19 Sivan 5782
To listen to the recording click on: https://youtu.be/lz4S6pYXsr8
When I read the Torah and take a step back to see the greater picture, I find principles that bring us life and when we search its pages, even on the surface, we can glean powerful teachings that we can apply that will make a big difference in how we live our lives. I meet people all the time who are running everywhere to find answers to what is going on in the world; they want healing, they are looking for miracles, some are seeking mystical truths. I also did that for years and finally, I found God’s ultimate truth, (not my truth) in the pages of this special book, the Torah, (which, by the way, is not The Law). I found how to live a fulfilled life and yes, even to be healed, healed of my fear, my emotional pain, how to live within moral boundaries, how to live a balanced live, with order instead of chaos. It deals with us body, mind, and soul.
There are so many teachings in this week’s parashah Beha’alotecha, but I chose just a few which stood out to me personally. It begins with the lights of the menorah, which needed to face forward. The first thing that came to my mind was the verse from Rabbi Yeshua’s sermon on the mount in Matthew 5: 16: “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. Perhaps he was referring to the menorah in this parashah. He continues “In the same way, let your light shine before men so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (notice he didn’t say glorify himself). Do not think that I have come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”. What did he mean by fulfill? There are many interpretations but to me, it could mean that he would explain how to live by them. I see it as Yeshua wanting to restore what Moshe gave to our people, the Ten Commandments to bring to the world. By living them, which may seem simple but let me tell you, not easy, we would then be a light to the nations as we were called to be and thus a role model to the world as our forefathers are to us.
What is a good role model? How do we shine our light? Let’s not pretend to be perfect nor even strive for an elusive perfection. Doesn’t that just make us hypocrites? Let me tell you, our children can smell hypocrisy a mile away. That’s why many turn away from God because they know who we really are. They live with us. We can’t fool them. I was steeped in New Age thinking for almost 10 years, and I took one seminar after another on how to become perfect, to be like God. I watched as Shirley MacLean lifted her arms and cried out, “I am god” and I too wanted that, like our first mother Eve. I became an excellent escape artist. One day my youngest daughter said to me, Mom you take all these courses to be better, so how come you’re still the same? A very good question! The Torah is the only book that is so honest; it shows us our humanity and that only our Creator is perfect, but it gives us hope.
The next thing that stood out to me in this parashah, was that the entire community of Israel was to lay hands (smicha) upon the Levites. I had thought that “smicha” had to come from a higher position (one of more authority) to a lower one, but here it’s not about position. It’s about the community acknowledging and recognizing the role of these men, the Levites who were to be available to serve the entire community. Remember, Levi was far from perfect. He and his brother Shimon took revenge on the people who raped their sister Dinah. They murdered them all after convincing them to be circumcised. Now the Levites were being used by God to serve Israel. If that’s not true forgiveness, what is?
The Torah constantly emphasizes the importance of our roles within community and here we see that we need to be behind the calling of a person, to acknowledge their work, what God has prepared them to doand especially for us to know that we are not lone wolves. It’s easy to live on our own, to escape dealing with others, but to truly live the commandments, we need to be in the world, but not of it.
I love the picture given to us in Bamidbar 9: 15: “And on the day that the tabernacle was reared up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, even the Ochel Moed; and at evening there was upon the tabernacle, as it were, the appearance of fire, until morning.” This is a picture; remember Hebrew is a language of pictures; and it shows me that God was with us, constantly guiding us. He provided the cloud by day and the fire by night. Why would we think He would be different today? Malachi 3:6 says, “אֲנִי יְהוָה לֹא שָׁנִיתִי Ani Adonai, lo shaniti. I the LORD do not change.” When I look back at my life, I can see how often He was with me even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I am sure that when you think back, you too can sense His protective covering over you like the cloud by day, and like the fire by night, He was guiding your path. These are pictures of how real He is in our lives and helps us trust Him.
Verse 22 says that whether it was two days or a month or a year, the cloud tarried over the Mishkan and when it lifted, they journeyed. Sometimes it seems as if nothing is happening in our lives. We seem to be caught up in our daily mundane struggles and then suddenly something happens…we have to move, to change something in our attitudes, in our physical lives. Here, the children of Israel would have had to be ready at a moment’s notice, to take the Ochel Moed apart and put it back together again. It could be within a period of 2 days or a year. We too need to have an attitude to be prepared that at any time, our lives can change, even drastically. This teaches us to trust that there is always a reason, and that it is for our good, even we don’t see it.
They didn’t know when they would have to travel, but their leader Moses did, at God’s command because he spoke to God, mouth to mouth, and face to face. We too might wonder if God would ever speak to us face to face. He could, He does, and the Creator has His ways of showing us that He is with us even when we don’t hear an audible voice. I remember living in Vancouver in my thirties, well before I knew God the way I know Him now. I was living with my two daughters and struggling to make a living. One day out of sheer frustration, I lifted my hands up toward the ceiling as if I was speaking to someone who I felt was always there. I cried out, “if I can’t help myself, let me help somebody.” Why would that come out of my mouth? Within a couple of hours, out of the blue, I received a phone call from Terry Lawson. She said that she had met me at a party a couple of years earlier and that I had given her my business card. She invited me to attend her financial planning seminar. I laughed and said, “Terry, I have no money to invest, in fact I’m looking for work”. She said, “oh that’s great, I need help calling people to come to my seminar…come and work for me”. If that is not God watching out for me, I don’t know what is. I am so amazed to watch God’s cloud by day and fire by night, re-enacted in my life over and over. The Torah gives us these pictures to show us how God works in our lives and as I said, His principles remain the same, what changes are the times.
Let’s skip ahead now to Chapter 10 Verse 35 which we chant every Shabbat in our liturgical service. Va yahi binsoa ha’aron, va’yomer Moshe, kumah Adonai v’yafutsu oyvecha, v’yanusu mipanecha. Ki mi’Tzion tetzeh Torah, u’dvar Adonai miYerushalaim.
ה וַיְהִי בִּנְסֹעַ הָאָרֹן, וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה: קוּמָה יְהוָה, וְיָפֻצוּ אֹיְבֶיךָ, וְיָנֻסוּ מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ, מִפָּנֶיךָ.
כִּי מִצִּיּוֹן תֵּצֵא תוֹרָה, וּדְבַר-יְהוָה מִירוּשָׁלִָם.
And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said: ‘Rise up, O LORD, and let Your enemies be scattered; and let them who hate You flee from before You. Then we continue with.. ‘ For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” From Isaiah 2:3. We have been repeating this prayer for almost 4000 years. It is as real for us today as it was then, blessed be our God. People are confused, afraid, and today like during the time of the Judges when everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes, we have no righteous leadership coming out of Zion, but we do look forward to that day.
Now, the first verses of Chapter 11 should make us shake in our boots. “And the people were as murmurers(complainers, qvetchers, quejosos, plaignants), speaking evil in the ears of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and devoured in the uttermost part of the camp. So, Moses prayed, and the fire abated but then we read 4 And the mixed multitudeוְהָאסַפְסֻף (Asafsoof) that was among them fell a lusting; and the children of Israel also wept on their part and said: ‘Would that we were given meat to eat! We remember the fish, which we were accustomed to eating in Egypt for nothing; the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all; we have nothing but this manna to look at.’ Yikes…let’s remember to give thanks to God about what He has provided for us and not to complain about what we think we don’t have. Instead of the people thanking God for his provision of manna, they complained, and the consequences were disastrous. This was only the second year in the desert, and they would still have had cattle but isn’t it easier to look at the glass half empty, rather than half full? Our sages compare this asafsoof with the erev rav, the mixed multitude who left Egypt with the Israelites, but a better translation would be ‘rabble rousers or troublemakers and as we know there were Israelite rabble rousers…look at Korach. How often do we blame others and refuse to take responsibility for our failures?
At this point Moses becomes desperate and cries out to God 14 “I am not able to bear all these people myself alone, because it is too heavy for me. 15 And if You deal thus with me, kill me, I beg you.” He was fed up, to the point of wanting to be lifted off this planet…beam me up, Scotty. He’d had it. I remember when our Rabbi felt that way but what did the LORD do with Moses? He chose other men to share the burden with Moses. When things get too hard for us to bear, that’s where community comes in. It’s so important for us to know that we are not alone and to reach out to others for help.
And finally, one more thing I gleaned from this portion which is covered in the ninth commandment and from which our sages relate leprosy with lashon harah, the evil tongue or gossip…. Miriam and Aaron for some reason were upset with the fact that Moses married a Cushite woman, an Ethiopian. What brought this on? Who knows?. But they spoke against the one who was chosen by God, Moshe, who spoke to the Creator face to face, the humblest of men. The consequence was that Miriam had to spend 7 days, outside the camp, alone in the wilderness, because she was afflicted with a skin disease and needed to be quarantined; it was a time to reflect on what she had done.
How many of us are sick today because of lashon harah? It is so easy to speak about another person behind their back. Many of us struggle with that and we need to beg God to show us when we’re doing that and to stop it. There’s a difference between speaking about someone because you want to find out how to help them or build them up and judging them to bring them down, to hurt their reputation. As always, intention is the key.
When we hurt or destroy the reputation of another person, we are harming the reputation of our Creator in whose image we are made. The most beautiful lesson for me in this story was that Moshe, the humblest of men, didn’t say to Miriam… you see, you deserve it, you brought it on yourself; oh – how easy is it to do that? instead he prayed for her, El na refana la? God, please, I beg you to heal her. With time and walking with God, we learn to do the same.
To sum up, we can be assured that our God is always with us, every moment of every day, as the cloud and the fire by night. We are in the life-long process of going from faith- emunah to trust- bitachon. We can be so thankful that our God is the God of beginning again. We need to acknowledge when we fail, and we make it right, first with God, then with our neighbor and finally with ourselves, and that’s when, like the menorah, our light can shine brightly so that others can see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven, Avinu Sheba Shamayim. That’s our calling.