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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Parashat Beha'alotcha

Parasha: Beha’alotcha – Numbers 8:1 – 12:16
Haftara: Zechariah 2:14-4:7
Reading Date: 14st June 2008 – 11th Sivan 5768

8:1-2 ‘YHVH spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to Aaron and say to him: When you light the lamps …”’. The sages open this discussion saying ‘which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber…’ (Ps.19:6). Praised be the Holy One, blessed be He, that He favored the Nation of Israel and granted us the Torah of Truth, a Tree of Life by which we inherit life for this world and in for the World to Come[1].

8:2 Aaron was disappointed that every tribal leader had part in dedicating the new Tabernacle while he and the tribe of Levi were excluded. Rashi comments that Aaron’s take was of more value as he was the one to prepare and kindle the menorah. So too today it is our responsibility as priests to prepare and kindle the light of Messiah that it may shine for all who cast their eyes upon it.

8:1-4 YHVH commands the consecration of the Levites for their service in the Tabernacle. Aaron was to place the seven lamps upon the menorah in such a way that they would shine ‘Al mool panav’ (on and opposite his face). These directions are not a mere repetition but also a more precise definition, of the general instructions given in Ex.25:37, when the menorah was made. He was to place the lamps in such a manner that each should give light over against its front, i.e., should through its light opposite to the front of the lamp. Israel was thereby to be represented perpetually before YHVH as a people causing its light to shine in the darkness of this world. And when Aaron is commanded to attend to the lighting of the candlestick, so that it may light up the dwelling, in these special instructions the entire fulfillment of his service in the dwelling is enforced upon him as a duty. In this respect the instructions themselves, coupled with the statement of the fact that Aaron had fulfilled them, stand quite appropriately between the account of what the tribal leaders had done for the consecration of the altar service as representatives of the congregation, and the account of the solemn inauguration of the Levites in their service in the sanctuary[2].

8:6 This references back to Lev.8 where the Levites in their new status as the servants of YHVH required a sacrifice as was required at the consecration of the Cohenim.

8:7 Of interest in this verse is the word ‘chet’ meaning sin or transgression. The word for the cleansing of sin ‘taher’ refers to bodily purity but the word ‘tachtat’ used for spiritual purity shares the same root as the word for sin and is the root for the modern Hebrew word for disinfection ‘chitoowi’.

8:10 After this the Levites were to come before YHVH in front of the altar; and the children of Israel, probably the tribal representatives in the name of the Israelites, were to lay their hands upon them, not merely “as a sign that they released them from the possession of the nation, and assigned them and handed them over to YHVH”[3].

8:17 The first-born belongs to YHVH. This is why we redeem the first born if it is a male child among us. The act is called in Hebrew ‘pidyon haben’.

8:24 Rashi comments on verse 24, that the service started at the age of twenty but that they had to serve a five year apprenticeship before being actively involved.

8:26 From the age of fifty the Levites were excluded form manual labor but had to continue helping during the time of service ‘mishmeret’. This is from the Hebrew word ‘shomer’ – to look after or guard.

9:9-14 YHVH gave these instructions: “Everyone who has become contaminated because of a human corpse or on a distant road…” - the Hebrew ‘rechoka’ would imply being far away either from family or Jerusalem.[4] These would keep the ‘pesach sheni’ or second Pesach, a month after the ‘moed’ that in all respects had to be kept in accordance with the statute of the feast viz., eating the lamb with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, leaving nothing till the next day, and not breaking a bone. The command is repeated with reference to foreigners

9:13 Failure to make the Pesach offering results in a man having to bear his own sin. The person of Messiah, the Pesach Lamb, is the one that relieves us of that burden. His blood causes the angel of death to pass over us. In obedience to YHVH on this day we remember the sacrifice that was offered for us that we may live.

10:1 Here we have mention of the ‘chatzatzra’ or trumpet as opposed to the shofar, the sound associated with the voice of YHVH that was heard on Sinai.

10:5 The blasts of the shofar are explained at our website link

10:11 The Hebrew refers to the journey with the use if the word ‘masayhem’ – their journey. The word ‘masa’ refers more to an exciting adventure rather than a mundane journey.

10:12 The marching orders – I believe that when YHVH gets the restored Israel moving again, it will be in the same order!

10:21 The Kohathites carried the sanctuary – in Hebrew, ‘hamikdash’ referring to the articles of the Tabernacle like the ark, the menorah, the table and the altar of incense.

10:29 Note Jethro has a Hebrew name by this time – ‘Chovav’
If it had not been for the sins of the peole described in the succeeding passages, the Israelites would have been in the Promised Land in three days!

10:35-36 These two verses are set off from the rest of the Torah by an inverted ‘nun’. The Talmud[5] calls these two verses a separate book indicating that it has its own message. Moses speaks not of the journey of the people but rather of the Ark’s progress. The purpose of the Ark to be to introduce the Torah and it’s teachings into every aspect of our daily lives.

Reference to the Haftarah – Zech.3:14 – When YHVH comes to dwell amongst His people, many nations will join themselves to Him. V.16 Judah as His heritage, His portion upon the Holy Land and He will choose Jerusalem again.

We long for the day that the Promised Land will truly become the Holy Land – Come, Messiah, Come! – “sh’yavo haMashiach”

11:4 The word used to describe the mixed multitude or rabble is ‘asfasoof’ which literally means a mob. Rashi suggests that these were Egyptians who had joined the Israelites and influenced them to moan and complain to the extent that they said they preferred Egyptian slavery to the presence of YHVH (v.20).

11:16 The choosing of the seventy elders is commonly accepted to be the forerunner of what eventually became the Sanhedrin.

11:17 There was good ground for his complaint. The burden of the office laid upon the shoulders of Moses was really too heavy for one man; and even the discontent which broke out in the complaint was nothing more than an outpouring of zeal for the office assigned him by YHVH, under the burden of which his strength would eventually break down, unless he received some support. YHVH relieved him in the distress of which he complained, without blaming the words of His servant, which bordered on despair. “Gather unto Me,” He said to Moses, “seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know as ‘zkenim’ and ‘shotrim’ …” These were elders, wise men and literally policemen or enforcers of the Word.

11:34-35 From this judgment the place of encampment received the name ‘k’vrot-hattaavah, i.e., graves of greediness, because there the people found their graves while giving vent to their greedy desires. From there they move to ‘chatzerot’ the name implies a closed in place – ‘chatzer’ and there they remained – as though they moved into a safe enclosure.

12:1-16 There is difference of opinion between commentators whether the Cushite is Zipporah or not. Some say that Aaron and Miriam referred to Zipporah in a derogatory way and others say that this was in reference to Moses’ new wife after the passing of Zipporah who was a Mideanite. However the key issue in this chapter is the punishment of Miriam which has become an eternal teaching as to the gravity of the sin of slander.

[1] Rabbi Aba - Bahalotcha
[2] Dilitch – Commentary on the Torah
[3] Knobel
[4] Mishnah Pesach IX.2
[5] Shabbat 115b-116a

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