.

    4. Then said the Lord to Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my Torah, or not.

    5. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.

    11. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,

    12. I have heard the murmurings of the people of Israel; speak to them, saying, At evening you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God.

    13. And it came to pass, that at evening the quails came up, and covered the camp; and in the morning the dew lay around the camp.

    14. And when the dew that lay was gone, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as hoarfrost on the ground.

    15. And when the people of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna [man hu – “what is it?”]; for they knew not what it was. And Moses said to them, This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.
    Num. 11

    4. And the mixed multitude that was among them had a strong craving; and the people of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us meat to eat?

    5. We remember the fish, which we ate in Egypt for nothing; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic;

    6. But now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.

    7. And the manna was as coriander seed, and its color as the color of bdellium.

    8. And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of fresh oil.

    10. Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent; and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly; and Moses also was displeased.

    [And the Lord said to Moses…] 18. And say to the people, Sanctify yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying, Who shall give us meat to eat? for it was well with us in Egypt; therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat.

    19. You shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days;

    20. But a whole month, until it comes out from your nostrils, and it becomes loathsome to you; because you have despised the Lord who is among you, and have wept before him, saying, Why did we come out of Egypt?

    31. And there went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, about a day’s journey on this side, and about a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and as it were two cubits high upon the face of the earth.

    33. And while the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very great plague.

    Some very important details appear in both stories. The biblical scholar George W. Coats, for example, enumerates five structural parallels between the two (Rebellion in the Wilderness, p. 99). At least some rabbis in the classical midrash attempt to harmonize the details of the two stories, suggesting that they read these passages as two tellings of one underlying event.
    But not so fast. Remember those puzzles you find on kiddie placemats at restaurants, or on the comics page of the newspaper, in which two seemingly identical pictures are placed side by side and the game is to find the differences? There are plenty of them here too if you look (I’ll refrain from listing how many you have to find to be “expert,” good,” “fair,” etc.).
    You may have noticed above that there are elements that appear in the story in Numbers that are not present in Exodus. In the latter episode, Moses is distressed by the people’s grumbling, and although God does fulfill the request for meat, God does so in a way that is punitive (sending the quail “until it comes out from your nostrils, and it becomes loathsome to you”) and accompanies it at the end with a plague to boot. But the differences can be found from the very beginning of each story too. Among those that stand out are timing and circumstances. In Exodus, this episode appears after the crossing of the Sea of Reeds but before the giving of the Torah at Sinai. In Numbers, as the opening of chap. 9 tells us, we now stand sometime after “the first new moon of the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt,” the tabernacle has been built and inaugurated, and Torah has been given and the people have left Sinai (chap 10). In Exodus, it seems the people truly have no food to eat; while quails appear as part of the story, the true focus is on the giving of the miraculous food of manna. In Numbers, the people have manna but are discontent with it.
    Even the substance of the complaints is subtly different. In Exodus, the people fear that they have been brought into the wilderness to die of starvation. This is a particularly horrible form of death, as noted by a rabbi in the midrashic commentary, the Mekhilta:
    Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korha says: You have no more difficult death than death by starvation, as it says, “Those who were slain with the sword are better than those who are slain with hunger [for these pine away, stricken by want of the fruits of the field] (Lam. 4:9).”

    In this light, note that the people say not “better we should be slaves in Egypt,” but rather “better we should die in Egypt” than die by hunger in the wilderness. Even to stay in Egypt might mean death, they recognize, but a less awful death. In Numbers, though, the complaint comes from a “strong craving.” “Sure, we have manna,” they say, “but we want meat!” Their memories of Egypt are only about the food that was available there, with no apparent concern for the threat that the Egyptians posed to the Israelites lives or freedom.
    In sum, the story as it is told in Exodus describes a misguided, but understandable reaction of a newly freed people who are only just beginning to confront their radically changed situation and who are in genuine fear of what comes next. Thus, neither God nor Moses reacts in the same despairing or angry way, and the people’s needs are then genuinely provided for. In the Numbers telling, however, no such excuses are possible. The people are under no immediate threat. Although God has rescued them, supported them, provided for them, made a sacred covenant with them, they are still not satisfied.
    On this Shabbat, which will occur just after Shavuot, just after we’ve just tried to recreate a bit of the moment when all our souls stood at Sinai and received Torah, it is an especially appropriate time to be reminded of the significance of the place in which we stand after Revelation. Most of us are fortunate to return from our tikkunim and Shavuot services to homes that shelter us, sufficient food to sustain us, families and friends and communities who nurture us. There is always more that could theoretically be given to us, but the message of the conjunction of Shavuot and parashat Beha’alotcha should instead be one of gratitude for all that we do have.
    Shabbat shalom.

    Reply
  13. Wendy

    From Rabbi James Stone Goodman

    Cloud by day

    pillar of fire by night

    the cloud to obscure

    the fire to illumine

    at night — light

    by day — protect with cloud.

    In bed I pull the covers over my head

    can’t get moving

    pillar of fire says — get up

    pillar of cloud says – hide yourself.

    Pillar of fire says get up

    and be like the angels

    when you raise up a light

    first take the Levites and cleanse them

    the ouds they play will be strung with seven strings

    come the Messiah the ouds will be strung with eight strings

    and in the end —

    ten strings

    I will sing to You

    on a ten stringed oud. [Psalm 144:9]

    Every shabbes a sound from

    that wonderful jam

    when we listen at the well

    A song to the Sabbath day [Psalm 92:1 – 4]

    on the ten stringed oud.

    Moses could have been hiding in a cloud

    the cumulus drawn up over his face

    I just can’t talk to another child of Israel he might have said

    I need some time to myself —

    but he didn’t.

    He dusted off the menorah

    he saw floating in the sky

    Build it this way God showed him

    The light from its central shaft

    that’s the Torah light

    b’haalotecha

    it will need a little lift . . .

    Please —

    don’t leave me in the dark.

    O holy God of Shabbes Inspiration B’haalotecha

    Maqam Sigah

    Sigah trichord: E half-flat F G

    Maqam Sigah is associated with the mishkan, the sanctuary, and the menorah.

    Reply
  14. Wendy

    From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

    SHINE 2008

    The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.” —Numbers 8:1-2

    One for each day of creation
    and a seventh for Shabbat,
    the pearl in the crown
    the flowering apple tree
    the culmination.

    One for each blessing
    your children will recite
    beneath the chuppah
    marveling at what they find
    in one another’s eyes.

    Colors of the rainbow,
    weeks of the Omer,
    days of mourning.
    In this menorah you’ll find
    the bush which burned but remained.

    Even now, with our portable
    dwelling-place for God
    long vanished irretrievably
    into the attic of memory,
    these lamps still shine.

    Reply
  15. Wendy

    From AJR/CA

    Parshat Beha’alotcha
    Torah Reading for Week of June 3-9, 2012

    “Ways of Reading”
    By Rabbi Lori Schneide Shapiro, ‘10

    As described in this week’s Torah portion, Beha’alotcha, a menorah is not just a menorah. The word “beha’alotcha” meaning “mount” but also “kindle,” is itself a “two sided Kandinsky;” as, indeed, is most of what we see in the book of Numbers. Similar to the work of Lewis Carroll, and like his character, Alice, the Book of Numbers (B’midbar), is where the Biblical writers “fall through the rabbit hole” and enter the world of fantasy literature. Consider “In the Wilderness,” as “Through the Looking Glass,” and suddenly, the fourth book of the Pentateuch is less about law and more about everything appearing as what it is not. Hungry? Meat falls from the sky up to our knees. Want mystery? An entire book of prophecy seems to be missing between two upside down and backwards nuns. Miss Passover? No problem! Bring it next month! Have a son? “He’s mine!” says the Priest, “…but — he can be redeemed for the small price of five silver coins…” Moses cries. Fires will light our way by night; clouds will descend and protect us during the day. And Miriam will make a racist comment and transform into an Avatar Albino. And so, the ritual of mounting fire on a wall so that the flames “face one another” and other acts such as these – the mysterious within the mundane – are the Escher-drawn foundation of this week’s Torah portion.

    The rabbis oftentimes make moralist tales of these vivid desert mirages. In Numbers 11:11, as Moses implores G-d, essentially asking “Why don’t you like me?” Sforno, the 16th century Italian commentator responds, “that parents often have children who are in sharp conflict with them.” Really, Sforno? Is the most interesting lesson in Moses’ raw insecurity a lesson in the irony of our kin? Didn’t we already learn that with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?!? Considering the vivid visual, aural and even olfactory descriptions in the Book of Numbers, I ask, are we to take these descriptions literally or literarily? Certainly, there must be a more satisfying teaching here, il mio uomo!

    For me, there is. Currently, I have fallen down a rabbit hole of my own. For the more surreal part of the past year, I have been a patient of IVF (in-vitro fertilization). Try after try, like a great Biblical matriarch, I have failed to conceive a child. Many have offered me advice: “Have you kept Tahorat Mishpacha (the laws of family purity)?” Or, with a knowing eye, a colleague suggests, “Daven every day…don’t miss a Shabbat…Tithe your challah!”

    Myself, a self-proclaimed rationalist who is unsure that there is a knowable and personal G-d, but, nonetheless, endures in my steadfast seeking, feels turned upside down by these remarks. These offerings have the same effect that reading the Book of Numbers literally have on me – if I am asked to understand this book as something literal that I must comprehend, then I can not accept this book; there is no meaning in it without absurdity. Similarly, if the abeyance of childbearing is in direct correlation to the observance of Torah commandments in a literalist fashion, then I am, in the time that I most need my tradition, without a tradition.

    The importance of reading the Torah through metaphor is a reminder to us that it is one of the most important collaborative creative texts ever fashioned. Catholics have great cathedrals built by guilds of men over centuries. Hindus and Muslims have pilgrimage festivals to eternalize their piety. Jews have the thoughts and writings of our ancestors over time. So, perhaps, now, at a time when we willingly live in exile from the state of Israel, is the time where we must reclaim our Torah not as a literalist Book of Law, but, standing on the shoulders of S.R. Hirsch, Franz Rosensweig, Nehama Leibowitz, Avivah Zornberg and others, we must continue to live in relationship to the book of radical interpretive creativity.

    The painter, R.B. Kitaj, in his “First Diasporist Manifesto” wrote of the essentiality and creative process afforded by living in exile. He writes:

    “Ill and good winds blow through Diaspora and breathe on the Diasporist’s artistic upbringing. I always know I may have to move on, to get out before it’s too late, and so I daydream about other places while I’m painting. One dream leads to another and changes the aspect and direction of the picture if exilic longing moves the brush from beyond. Quite a few paintings get made like that: would-be Refugee Diasporist pictures.”

    Perhaps, then, this is the time of the “Chosen Diasporist’s” reading of the Torah — a time to allow our imaginations, informed by our education and skill, to reveal the unseen in the text. Just as we stand before a painting to uncoil our unconscious being, so, too, must we gaze upon the Hebrew of the Torah, and allow our inner mind to unfold.

    And so, I unlock my mind before the Hebrew text. Somewhere between my eye and the page is eternity; the menorah transforms from a symbol of the temple, beyond the interpretations of the Rabbis as a symbol of thanksgiving, a harbinger of the rededication of the Temple, the triumph of the Hashmonean dynasty against the Greek-Syrians and the imminence of Chanukah. It glows upwards, a lamp of gilded gold, a vision revealed by G-d, glowing in a light from the first day of creation, the Or Ha-Ganuz, illuminating what is hidden, and reminding me of the feminine hidden inside of our tradition. And it is when I read of this hidden feminine within, this visual reminder of the presence of something greater than ourselves, I cry. I cry because I see in its eternal light a truth greater than my suffering. I cry because I recognize that our tradition is more than any of us can really comprehend with our reasonable minds. I cry because, like Moses to G-d, I know that I will someday mother a child who will be in sharp conflict with me, and I cry because I know that I will become the woman I am supposed to become because of her or him. But most of all, I cry because I know that all will be all right. Because I am, finally, comforted by my tradition. Not in a literal sense. But in a literary one.

    Reply
  16. Wendy

    From AJR/CA

    Parshat Behaalotecha
    Torah Reading for Week of May 19-25-20013
    “The Book within the Book”
    By Rabbi Larry Seidman, PhD ‘09

    This week’s Parsha, Behaalotecha, is a part of the book of Numbers, Bamidbar, one of the five books of Torah. Yet some say that it has a whole book of the Torah inside it. How can that be?

    The mystery surrounds two verses, Numbers 10, verses 35 and 36. In the Torah scroll, and in almost all Hebrew copies of the text, these verses are separated from the rest of the Torah by a unique symbol, the “nun hakuffah”, the inverted Hebrew letter “nun”. You find it just before and after the verses.

    These two special verses are sometimes called The Song of the Ark. The first line begins “Va ye hi bin soah ha’aron…” We chant this verse in the synagogue every time we take the Torah out of the Ark. The Jewish Publication Society (JPS) translation states:

    Num 10: 35 When the Ark was to set out, Moses would say
    Advance O Lord
    May your enemies by scattered
    And may your foes flee before You
    Num 10:36 And when it halted, he would say,
    Return oh Lord
    You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands.

    Why are these two verses marked in this unique way?

    This topic is discussed in the Talmud, in the tractate Shabbat, page 115b and 116a. The Tanna (early Talmudic rabbi) R. Simeon b. Gamliel asserts that these marks are there because the verses are in the wrong place. Perhaps some ancient scribe noticed that he had copied these verses incorrectly and marked them to be fixed in his next copy. Future scribes, however, copied the error and the correction symbols rather than actually making the correction. In the second century BCE, scholars created the Septuagint, a translation of the Torah into Greek. They did not translate the two verses where they are today. Rather they moved verses 35 and 36 to be before verse 34. Perhaps this is the correction that R. Simeon wanted.

    The Talmud, as usual, has a second reason for why these two verses are marked in a special way. The great editor of the Mishnah, Yehuda HaNasi, known simply as “Rabbi,” gives a different explanation. He says that the two verses are separated from the rest of the text because they comprise a separate book of Torah. How could they be a separate book of Torah?

    Elsewhere in this Parshah, (Numbers 11 verses 26-30) we have the story of Eldad and Medad. They were among the men chosen to join Moses to hear G-d’s words in the tent of meeting. Nevertheless, they declined to go! They chose to stay in their own tents and they prophesied, i.e. they had a divine experience.
    The JPS translation of verse 26 says “they were among those recorded” to join Moses, but the Hebrew (“hem b’kituvim”) literally says “they are in the writings”. A Midrash explains that there once was a book called the Prophecy of Eldad and Medad. Rabbi explains that this book was suppressed and only these two verses remain of it. That is why they are marked by the inverted nuns.

    Whatever the reason, our forefathers put a lot of attention on “Va y’hi b’insoa…”. The effect is to cause us to stop and think as we take the Torah out of the Ark. We recall that in Biblical times, the Torah was the magical talisman that led the armed forces into combat. Few of us would advocate using the Torah in that way today. Indeed the Tanakh itself, in the First Book of Samuel (4:5-11), reminds us that the whole Ark was lost in battle when our leader relied on its numinous power rather than deriving a sound military strategy.

    Perhaps the two inverted nuns are there to warn us that physically lifting up the Torah in the synagogue is not enough to chase away G-d’s enemies. Lifting, touching, kissing, even listening is also not enough. No, we have to understand, to study, and to internalize the teachings. Perhaps Eldad and Medad want to teach us that there is a time to venerate our holy objects, but that it needs to be balanced by a time to stay in our tents and meditate on G-d’s word. There is a need to think about the contemporary meanings of the Tanakh to internalize its teachings and to figure out how we use Torah to live our lives. Maybe this is how we achieve Moses’ prophecy: “Advance O Lord, May your enemies by scattered, And may your foes flee before You.”

    Can it really be true that these two verses constitute a separate book of Torah, a book not written by Moses? The Mishnah, the oldest Jewish law, (Yadaim 3.5) says that a defective Torah scroll is sacred as long as 85 letters are legible. It cites the example of these two verses, which contain eighty five letters as sufficient to have the status of a sacred scroll.

    If Numbers 10, verses 35 and 36 are a separate book, then the portions of the Book of Numbers before and after must also be separate books, so there are a total of seven books comprising the Torah. The Talmud quotes R. Samuel b. Nahman in R. Jonathan’s name to give us the proof text. It is Proverbs 9, verse 1: “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.” We must study all seven books of the Torah and use them as pillars to build our wisdom.

    Reply
  17. Wendy

    From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan

    Magical Realism
    June 6, 2014

    I wake up to find myself in my dorm room. The clock says it’s 11:20 am. I have a sinking feeling. My mind finds itself and I realize my first university final exam ever, in the only first-year class I even care about, Introduction to Philosophy, starts in 10 minutes. I have overslept badly. I start yelling. “Oh shit! I’ve slept through my exam!”

    The door to my room swings open. A man about 30 years old, wearing his hair in a ponytail, stands in the doorframe. “I have a solution,” he says. “Jump out the window.” One of his legs is in a cast; he leans on wooden crutches. He smiles and closes the door.

    I had never seen him before and I never saw him again. But I figured he knew something about the folly of solving problems by yelling and jumping. So I shut up, threw on my clothes, and ran to the exam.

    When I recall the story, it seems too fantastical to have happened. But it did. It was an example of real-life magical realism. Usually, “magical realism” refers to a literary genre, in which magical elements are a natural part of an otherwise mundane, realistic environment.

    The book of Bamidbar-Numbers is filled with magical realism. Quail appear when the people want meat. Snakes slither into the camp to bite whiners and complainers. An abused donkey tells her owner off. A wooden staff sprouts almonds. What can we learn from this consistent use of magical realism?

    Sforno (Italy, 1470-1550) believes Torah is teaching about miracles and thus about the unique power of God. God deliberately changes the natural order of things to accomplish a goal. Normally, the world is a set of ordered events, connected by physical causality, and governed by laws of nature. Only God, the author of nature, can suddenly engineer a disruption.

    Pirkei Avot (5:6), however, explains Torah’s magical realism differently. Torah shows us that marvelous things are part of the fabric of the universe. Pirkei Avot says:

    Ten things were created on the eve of the [first] Shabbat at twilight. They are:

    – the mouth of the earth [that swallowed the rebels in Parshat Korach];

    – the mouth of the well [that accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness during Miriam’s lifetime];

    – the mouth of the donkey [that spoke to Balaam];

    – the rainbow [that Noach saw];

    – the manna [that fed the hungry Israelites];

    – the staff of Moshe [that split the sea];

    – the Shamir [worm who cut the stones for the Temple];

    – the writing [on the tablets Moshe brought down from Mount Sinai];

    – the writing instrument;

    – and the tablets.

    In other words, all kinds of magical beings exist in our world. True, they are not part of the natural order of things. They were created after the step-by-step ordered logic of the first six days was complete. Still, they are part of God’s creation, a part that stands outside of the order. We see them when the twilight region of our consciousness is activated – by heightened emotions, special events, or special seasons.

    Literary critics say that magical realism helps showcase these magical elements of our everyday world. It recognizes that we live simultaneously in multiple worlds of consciousness. It offers an antidote to a rigid scientific world-view that suppresses parts of reality, in order to maintain its powerful institutions. It gives voice to marginalized aspects of reality. And it surprises readers, who then become aware of the active role they play in receiving a story, with or without questions.

    From this literary perspective, Torah can be read as a subversive book. Unapologetically, it draws us into multiple worlds of consciousness, pushes us to wonder what role myth places in our lives, challenges us to claim an interpretation, and reminds us not to take for granted marginalized groups, such as non-human animals.

    My husband Chas wants to make sure everyone knows that despite my academic credentials, I actually live in a world of magical realism. I travel with stuffed animals and set them up in the window of my hotel room so they can look out while I’m gone for the day. Also, I have conversations with flies. And at the beach, I ask small rocks if they would be willing to come home with me and participate in memorial ceremonies. I only take them if they say, “Yes!”

    Sometimes I worry that more scientific types view this as avodah zarah, idol worship. But then I turn back to Torah, and let its frank embrace of magical realism connect me with my ancestors and with a deeper critical consciousness.

    Reply
  18. Wendy

    From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

    Eldad, Medad, and Reb Zalman’s tisch

    In the verses we just read from Beha’alot’kha, God takes the spirit which was upon Moses and places it on seventy elders, and all of them begin to prophesy. Then two other men, Eldad and Medad, also begin to prophesy. Joshua, who will be Moses’ successor, urges Moses to stop them. And Moses says, “Are you upset on my account? Would that all of God’s people were prophets!”

    When we think of the English term “prophecy,” we think of foretelling the future. But that’s not what a Biblical prophet did. In the Biblical understanding, a prophet is someone who speaks for God. The great rabbi and scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches that it was the prophet’s job to offer a God’s-eye view on the world.

    The Biblical prophets spoke on God’s behalf: sometimes words of love, sometimes words of caution and judgement. The prophets bequeathed to us a treasury of writings which call us toward a world redeemed.

    In the Jewish understanding, prophecy isn’t about predicting the future. Prophecy seems to mean something like opening ourselves to that Voice from beyond which exhorts us to be better than we think we know how to be.

    In this morning’s verses, I hear Joshua’s anxiety. His boss Moses was the only one who had a direct line to God, and now suddenly all of these people are speaking on God’s behalf — even people who weren’t invited. The familiar structure of authority is at risk of breaking down!

    I can empathize with Joshua’s fear. And I love Moses’ response: oh, dear one, are you jealous on my account? You think I mind having other people connecting with God? On the contrary — I wish everyone had a clear channel through which divine spirit and wisdom could flow.

    Tradition teaches that never again will there arise a prophet as great as Moshe. Today’s verses offer a glimpse of his greatness because they show us someone who was not threatened by others being uplifted too. Moses knew that connection with God is not zero-sum, and that other people opening their hearts to divine wisdom didn’t diminish his ability to do the same.

    One of my favorite stories about my teacher Reb Zalman z”l is about how he used to teach at his Shabbos tisch. “Tisch” is Yiddish for “table;” it means a celebratory gathering where students gather to imbibe wisdom from their teacher, usually accompanied by singing niggunim and toasting l’chaim! Following in the footsteps of his Hasidic forebears, Reb Zalman would gather his hasidim around the table, and offer his unique and beautiful Torah, and his students would be nourished by his wisdom.

    And then he would do something which his forebears didn’t do. He would invite everyone to rise, and to move one chair to the left. Now someone else was sitting in the “rebbe chair” — the big cushy seat with the armrests at the head of the table from which the rebbe was supposed to offer his teachings. And he would say, “Look inside for the Rebbe-Spark within you — and teach from there.”

    And then they would do it again, and again, until everyone at the table had had the opportunity to be the teacher, the giver of wisdom, an open channel for divine grace. Everyone got to sit in the rebbe chair, both literally and metaphorically.

    It was important to him that all of us learn that “rebbe” is a function, a role, into which we too can step. That we too have wisdom to give over. That we too can open our hearts to something beyond ourselves and learn to trust that the wisdom which will flow through us will be the right wisdom for this moment. That all of the power shouldn’t reside in one person, because that isn’t good for the rest of us — and it’s not good for the one person in power, either.

    “Would that all of God’s people were prophets.” Would that we all felt safe enough to open our hearts and minds to divine inspiration. Would that we all trusted our intuition enough to discern when the voice urging us on is a holy one. Kein yehi ratzon — may it be so.

    Reply
  19. Wendy

    From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

    Light

    Step one: we attuned ourselves to light.
    I don’t mean the sun, but what came first.
    (Heavenly bodies were day four.) The fire
    of the burning bush, the glowing cloud
    that hovered over the mishkan, the presence
    of creation’s supernal flame made us lift

    our eyes. When the pillar would lift
    we set off; when it settled, we’d light
    our cookfires. Back then we had presence
    of mind to check the celestial forecast first.
    Didn’t let our desires to move cloud
    our judgment. We were on fire

    for the One Whose presence gleams. Afire,
    we reached step two: learning how to lift
    our hearts even when the cloud
    didn’t move. We can travel light
    even if we’re not going anywhere. First
    we learn how to live with holy presence.

    Step three: open to what wholly presents
    itself. Strike the iron while the fire
    is hot, but paint our doorposts first.
    When we left Egypt we knew how to lift
    our hearts to the One, how to light
    the tinder of prayerful spirit into clouds

    of incense. But God was not in the cloud:
    only hinted-at in the wordless presence
    that filled the tabernacle with light.
    “More than God wants the straw fire
    God wants the well-cooked heart,” so lift
    yourself to the altar. Sometimes the first

    thing to do is burn. Sometimes first
    we bank our internal fires, offer up the cloud
    of self that rises. When the lift
    comes, when our hearts become our presents —
    that’s the time to add fuel to the fire.
    The One Who rolls back darkness before light

    first tunes our internal radio to the presence.
    Then we notice when we get cloud, and when fire.
    Let our spirits lift, and become light.

    I don’t mean the sun, but what came first. At the beginning of Bereshit (Genesis) God creates light, but sun and moon and stars don’t materialize for another few days. From this our tradition intuits that the light of creation was something other than literal light, and there are many beautiful teachings about the supernal light of creation hidden away for the righteous.

    The fire of the burning bush. See Exodus 3. One of my favorite teachings about Shabbat candles holds that when we kindle lights on Shabbat, we are to see in them the supernal light of creation and the light of the bush that burned but was not consumed.

    The glowing cloud that hovered over the mishkan… when the pillar would lift. See this week’s Torah portion, B’ha’alot’kha, in which a cloud hovered over the mishkan (the tabernacle / dwelling-place-for-God’s-presence). When the cloud lifted, we went on our journeys, and when it rested, we stayed put. (For a beautiful d’var Torah on that theme, see Rabbi David’s The Reason for Patience.)

    Strike the iron while the fire / is hot, but paint our doorposts first. The Exodus story is a paradigmatic narrative of leaping when the opportunity presents itself… but before so doing, the children of Israel painted blood on the doorposts of their houses, an act we now echo in placing a mezuzah on the doorposts of ours. Doors are liminal spaces — life is full of liminal spaces — and it’s up to us to make them holy.

    But God was not in the cloud. See I Kings 19:11-12. God was not in the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the still small voice.

    More than God wants the straw fire / God wants the well-cooked heart. A teaching from the Kotzker Rebbe.

    The One Who rolls back darkness before light. See maa’ariv aravim, our prayer for evening — here it is in several variations.

    Tunes our internal radio to the presence. This metaphor comes from Reb Zalman z”l, who used to speak about how God broadcasts on all channels and we receive revelation where we are attuned.

    Reply

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