7 haiku for parsha Beha’alotcha by Rick Lupert (Apparently you can have too much quail)

All the things in place.
Levites shaved head to toe. Time
to leave the mountain

Now the Levites are
hallowed, because the first born
built a golden calf

Oh good, there is a
second Passover in case
we need more Matzah

A lifted cloud says
it’s time to go – Importance
of weather reports

Freedom has its one
year anniversary – Just
decades more to go

Let the meat-centric
complaining begin – Not to
mention the tough walk

She may have talked smack
but a sister is family –
Please God, heal her

Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Reuters/David W Cerny

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).

Call to war

There are powerful moments when life’s experiences bring deeper meaning to the Torah and her classic commentators.

It was Shabbat, June 5, 1982.

I was nearing the end of my first year abroad in Israel, and I spent that Shabbat in Haifa with my family. A few days earlier, on June 3, Israeli Ambassador to England Shlomo Argov was seriously wounded in an attack by three PLO terrorists. Reactions in Israel ranged from shock to outrage, and the winds of war were brewing.

I had a surreal experience at synagogue that Shabbat morning. The Torah portion was Beha’alotecha, which contains one of the most famous verses in the Torah: “Vayehi binso’a ha’aron vayomer Moshe, kuma Hashem, v’yafutsu oyvecha, v’yanusu m’san’echa mipanecha [When the ark was set forth, Moses would say, Advance, O Lord, may Your enemies be scattered, and may Your foes flee before You].” As we read this call to war by Moses, the synagogue’s building continuously shook to the rumbling of helicopters and F-15 fighter jets. When I peeked outside, I saw miles of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) jeeps, tank transporters and armored personnel carriers, all heading north. I had a front-row view of the IDF’s massive call-up of troops on their way to the region’s first real “war on terror.”

The Netziv commentary to the Torah says that the word “oyvecha” (your enemies) means “one who hates you deeply in his heart, and wishes nothing but to inflict harm upon you.” Rashi says that the word “m’san’echa” (your foes) means “those who pursue you with the intent to kill you.” These words from our Torah portion were what I both heard and felt that Shabbat as the IDF entered Lebanon, where the PLO had built a terrorist “state within a state.” Moses’ call to war rang clearly as the IDF was on its way to confront an enemy whose long record of hatred, harm and pursuit with the intent to kill included hijackings, massacring school children and staining the Olympics with bloodshed.

What does it mean to go to war and confront an evil enemy? You never really understand that until it gets up close and personal. I learned that part of the parasha the next morning, June 6 — the first formal day of the Lebanon War.

Through heavy traffic, I made my way back to my yeshiva. I attended Kerem B’Yavneh, a Hesder yeshiva where Israeli young men enroll in a five-year program that combines Torah study with service in IDF combat units. I studied there during the second semester of my senior year of high school, and I was scheduled to return to Los Angeles that week for my YULA graduation.

Running from the bus stop, I went straight to the beit midrash, where my chevrutah (study partner) waited for me. “Let’s begin studying, we don’t have much time,” he said. I didn’t understand what he meant, but I soon found out. I once again heard jeeps screeching outside, along with buses. Two IDF officers came into the beit midrash, which was filled with hundreds of young men studying Talmud. They approached the front of the room, and a sudden silence fell over us as they began to read names and numbers.

I sat there watching the entire beit midrash clear out. When my chevrutah’s name was called, he looked at me with a smile and said, “I have to go now, please promise me that you won’t leave, and I promise you that I will return here to continue our studies.” He hugged me and ran out.

I followed him to see all of the boys and some of the rabbis boarding the buses with their IDF duffle bags. Along with my chevrutah were Chovav Landau, who always opened his home to us students from abroad, and Yehuda Katz, who was one of the yeshiva’s top Talmud students.

As the buses rolled away, I witnessed something incredible. With full awareness that they were on their way to war, these boys broke out into songs of faith in God. The buses rolled away in the dust, and the voices of hundreds of boys faithfully singing continued to echo in my heart. I went back into the beit midrash, where about 25 of us remained.

I never went back for my YULA graduation. Instead, that summer included attending Chovav’s funeral, studying in the beit midrash (my chevrutah did return) and reciting psalms for the return of Yehuda Katz (who is missing in action until this day).

Thirty years later, I continue to pray for Yehuda’s return, much like I pray that this generation will not have to endure another war. Moses indeed declares a “Call to War,” and despite this, the Israeli governments have made multiple “Calls to Peace.” Are the Palestinians listening?

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila is the director of the Sephardic Educational Center (SEC), an international organization with its own campus in the Old City of Jerusalem. He is currently launching the SEC’s new Makor program (makorjerusalem.org).