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Parshat Hashavua Behaalotecha

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Last Updated on October 25, 2021

Weekly Torah Portion – Parshat Hashavua Behaalotecha

By: Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor

Parshat Hashavua Behaalotecha Rav Nissim Mordechai Makor

Parshat Hashavua Behaalotecha in a nutshell: The parashah tells of the Menorah in the Tabernacle, the consecration of the Levites, the Second Passover, how a cloud and fire led the Israelites, the silver trumpets, how the Israelites set out on their journeys, complaining by the Israelites, and how Miriam and Aaron questioned Moses.

Pure beaten gold

More than two hundred years ago, Rabbi Shimshon Vertheimer zs”l, died in Vienna, a wealthy banker who supported Torah and chesed projects. Shortly after his death, the holy Rabbi Hayyim from Sanz zs”l, told his Hasidim: Come and let me tell you what happened in the judgment of that noble Jew from Vienna. When he went up to Heaven, he was asked to give a full accounting. He said: “I had a set schedule every day. In the morning, I got up and went to prayer, I returned to my house for breakfast and then drank coffee and smoked while reading the newspapers. Someone in my position has to be up-to-date! I said birkat hamazon and then went to the bank until noon. At noon I came back home for lunch, and then said birkat hamazon and took a nap. When I got up, the Tzedaka collectors and representatives of yeshivot arrived. They spread out their requests and received my donations. Then I would go to the bet knesset for minha, a Torah class and then Arvit. After prayer, I would attend another Torah class and then return home for dinner and a game of chess, to relieve the tension of the day.

Finally, Shema and then to sleep. This was the schedule of my day. “The heavenly court heard and said: “Gan Eden!” Two white angels came to bring him to his place and then, his friend, another banker who had died on that same day, stood up for judgement. He was at first afraid and trembling from the awesome judgement, for he had not been a religious Jew, keeping the Torah and mitzvot. But when he heard his friend’s judgement, he calmed down. When he was asked to give an accounting, he said: my daily schedule was also set, very similar to my friend’s at least in three quarters of the day. I would get up from my sleep. I did not go to the bet Knesset, but I did eat breakfast and finish off with coffee and a cigar. I did not say Birkat hamazon, but I did go to the bank and returned for lunch. I did not bless after that either, but I did take an afternoon nap. I did not accept requests for donations instead I went to enjoy myself with my friends but I did return for dinner and after a game of chess I went to sleep. No Torah, No prayer, No chesed, No strengthening of Torah and the court decided: Gehinnom. The man jumped up and asked: Was the Gan Eden you granted my friend – for his prayer and learning and chesed alone?! They said to him: No, he received reward for all twenty-four hours of the day! The friend complained: But twenty of our hours were exactly the same, for both me and him. Why can I not receive reward for them?! They answered: Let us relate a parable. A merchant buys grain from a farmer, bags of grain and chaff and straw and even dirt and rocks. The farmer chooses to sell it like that and receives for that his price. But if a man will come and try to sell the chaff alone and to get half the price for that they will only make fun of him…Our case is similar: Just as there can be a partnership between “Yisachar and Zevulun,” one who learns Torah and the merchant who supports him and enables him to learn, so too can a man be “Yisachar and Zevulun” himself. He can work and earn his livelihood, in order to be able to live a Jewish lifestyle, to educate his children with a Jewish education, to learn Torah and participate in acts of hesed.

This man turns even his hours of work and even his hours of rest into “enablers” of mitzvot and receives the reward for them, too. Those hours enable him to pray with peace of mind and to learn the Torah, to educate his children and to run his house in the way of G-d. But work and rest alone, if they do not enable spirituality and mitzvot, do not bring about reward! This is a wonderful story, and its message is pointed and obligating. The message is already hinted to in the Torah, at the beginning of our parashah: “And this was the work of the menorah: it was of beaten gold, from its shaft to its flowers, it was beaten work. According to the pattern which G-d had shown Moshe, so he made the menorah.” The Hafetz Hayyim zs”l explained: The pure menorah is comparable to the Torah, “The Torah of light.” The pure oil is like the pure wisdom, the knobs and flowers are like the details of the laws and it is all like “the pattern which G-d had shown Moshe,” all was given to Moshe at Mt. Sinai. But there is an innovation: even its shaft, the base which holds it up, comparable to the livelihood which enables the learning of Torah it also of the same beaten gold. It is one unit with the menorah itself and is also pure gold. For it, the purpose is to be a base and a stand for the holy Torah and even for that, we receive the reward!

Those who lust for their desires

What can one say about a land surrounded by enemies, besieged, that opens its gates wide before its enemy with indifference, saying “It will be fine; We will overcome.”?! Man is also under siege, his evil inclination ambushes, waiting outside, as it says “At the doorway, sin crouches.” What is the judgment of a man who opens his gates for him, brings him into his house, his mind and his heart?! This was the sin of the “complainers”: they lusted for their desires. They wanted their evil inclination to incite them! “The wrath of G-d was very inflamed, and it was evil in the eyes of Moshe.”When we think about this, we will realize that we too are also steeped in the culture of “lusting for our desires.” Our culture incites us to rise up and to fall, to sin and to pollute, to impurify and to corrupt. The written, broadcast and televised communication details every hidden and open thread uses all its channels and plots to bring into the house, into the heart, the licentiousness and abominations, the corruption and the filth. Why should we open our doors to it? Why should we bring poison into our house with our own money, to poison the souls of our children? It is not enough to struggle with the evil inclination within us, that we must bring ourselves to more difficult and increase the power of the inclination to triumph?! Let us purify our houses and guard our fortresses!

A Step in the Right Direction

Rashi, quoting a Chazal, explains that the word “BEHAALOTCHA”, which has connotations of climbing, teaches us that there was a step leading up to the Menorah on which the Kohen would stand and prepare the lights. The question arises why this was necessary. The Menorah, after all, was only three Amos tall (the height of an average person minus his head), so that anyone other than a midget could reach the lamps with ease.

The Me’lo ho’Omer points out, however, that the Pasuk is talking about Aharon (see also the Ramban, who explains that it was probably Aharon who usually kindled the Menorah). And Aharon, in his capacity as Kohen Gadol, was forbidden to raise his hand higher than the Tzitz that he wore on his forehead. Consequently, without the step, kindling the Menorah would have been problematic.

With this, says the Gerer Rebbe, we can also understand why Rashi refers to ‘preparing the lights’, rather than kindling them. Kindling the lights (each evening), he says, is permitted to a Zar (a non-Kohen) in which case, Aharon would not necessarily have worn the Tzitz whilst performing the Mitzvah. Preparing the lights (each morning) on the other hand, was confined to Kohanim, and Aharon would have been forbidden to do it without wearing the eight garments of a Kohen Gadol.

Genuine Humility

“And the man Moshe was very much more humble than all other men” (12:3).

Some people, explains the K’sav Sofer, put on a show of humility purely so that others should praise them for their modesty. The moment, however, that people see through their disguise and begin to accuse them of vanity, they drop their pretense, which no longer serves any purpose. Not so the person who is genuinely humble. He behaves humbly because he considers himself small, and remains unperturbed by the talk of others.

Moshe heard Aharon and Miriam talk about him, accusing him of unprecedented pride (in considering himself superior to themselves and to others). Yet the Torah testifies that even after that, Moshe continued to be the most humble of all men. Incidentally, the Torah here refers to Moshe as the ”Ish”, and at the same time, describes him as more humble than any other “Adam”. Moshe was truly an ‘Ish’ (defining a spiritually superior man), yet he was more humble, not only than ‘Anashim’ like himself but even than all ‘B’nei Adam’ (a title which usually describes the ordinary man in the street). It is one thing for a great man to be more humble than other great men, and for an ordinary man to be more humble than other ordinary men. It is quite something else for the greatest of men to be more humble than the ordinary man in the street. That is indeed the highest form of humility.

As heard from my Torah Teachers

Shabbat Shalom

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