Parashat Behaalotecha – Erev Shabbat 2, June 2023
Week of 28 May – 3 June, 2023
Torah portion: Numbers 8:1-12:16 Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7
Theme: A Light to the Nations.
In this parashah we see the great significance placed on the Menorah, one of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith and the subsequent role of Aaron and the Levites. The Menorah was a six-branched lampstand made of gold consisting of seven lamps lit with consecrated olive oil. (Ex. 27:20) The word for lamp is ‘ner’ and in each synagogue there is the ‘ner Tamid,’ the eternal flame representing the Menorah in the Temple as well as the burnt offerings on the altar. The lampstand incorporated symbols of wisdom such as nature, soul, biology, metaphysics and most important knowledge of the Torah.
Since light cannot be seen and we cannot see God, light thus became a very precious symbol. We are aware of God’s presence when we see the beauty and goodness in our fellow human beings and in the world. Light is an enduring symbol for God in the sacred texts and therefore has become a metaphor for the Torah, “A mitzvah is a candle and the Torah is light.” (Prov. 6:23)
Most commentators speak of this light as shining on Israel and its call for the people to be a light among the nations. It was during their desert experience that God invited the Israelites to be both God’s people and messengers to the world. Such a calling obligates the Jewish people to build a just and compassionate society. This has been their task ever since God chose Israel to enter into a covenant, “I will take you as my people and I will be your God.” (Ex. 6:7) “Only when Jews live by the values of the Torah do they embody what God stands for and makes God manifest in the world.” ( Etz 816)
God illuminates the universe with justice and righteousness. Each mitzvah a person performs enables her/him to partner with God in shining light throughout the world. A mitzvah is simply a command and there are over three hundred commands in the Torah. In common usage it refers to a good deed, such as feeding the poor, visiting the sick, welcoming the stranger and observing the Sabbath. To bring light to others is by seeing the other as a human being made in the image of God and from that flows respect, kindness, speaking the truth, being a voice for the voiceless, bringing hope to situations that seem unbearable and always focusing on giving life.
The sojourn in the desert had great moments but there were also numerous difficulties and hardships. It was up to Moses to be the leader, teacher, problem solver and whatever else! He was their beacon of light! With the constant criticism, he soon realized the physical and emotional harm that ensued. Feeling a failure, he desperately implored God, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant….Did I conceive all this people, did I bear them?” (11:11) God heard his cry and commanded Moses to appoint seventy elders to assist him in this task. This solution freed him in sharing the load, thus enabling him to restore his hope and energy.
Another blow was when his own siblings slandered and betrayed him, Moses never entered into the conflict, he had only a prayer for Miriam, “Lord, make her well.” (12:13) His loyalty and compassion spoke louder. Moses is a man of great talent and humility. He was God’s humble servant and friend. Like Abraham, he was a man of “light,” leading the Jewish people to a “light” of their own.
For Reflection and Discussion: “There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Amanda Gorman
Bibliography: Lieber, David L., Etz Hayim, (New York, NY, 1999), Sacks, Rabbi Jonathan, Basic Lessons in Leadership, (Maggid Books, Jerusalem, Israel, 2015).
This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Rita Kammermayer, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna: 2001