Sefer Bamidbar opens with the final preparations for the journey from Har Sinai (the physical setting for all of Sefer Vayikra) to the promised land. Rav Yosef Soloveitchik discusses the final preparations in his classic dvar Torah on Behaalotcha (available from Torah.org).
When my son was young we took a trip together. It was before 9/11 and airport security was going through the standard questions when the officer asked: “Did anyone give you anything to take?”
This week’s parsha revolves around a serious schism within the nascent Jewish nation. Korach, Moshe’s cousin and leader of a cabal of 250 prominent citizens, challenged Aaron’s legitimacy as high priest. Like most people who disguise their personal ambitions as matters of principle, the dissenters wrapped themselves in theology. They complained to Moshe and Aaron, “For the entire congregation is comprised of holy people and G-d is in their midst, and why do you elevate yourselves over G-d’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3).
As they say in Hollywood, “You just can’t make this stuff up.” There are some things in the Torah that could not have been written unless they actually happened.
The opening verses of Behaalotcha seem out of place. Last week’s parsha closed with the story of the offerings of the chiefs of the tribes of Israel as the culmination of the consecration of the Tabernacle. This parsha begins with G-d commanding Moshe: “Tell [Aaron]: when you light the lamps, toward the face of the Menorah should the seven candles [beam their] light” (Numbers 8:2). The next two verses state that Aaron fulfilled his obligation without fail and that the Menorah, of one piece, looked like the image G-d showed Moshe.
מאחר שאדם תמיד יכול להמשיך ולהתפתח מבחינה רוחנית, נפשית, ורגשית, הרי שבכל שנה ושנה הוא יכול לחוות מחדש מעמד של יציאה מעבדות או מכבלים, תהליך של ציפיה המסומל בספירת העומר, והתעלות רוחנית או הארה כמו בזמן מתן תורה
It says in Pirkei Avot “velo habaishan lamed,” that “the timid doesn’t learn” (2:5). Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerondi,in his classic commentary on the Mishnah in Avot explains that boshet (timidity) is always a great trait to have, except in an educational setting. We see this idea in the verse in Tehillim “vadebera bedoteicha neged melachim velo evosh,” “I will talk in your laws opposite kings and I will not be timid” (119:46). When running away from King Saul and standing in front of the kings of the world, King David was not embarrassed to speak about the Torah and mitzvot even though they laughed at him and mocked his words.
Why is peace of mind so elusive?
In any previous era, maybe it would have been easy to answer such a question. How can people feel satisfied when life is so brutal and short, or the threat of war too imminent, or disease and tragedy were ever present? These, however, are not the issues most of us are struggling with on a day to day basis — so what gives?
The mishna in Pirkei Avot (1:5) states: יהיביתךפתוחלרוחהויהיוענייםבניביתך "Let your home be open wide to the multitudes and treat the poor like members of your household."
The parsha Behar opens with the commandment that, on every seventh year from the time the Jews settle in Israel, they must leave their land fallow in observance of the shmitah year. The Torah twice calls the observance Shabbat. “[T]he Land shall rest [as] a Shabbat for the Lord.” (Leviticus 25:2). The Jewish Publication Society translates the text as “[T]hen shall the land keep a Sabbath unto the Lord.” In verse 4, we read, “But in the seventh year shall be a Shabbat of solemn rest, a Shabbat for the Lord.”
The very question seems out of place. The notion that the Torah, which was given to refine humanity, would be unsuccessful at that and have the potential to ruin men seems preposterous. Yet that is the message we are taught at the very end of the Torah’s narrative (Devarim 32:2): ״יערףכמטרלקחיתזלכטלאמרתיכשעירםעלידשאוכרביביםעליעשב״ — “May my doctrine drip as the rain, may my speech flow as the dew; like storm winds upon vegetation and like raindrops upon tender grass.” The Torah’s teachings are visibly equated with rain and dew, but in what sense?
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- Principles From the Parsha: ‘Command Aaron’
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