Behaalotcha- weekly Torah portion

The portion of the Torah of this week begins with an instruction, “When you mount the lamps, the seven lamps will give light in the front of the lampstand.” Thereafter it is emphasizes that “Aaron therefore did so; he mounted its lamps at the front of the lampstand, just as the Lord had commanded Moses” The reading of the portion of the Torah finishes with a totally different event. “Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” And the Lord heard it… So the anger of the Lord burned against them and He departed. But when the cloud had withdrawn from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow. As Aaron turned toward Miriam, behold, she was leprous.” So our reading this time begins with light and concludes with darkness.

When describing the mounting of the lamp Aaron is instructed to stand “in the front of the lampstand.” So that “the seven lights will give light”. Emphasizing this point and paying such a particular attention to this detail calls for further investigation and understanding why it is so important to deliver this command and also to state that it was precisely performed. One can kindle the lights in various ways from either side or from the top. The demand is to perform this when standing in front of the Menorah, to see all of it at once. From that point of view the lampstand can be seen in its entirety including its lighted candles. From any other point of view only a part of the menorah can be seen and this way it cannot be seen in its entirety.

The menorah

Still, the move from the beginning of the Torah portion to its end seems to be on the extreme side. Really a move from light to darkness, a transition from that which is holy to that which is impure. Miriam and Aaron speak badly about Moses. They say, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” meaning that not only Moses gets to speak with God but they do that too. And the response does not fail to return clearly and unequivocally, “If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; With him I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the Lord.” The understanding of the big difference between Moses and any other prophet, including Miriam and Aaron, in thus sealed. Moses has a direct and personal contact with God, while others, at best, have an indirect and impersonal connection. The rest of the prophets connect to God when they are unconscious, in a dream.

Miriam is hit with leprosy and Moses, feeling for her pain cries out loud, “O God, heal her, I pray!” He receives an interesting answer, “would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again.” There is no difference between her and any other person in the camp who suffers a skin disease. If it passes away within seven days they are allowed back in camp. The law of the leprous shall be kept even in Miriam’s case. Therefore, “Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days”. The conclusion that our elders concluded was the leprosy is the punishment for gossip and slander. And therefore we are warned over and over again to refrain from that.

Admittedly, it is odd that Aaron who seemingly was as involved in all of this as Miriam was is spared from punishment. Our sources are full of discussions and explanations for this, which I shall not address this time. Still I would like to suggest that there is a connection between the first part of the portion of the Torah we read to the last part of the same portion. Aaron, who knew well how to stand before the menorah and see it in its entirety, was unable to stand that way before the gossip and slander that he had witnessed and rather, has joined it. He could have chosen to add light and instead he was unable to look at what was going on in its entirety. He did not stand before, he was on the sidelines, he did not lead and was once more was dragged into it. Being unable to stand before, as would have been necessary, he enabled slander to creep in, for darkness to exist in the dialog that was going on.

In our lives we encounter such cases many times. Not always are we able to stand in front and see the entire menorah and fully comprehend what we see. When we do not do that we will not be able to see things as they are nor will we be able to solve things and we are likely to err, hurt or join the slander and gossip. Unwilling to look at the reality in a broader sense we set ourselves to failure. These days when we are commemorating fifty years to the breakout of the Six Days War we should bravely face the menorah from its front. Look at reality as it is, with all its facets and with all of its complexities. Doing so will allow us to bring more light to the world and hopefully forward, at least somewhat, the cause of peace.

Shabbat Shalom.

Reuven Marko, 17 Sivan 5777, 9 June 2017

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