BeHa’alotecha - Weekly Torah Portion
Our overseas friends reading or listening to my sermon this Shabbat may be wondering what is going on here. From their perspective we are rushing the Torah reading and getting ahead of ourselves. We are reading today the portion of BeHa’alotecha while they are still in Nasso which we read last week. Rabbi Oded Mazor, the rabbi of Kol HaNeshama Congregation of Jerusalem, has addressed it in his newsletter to the community explaining what has happened and the reason for it. Last Friday we celebrated the Festival of Weeks, Shavuot, on Friday, for only one day, while outside of Israel there was also a second day to the festival. On e the second day a special reading from the Torah takes place, and that happened on a Shabbat. Therefore, while we read from Nasso, this was not the case overseas. Over the next few weeks, we will continue to have a one-week lag between the readings until around the middle of the month of Tamuz we will join again the same readings.
We read a wonderous description by the prophet Zechariah for the Haftarah. “Then the angel who was speaking with me returned and roused me, as a man who is awakened from his sleep. He said to me, ‘What do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold with its bowl on the top of it, and its seven lamps on it with seven spouts belonging to each of the lamps which are on the top of it; also two olive trees by it, one on the right side of the bowl and the other on its left side.’” These words clearly reflect the description from this week’s portion of the Torah where we read, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you mount the lamps, the seven lamps will give light in the front of the lampstand.’ Aaron therefore did so; he mounted its lamps at the front of the lampstand, just as the Lord had commanded Moses. Now this was the workmanship of the lampstand, hammered work of gold; from its base to its flowers it was hammered work; according to the pattern which the Lord had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.”
Keep this in mind as we shall still return to the foundations of the Menorah. Before that we should also read a side story about Miriam, Moses sister who discussed with her brother Aaron “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.” The Devine intervention is swift, “He called [a]Aaron and Miriam. When they had both come forward, 6 He said, ‘Hear now My words: 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. Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant, against Moses?’ 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.”
Many among us complain about the harsh punishment of Miram while clearly also Aaron was involved in this matter but seems to get away without a punishment. There is in fact somewhat of a difference between the two and it is Miriam who uses her power to speak against Moses wife and Aaron continue it from there. Aaron, maybe in his desperation, shouts to his brother, “Oh, my lord, I beg you, do not account this sin to us, in which we have acted foolishly and in which we have sinned. Oh, do not let her be like one dead, whose flesh is half eaten away when he comes from his mother’s womb!” Moses responds immediately with a demand, “אֵל, נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ”, “O God, heal her, I pray!” Unlike that which is customary today, Miriam des not receive a VIP discount, “‘Let her be shut up for seven days outside the camp, and afterward she may be received again.’ So Miriam was shut up outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not move on until Miriam was received again.” The way leprously is dealt with is well-known and until such time that they have healed they must stay outside of the camp regardless of their hierarchy in society. There is no need to say more beyond that.
Let us get back to the Menorah. The prophet explains that he was asked by God’s angel who shows him the lampstand if he understands what he says and when the angel receives “no” as an answer he goes on to enlighten. “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” The Menorah is there to shed its light on a simple truth, which we may forget about when we are powerful and mighty, and can instill fear in others. At the end of the day these are mere transients, today they are here tomorrow they are history. His Spirit is different, it guides by what is just, and right, an accepting, and able to control power and might to be used only when absolutely necessary.
Over the last few days, we witnessed the cruel death of George Floyd inflicted by a ruthless policeman who chocked him to death. This unnecessary loss of life, following many similar cases where the life of the stranger, the minority, the lowlife seem cheap and unworthy of living, is incomprehensible and inexcusable. The very fact that the policeperson has the power to subdue a person does not mean that His Spirit should not control the action. The use of good judgement, compassion, and care achieves much more, it is by far more successful and in the long run destined to win. The road to it is many times tough, it is certainly long, and inevitably frustrating. Nevertheless, it is our duty to stand strong and say, that “enough is enough” we deserve to have a breath of fresh air.
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for good health to all.
Reuven Marko, 5 June 2020, 14 Sivan, 5780