Not to Be Taken Light-ly
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
G-d spoke to Moshe saying, "Speak to Aharon and say to him, 'When you set up
the lamps, the seven lamps should give light ..." (Bamidbar 8:1)
The Divine Providence behind the chapter numbers of the Torah always amazes
me. True, the system of chapter numbers was devised by the non-Jews to
facilitate quick referencing during the days of the debates with Torah
scholars. However, they tried to stay close to the traditional breaks in the
Torah, and, the fact that they were unaware of the significance of their
numbering doesn’t mean that G-d wasn’t involved in the process behind the
Thus, very often, the chapter number of a parshah is coincidentally
connected to the matter of the parshah on a numerical level. For example,
this week’s parshah is BeHa’alosechah, which happens to be the eighth
parshah in Sefer Bamidbar, a number which is intimately tied to the
eight-day holiday of Chanukah. What makes this significant is that,
according to the Ramban, the mitzvah of menorah at the beginning of this
week’s parshah is a direct allusion to the future holiday of Chanukah!
Furthermore, if you were to count the parshios from the beginning of the
Torah until this week’s parshah, you would arrive at the number
thirty-six--the number of candles we light during the eight days of
Chanukah. It is also the number of hours that the Hidden Light of creation
served Adam in the Garden of Eden before he was banished.
I have mentioned all of this by way of introduction, because Parashas BeHa’
alosechah is the first one to follow the holiday of Shavuos (at least in
Eretz Yisroel)--the “Time of the Giving of Our Torah.” And, though, the
period between Shavuos and the seventeenth day of Tammuz--a fast day in our
calendar and the start of the “Three Weeks”--may seem insignificant (unlike
the build-up during the Omer-Period between Pesach and Shavuos), we will now
discuss why this is not so, to better understand the pitfalls and
opportunities of this very Kabbalistic time, and how this week’s parshah
addresses these issues.
According to Tradition, if the period between Pesach and Shavuos represented
a build-up of light and positive spiritual influence, then the period
between Shavuos and Shivas Esrai b’Tammuz represented a remission of light,
symbolized by Moshe’s ascension up Mt. Sinai the day following the giving of
the Ten Commandments. He had gone up the mountain to receive the rest of the
Torah on behalf of the Jewish people, but it was also a sign that the Divine
Light that everyone had experience on the sixth day of Sivan had withdrawn
somewhat on the seventh day of Sivan--paving the way for the possibility of
a golden calf.
Aharon HaKohen, the main character at the beginning of this week’s parshah
played a central role in the disastrous episode of the golden calf. In fact,
as the commentators point out, it was Aharon’s remorse about being involved
with the golden calf that caused his concern in this week’s parshah about
not being included in the previous inauguration of the Mishkan by the
princes. The mitzvah of the menorah was meant to be taken as a sign of
Divine forgiveness for his involvement.
In fact, the entire period of time from the seventh of Sivan until just
after Tisha B’Av can be broken up into three phases, each resulting in less
Divine Light: the seventh of Sivan through the seventeenth of Tammuz; the
eighteenth of Tammuz until Rosh Chodesh Av, and, Rosh Chodesh Av through
Tisha B’Av. Most major disasters affecting the Jewish people have occurred
during the Three Weeks, and principally on Tisha B’Av.
This is why this is an important period of time to increase Torah study and
zealousness in mitzvos. In other words, “BeHa’alosechah!” Just as the
menorah symbolizes light in a darkened world, so too does our commitment to
Torah and mitzvos at this time symbolize light at a time that G-d is pulling
His light back.
And, as Rashi explains, “BeHa’alosechah” means making sure that our light
can stand on its own, for this is the only way to counteract the forces of
creation that naturally move toward darkness and chaos. The more serious we
take Torah and the fulfillment of mitzvos, which is revealed by our approach
to both, the stronger and brighter our personal flame will be, and the role
we play in bringing about redemption at such a propitious time.
Moshe said to Chovav ben Re-uel the Midianite, the father-in-law of Moshe,
Travel with us to the place of which G-d said, ‘I will give it to you’ ...
He told him, I will not go, but I will go to my own land ... (Bamidbar
As Rashi explains, the posuk is referring to Yisro, who converted to Judaism
back in Parashas Beshallach. According to Rashi, it was now, after the Jews
were prepared to leave Mt. Sinai and journey to Eretz Yisroel that Yisro
broke rank and headed back to Midian, in spite of Moshe’s pleas to the
contrary. According to some, Yisro wanted to bring some of his relatives
under the wings of the Divine Presence as well.
What is interesting to point out is that Moshe never mentions the place to
which the nation is headed, calling it neither Eretz Canaan or Eretz
Yisroel. Moshe only identifies their final destination as “the place of
which G-d said ...” It is an obvious omission.
Perhaps the reason for this is as Rashi explains:
[Moshe said to Yisro,] ‘I beg you, do not leave us now so people should not
say, Yisro did not convert out of love for Judaism, for, in the beginning
he thought that he too would have a portion in the land, and now that he has
learned otherwise, he has gone his own way. ’ (Rashi, Bamidbar 10:31)
Perhaps Moshe’s statement took this law into account, and meant the
following: What difference does it make, ultimately, whether or not you get
a portion in the land or not, if the entire land is the King’s Palace? Don
’t feel left out just because you are convert, for, what counts the most is
that you are part of the people and are living on holy soil, a land of
which G-d spoke.
Perhaps. But perhaps Moshe is making a deeper statement about the final
destination of a Jew--any Jew, be he a born Jew or a convert.
In other words, what Moshe was impressing upon Yisro was that even a
physical portion in Eretz Yisroel, in This World, is a temporary reality.
The true, ultimate destination of the Jew is G-d Himself, and His word. The
Talmud even says that the Eretz Yisroel of the World-to-Come will be
divided up differently than it was in Yehoshua’s time. Hence, wherever a Jew
goes, Moshe intimated, and wherever he settles, it must always be in the
direction of G-d Himself.
Perhaps it is precisely this idea that gave Yisro the confidence to return
to Midian, in spite of Moshe’s plea, to a desert devoid of Torah and
spirituality. Knowing that G-d is the final resting station of all Jews
wherever they may be, he felt strong enough to achieve this in Midian as
well. The destination of the Jew is above nature ... above physical borders.
However, Moshe’s point is well-taken, and evidenced throughout history:
Eretz Yisroel remains to be the place to achieve this, because it is the
land that G-d spoke about specifically, and therefore, the best place to
live within the word of G-d.
They traveled from the Mount of G-d three-days journey, and the Ark of the
Covenant traveled ahead of them three-days journey to search out a resting
place for them. (Bamidbar 10:33)
They miraculously traveled three-days distance in one day, because The Holy
One, Blessed is He, wanted to bring them right to the land immediately.
Based upon the previous d’var Torah, we can understand the urgency of
bringing the Jewish people to Eretz Yisroel as soon as possible. They weren’
t just going to the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey;
they were going to physical and spiritual completion, and when it comes to
this, every delay is worth far more than seconds, hours, or days.
Hence, the Jewish people came tantalizing close to bringing in the era of
Moshiach, because that is what would have happened had they entire nation
crossed the border together. According to tradition, had the nation simply
followed G-d’s lead, then Moshe would have remained their leader, would have
led them into the land, and then would have become Moshiach then and there.
In fact, then we’d all be sitting in Gan Aiden now, instead of different
parts of a disintegrating world, and peace would reign forever!
Alas, it was not to be, and three days have become three millennia! Since
that time, 3,310 years have passed almost to the day (the left Mt. Sinai on
the 20th day of Iyar--thirty-six days after the first and last Pesach in the
desert; Bamidbar 9:1). The straight path has become a winding one, first for
forty years through the Sinai desert, and later, through almost every
country in the civilized world.
It also led to the death of Moshe Rabbeinu, and the last chance for a single
individual to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon. After Moshe’s death, only
the entire nation could bring Moshiach early, or, history could bring him at
the last possible date.
Though we may look at the wandering in the desert as a small piece of
history from the Jewish past, in truth, it is not so. In reality, the
journey did not end when Yehoshua crossed the Jordan river forty years after
leaving Egypt. In fact, it still hasn’t ended, as the subsequent exiles into
foreign lands have proven. For all we know, we may those desert travelers,
poised historically to bring that long journey to a close once-and-for-all.
Physically, we may be scattered all over the world; spiritually, and
historically, we may be at the border of the Final Redemption.
Let’s not make the same mistakes we made in the past.
For seven days, Miriam remained quarantined outside the camp, and the people
did not move until Miriam was able to return home. (Bamidbar 12:15)
This, of course, was Miriam’s punishment for speaking loshon hara about her
brother, Moshe. The Midrash makes it clear that Miriam spoke with Moshe’s
best interest in mind, and on behalf of her sister-in-law, Moshe’s wife,
Tzipporah. However, her complaints about Moshe still constituted loshon
hara, and she was denied political immunity (even the sister of Moshe was
treated as any other Jew with respect to the laws of loshon hara, suffering
tzara’as as a result).
This was another example of a fall from grace. Miriam was the one who was
responsible for the birth of Moshe, because it was she who convinced her
parents to remarry in Egypt and have children after Paroah decreed death for
all the male-born children. The first child Amram and Yocheved gave birth to
was Moshe himself.
And it was Miriam who watched from the bulrushes as the baby Moshe floated
helplessly on the Nile river towards the daughter of Paroah. Thus, it was in
her merit that the miraculous well of water followed the Jewish people
around in the desert for forty years, constantly replenishing their
life-saving water supply.
And yet, in this week’s parshah, Miriam not only had to suffer the physical
consequence of speaking loshon hara, but she was also responsible for
holding up the entire Jewish nation from moving forward on their way to
Eretz Yisroel. What demerit! What humiliation!
Hence, this whole episode, as bizarre as it may seem, is an important lesson
about leaders and leadership. Like many traits in life, the drive to benefit
others can be a double-edged sword. Miriam, like all the righteous people of
Jewish history, rarely thought of herself. She wasn’t after riches, fame, or
glory; she just wanted to serve G-d and her people. If so, then what went
What went wrong is that, sometimes one’s zealousness to do the right thing
can backfire, often with disastrous results. People can become so involved
in a cause that other important issues can fall by the wayside at
important times. Issues, such as in Miriam’s case, being verbally critical
about others in violation of the laws of loshon hara.
In fact, when it comes to leadership, the laws of loshon hara are the
hardest to observe, because it is difficult, as a leader, not to talk about
other people. Furthermore, in furthering the cause one often feels
justified in speaking disparagingly about others--for the sake of the cause,
of course. It is a tough call, and in the end, a big test.
However, it is a test that every Jewish leader must live up to, because if
one does not, then even the cause suffers in the end. Not only does loshon
hara result in personal humiliation for the leadership itself, but can, in
the end, cause the overall mission to become reversed as well, undoing much
of the good that proper leadership had brought about.