Parashat Beha’alotecha: Taking the next step Into a new light
Parashat Beha’alotecha provides a nice break following Naso, which has 176 verses, making it the longest parsha in the Torah. But its importance is more than in providing a biblical breather — there is something unique about Beha’alotecha.
While it is shorter in content than its predecessor — only 136 verses — the number of topics in the Oral Law that are connected to this parsha, including Chanukah, is disproportionate. What can we make of this?
Rav Moshe Wolfson underscores Beha’alotecha’s arrival after Naso, which concerns the completion of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the duties of the different clans. Beha’alotecha picks up here, telling of the menorah in the Tabernacle, the consecration of the Levites, as well as how the Israelites complained and how Miriam and Aaron questioned Moses.
According to Rav Saadya Gaon, the Mishkan is a re-creation of the Sinai experience, an awesome and intense encounter with God. If that is the case, then the progression is perfect: If Naso is the Mishkan and the Mishkan is Sinai and Sinai is the giving of the Written Law (hence the great number of Torah verses in the parsha), then Beha’alotecha is the next step, literally, for sure, but also figuratively — Beha’alotecha is the presentation of the Oral Tradition.
This interpretation serves us well in explaining the opening, where Rashi notes Aaron’s pain in not taking part in the inauguration of the Mishkan. Beha’alotecha presents us immediately with the role that Aaron’s children will play — the lighting of the candles of the menorah. Rashi, using the Midrash, fills in the conversation and tells us that God says to Aaron with this lighting “your lot is greater.”
How is lighting the candles greater than any other role in the Mishkan? Perhaps the candles symbolize the continuous light of Torah, the continuous light of the tradition reaching beyond that which is written, and sharing a new message. The Oral Tradition still sheds new light.
Everything in the Torah must relate to us in some way. No matter how extreme or distant an episode may seem, there is a message that bears eternal truth for all generations.
Consider the episode in Beha’alotecha when the Israelites complain about the manna, the miracle bread that God delivered to the Jewish people while in the Wilderness. What can be learned from this?
How is lighting the candles greater than any other role in the Mishkan? Perhaps the candles symbolize the continuous light of Torah, the continuous light of the tradition reaching beyond that which is written, and sharing a new message.
According to our tradition, the manna mimicked the taste of whatever food the eater could imagine. If this is the case, why did the Israelites complain about having the manna day after day? Why not simply imagine a different food on each day of the week?
Let us present two unique approaches: First, the Kli Yakar, in his commentary on the Torah, says that in order for a food to taste like the food imagined, the imagination must be somewhere in one’s memory banks. So if the Israelites did not recall the taste of the other food, then no new imagination could be projected onto the manna.
Rav Shlomo Aviner takes a different approach and says that the Israelites were, in fact, able to taste any flavor in the world, but because all these tastes were so readily available, they became inured to the thrill of a new flavor. In a sense, the Jews missed the feeling of want.
These two different interpretations present us with a pair of take-home messages:
Kli Yakar reminds us that life is filled with the constant infusion of old memories. If we don’t fill our days with positive, memorable moments, then what stories shall fill the storybook of our lives when we are well on in our years?
And Rav Shlomo Aviner’s thoughts show us that even if one happens to live in a time of recession, when things certainly are not easy, one of the opportunities of such a situation is that once again one can feel what it means not to have everything at one’s fingertips.
Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn is rav and dean of Yeshivat Yavneh and the author of
“Judaism Alive” (Gefen Publishing, 2015).