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When You Set Up


Torah Portion: Beha'alotekha ("When You Set Up")

Shabbat: June 10, 2023 | Sivan 21, 5783


The Our Father

“In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father in heaven,

Hallowed be Your name.

Your kingdom come.

Your will be done.

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts,

As we forgive our debtors.

And do not lead us into temptation,

But deliver us from the evil one.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you”. Matthew 6:9-14


When You Set Up: Beha'alotekha Overview

Our Torah portion this week (Beha'alotekha) begins with God giving instructions about how Aaron was to service the lamps of the Menorah within the Holy Place of the Tabernacle (Num. 8:1-4). Each day Aaron was to clean each of the seven lamps and to refill them with the very purest olive oil. The wicks were then to be bent so that the six outer lamps shined toward the seventh (and central) shaft. The lamps were to be lit daily, "from evening until morning," in a specific sequence - starting from the central lamp (the shamash) and then moving right to left (Exod. 27:21). According to the Talmud (Shabbat 22b), while all the lamps received the same amount of olive oil, the central lamp miraculously never ran out of oil, even though it was kindled first in the sequence. This miracle is also reported to have occurred during the Temple period, though it abruptly ended about 40 years before the destruction of the Second Temple (c. 30 AD), after the death of Yeshua the Messiah, the true Servant and Branch of the LORD. As it is attested in the Talmud: "Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ['For the Lord'] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the centermost light shine" (Yoma 39a).

The portion next describes how the Levites were to be set apart for service at the Mishakan, or "Tabernacle" (Num. 8:5-12). In a ceremony that signified a sort of "rebirth," they were first sprinkled with mei hachatat (מֵי חַטָּאת), literally, "the waters of sin" (Num. 8:7), that is, the ritually sanctified water that was mixed with the ashes of the red heifer to be purified from contamination with death (Num. 19:13). Next they shaved off all their hair and were completely immersed in a mikveh (a bath containing flowing water). The steps of being sprinkled with purifying water, shaving off of all the hair, and being completely immersed in a mikveh are similar to the ritual for the cleansing of the metzora, or "leper" (Lev. 14:2-32). Rashi notes that each member of the community was required to place their hands on the Levites' heads, just as the hands were placed on the head of a sacrificial animal as it was slaughtered before the altar (Num. 8:10; Lev. 1:4, 3:2). The "waving" of the Levites by the High Priest likewise simulated the ritual of "tenufah" (תְּנוּפָה), that is, the waving of the guilt sacrifice (asham) offered by the leper after his cleansing (Lev. 14:12). Finally, the Levites themselves were to lay their hands on sin and whole burnt offerings to make atonement before the LORD (Num. 8:12).

The portion then continues with a restatement of law of Passover (Num. 9:1-14), followed by a description of the Cloud of the LORD (i.e., anan Adonai: עֲנַן יְהוָה) that covered the Tabernacle by day and appeared as a pillar of fire (עַמּוּד אֵשׁ) by night. When the Cloud lifted the people would break camp and go to their next location en route to the promised land; when the Cloud settled the people would stop and encamp again (Lev. 9:15-23).

Two silver trumpets (i.e., chatzortzrot keser: חֲצוֹצְרֹת כֶּסֶף) were to be made for various purposes, including signaling the people to break camp, assembling the elders of Israel, to mark the arrival of new moons and appointed times, as alarms for battle, and so on.

The Cloud of the LORD lifted and the people of Israel then decamped from Sinai on the 20th day of the second month of the second year after the Exodus from Egypt (Num. 10:11-35). The Ark of the Covenant went out first to scout a location followed by a specific camp order and formation.

Soon after many began to complain of the hardship of the journey, and the Fire of the LORD (אֵשׁ יְהוָה) broke forth and consumed people on the outer parts of the camp. The name of the place was subsequently commemorated as "Taberah" (תַּבְעֵרָה)- "the burning.

Despite the judgment of the LORD, some time later the eirev rav (mixed multitude) craved for Egyptian food and the people of Israel joined them by recalling the "free fish" they ate in Egypt. The people also complained of the monotony of the manna that fell like dew from heaven to feed the people during their journey (Num. 11:1-15). Moses then lamented to the Lord about how hard it was to lead the people, and God then instructed him to appoint 70 elders of Israel to help him lead the people (Num. 11:16-17). As for the people's complaint over the divine menu, the LORD sent an enormous swarm of quail that brought a plague upon the people. Because so many died from the plague, the place was called Kibroth-hattaavah (קִבְרוֹת הַתַּאֲוָה), or the "Graves of Craving" (Num. 11:18-33).

The portion ends with the attempted mutiny of Miram and Aaron regarding Moses' role as the exclusively chosen leader of the people of Israel. They secretly consulted and asked: "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has he not spoken through us also?" The LORD heard their secret conversation and intervened by calling them to appear with Moses before the Tent of Meeting. There the LORD vindicated as the sole leader of Israel because only he speaks "mouth-to-mouth" with God. Miriam was then stricken with tzaarat ("leprosy") and exiled from the camp. Moses prayed for his sister be be healed (אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ) but the LORD delayed healing her seven days to correct her and to be an object lesson to Israel.

Parashah Themes

Some themes for this week's reading include the symbolism of the Menorah and the Divine Light; the ongoing need for purification from sin; the role being a priest to one another; the call for holiness in the divine service; the Shekhinah Glory and Presence of God; the direction and leading of God; the tests we face as we journey through desert places; the problem of our complaining hearts; the requirement to live by "daily bread"; the importance of respecting elders; tzaarat and exile from the camp, among others.

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