Parshas B’Haloscha can be divided into two distinct parts. The first part discusses the daily lighting of the Menorah, the consecration of the Leviyim into the service of the Mishkan, and the laws of Pesach Shaynie (the second chance for bringing the Pascal Lamb). The second part returns to the organization, travels, and challenges of the Jews as they prepared to enter Eretz Yisroel.
At this historic juncture in the story of the desert, the focus of the Jews was preparation for their entry into the land. They had suffered and survived the disaster of the Golden Calf. They had reveled in the gift of G-d’s forgiveness and the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). They were now readying themselves to assume their designated place as G-d’s teachers to the world.
The first two Parshios of Bamidbar are consistent with this theme. The Jews had to be counted, organized for travel, and given their individual responsibilities. The Mishkan’s dedication was recorded because the Mishkan would be the focus and symbol of the Jewish ministry in Eretz Yisroel. The families of Layvie had to be given their jobs because they would be responsible for the Mishkan. Destined to be spread out among all the tribes, they would be the cohesive glue that unified every corner of the land.
At the same time, the individual Niseeim – princes were identified as the leaders of the nation. This was especially important because upon crossing the Jordan River the nation would be decentralized and dispersed. Therefore, it was important to have the physical and spiritual leadership of the Kohanim, Leviyim, and the Niseeim in place.
The princes of the tribes were responsible for governing their tribe’s spiritual connection to G-d and nation as well as the tribes daily affairs. The dual responsibility of the Nasee, (we do not have a division between church and state) was highlighted in last week’s Parsha when they were introduced in the context of their contribution to the dedication of the Mishkan and the inauguration of the Mizbeach.
Given the historic context of this week’s Parsha and the focus of the past two Parshios, let us explain why our Parsha begins with the lighting of the Menorah, the consecration of the Leviyim, and the Second Pesach offering.
The lighting of the Menorah was the job of the Kohain Gadol (High Priest). The Kohain Gadol was the prime paradigm of what a human was supposed to be. Just as the Jew was supposed to be an example to the rest of the world and the Kohain was supposed to be an example to the rest of the Jews, so too, the Kohain Gadol was supposed to be the example to the rest of the Kohanim. Therefore, logic dictates that the Kohain Gadol was supposed to be the example of what G-d intended when He said,”Let Us make the human in Our image and in Our likeness.” Furthermore, logic dictates that if lighting the Menorah was the job of the Kohain Gadol, it should, in some way, illuminate for us the focus of our jobs as well.
The word ‘B’Haloscha” that the Torah uses for “lighting” is unique. The more commonly used word for lighting is “Lhadlik.” Rashi on Pasuk 8:2 references the Talmud in Shabbos 21a that explains why the Torah used the word “B’Haloscha” which literally means to “lift or raise up,” rather than the literally correct word, B’Hadlikcha “when you light.” The Talmud states, “This teaches that the job of the Kohain Gadol when lighting the Menorah was to make sure that once lit each flame would stay lit and “rise up by itself.” Clearly, the Talmud is describing the appearance of a flame as it begins to consume the fuel and grow larger, seemingly reaching upward as it burns. On the one hand, the lighting of the Menorah was a mitzvah like all other Mitzvos in the Torah. As such, there had to be defined criteria for how to do the Mitzvah and what constitutes its successful completion. On the other hand, the fact that this was the job of the Kohain Gadol lends itself to much greater meaning and symbolism.
Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains the meaning of the Menorah. “We would feel justified in interpreting the Menorah in the Sanctuary as a symbol of the spirit, more specifically, of the dual aspect of the human spirit: theory and practice, cognition and volition, perception and the will to practical action.” (Shemos 25:39)
The Menorah symbolized the human’s unique ability to willfully understand and serve G-d. More so, it focused the Kohain Gadol on his job to role model that uniqueness to the rest of the world. His job was to inspire and teach others through both word and deed to accept their divinity and act accordingly. However, the test of his success would be when each candle would “rise by itself.” The criteria of his success would be when every Kohain, Jew, or human embraced their own “dual spirit” and willfully served G-d as determined by G-d.
The message of the Kohain Gadol and the Menorah had to be stated before entering the land. The nation needed to have a goal to aim for and a scale by which to judge their successes or failures. The Kohain Gadol and his daily preparation and lighting of the Menorah served as that goal and scale.
This also explains the first Rashi in this week’s Parsha that associates Aharon Hakohain’s lighting of the Menorah with last week’s offerings of the princes.The Medresh Tanchumah explains that Aharon felt left out of the Mizbeach’s consecration. All the princes were given their opportunity to offer their sacrifices except for him. His claim on doing so was because Aharon was the Nasee – prince of the tribe of Layvie. Therefore, G-d said to him, “Aharon, your participation will be far greater than theirs. You will be the one to prepare and light the Menorah!”
As we explained, the princes had the role of directing the integration of the physical and spiritual well being of their individual tribes. In essence, they were the role models for their individual tribes. That was why their primary place in the Torah was in association with the consecration of the Mizbeach. However, Aharon Hakohain’s job was to be the role model for the entire nation of a willful integration that was far more comprehensive and profound than any of the other princes. Tribal affiliation or geographical boundaries did not restrict his ministry. He alone could prepare the Menorah. It was his job to light the Menorah. Ultimately, it would be Aharon who would inspire and nurture the nation to assume individual responsibility for their divinity, until each one could rise up by itself.”
The consecration of the Leviyim at this juncture fits perfectly. The Kohain Gadol’s job of inspiring and nurturing the nation needed help. The Leviyim were that help. The prince of the tribe of Layvie was the Kohain Gadol; therefore, after Aharon had been given his symbolic job of preparing and lighting the Menorah the Leviyim were consecrated into their duty. Until now their function was to care and carry the Mishkan; however, upon crossing the Yarden their real job would begin. The Leviyim were to be the conscience of the nation. Living among the people, teaching them, inspiring them, and representing the duality of free willed service to both G-d and nation.
The third component that we need to fit into the context of Bamidbar is Pesach Shaynie. It is obvious that these laws are not in chronological order. The Pasuk (9:1) beginning the laws of Pesach Shaynie states, “In the second year from their exodus from the land of Egypt in the first month” On the other hand, the first Pasuk in Bamidbar (1:1) already told us that it was the second month of the second year. Why tell us the laws of Pesach Shaynie now?
Pesach Shaynie involves individuals who were unable to bring their Korban Pesach Pascal Lamb on the 14th of Nissan (the first month). Instead, the Torah provided a “makeup” date one month later on the 14th of Iyar (the second month). The first such exception took place the second year in the desert when there were those that had been involved in burying the dead and were unable to bring the Korban Pesach because they were Tammei (impure due to contact with the dead). They petitioned Moshe for the right to bring the Korban Pesach and G-d informed Moshe regarding the laws of the makeup date, the Second Pesach.
The story of Pesach Shaynie carries a very special message. Those individuals who were Tamei by having been involved in burying the dead were exempt from the Korban Pesach. In Halacha, there is the concept of “circumstantial exemption. “G-d commanded us in the Mitzvah of burying the dead. He said that it was so important that even the Kohain Gadol and the Nazir had to participate if there was no one else to do the burial.
Imagine it’s seven days before Yom Kippur and the Kohain Gadol happens upon a Mais Mitzvah an unattended corpse. Regardless of the fact that by burying the dead person he will become impure and not be able to facilitate atonement for the entire nation and world, the Kohain Gadol must bury the dead! How much more so when it is in conflict with a single person’s obligation to bring his own Korban Pesach. Of course he should be exempt from doing so! Yet, those individuals did not want the exemption. They wanted to bring the Korban!
The Seforno explains that they used the logic of their own exemption to argue on behalf of “there must be some way we can bring the Korban! How can the performance of one Mitzvah be at the cost of another Mitzvah! There must be some way we can do both!”
As the Bnai Yisroel were about to enter into Eretz Yisroel the Torah recorded, out of chronological order, an example of what service to G-d was all about.Serving G-d should not be a burden to be dispensed with or escaped from. Doing Mitzvos is why we were created. To do any less is to deny our singular right of willfully serving G-d. The duality of spirit, (“theory and practice, cognition and volition, perception and the will to practical action”) that the Kohain Gadol represented and which the Leviyim had been consecrated to teach was possible for everyone.
One need not be a Layvie or Kohain to adorn himself in free willed service. As the Rambam writes, “the crown of Torah is available to all who wish it.” Those individuals who demanded the right to bring the Korban Pesach were not looking to be immortalized in the pages of G-d’s Torah. They simply did not want to miss out on an opportunity of serving G-d. Especially the Korban Pesach that had been the first Mitzvah the nation had been commanded to do while still in Egypt. Therefore, G-d recorded at this juncture both the incident and the subsequent law of Pesach Shaynie as the shining example of what the Jew must be all about if they are to influence the rest of the world.
Copyright © 2001 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.