Parshah Summary – P’shat (literal level)
Aaron is instructed to kindle the lamps of the menorah, and the tribe of Levi is initiated into their duties in the Mishkan (Sanctuary). Those who were unable to bring the Pesakh (Passover) offering on the festival, due to being tamei (ritually impure), approach Moses and petition him to be permitted to bring their offerings later. In response, a Pesakh Sheini, a “Second Passover,” is instituted. Israel’s journeys and encampments are then described – they would be guided by the ascending and descending movements of a cloud by day and fire by night over the mishkan.
Moses is instructed to make two silver trumpets through which the community would be signaled for journeying, for battle and for festivals. The people then begin moving in formation from Mt. Sinai, where they had been camped for nearly a year. Next, the people complain to Moses about their dissatisfaction with the man (“manna”), the “bread from heaven” with which they were miraculously fed in the wilderness, and they demand that Moses provide them with meat. In response, Moses appoints seventy elders to assist him in the burden of governing, and the people are all fed by numerous quail which descend upon the camp.
Miriam speaks judgmentally to Aaron about Moses’ wife and questions his leadership. As a consequence, she contracts tzara’at, the skin affliction associated lashon hara (gossip, slander). Moses prays for her healing with the words, El na refa na la, and the entire community waits seven days for her recovery…
Torah of Awakening
דַּבֵּר֙ אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֔ן וְאָמַרְתָּ֖ אֵלָ֑יו בְּהַעֲלֹֽתְךָ֙ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹ֔ת אֶל־מוּל֙ פְּנֵ֣י הַמְּנוֹרָ֔ה יָאִ֖ירוּ שִׁבְעַ֥ת הַנֵּרֽוֹת׃
Speak to Aaron, and say to him: when you kindle the lamps, toward the face of the menorah shall the lamps cast light…
- Bamidbar (Numbers) 8:2, Parshat Beha’alotkha
Once, when Reb Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev was traveling, he stopped to spend the night in the town of Lwow. He knocked on the door of a very wealthy man and asked for lodging. “I have no use for vagrants like you! Why don’t you stay at the inn?” said the man. “I am not able to afford the inn,” replied Reb Levi Yitzhak. “Please, I won’t be any trouble, let me stay in one of your rooms just for the night.”
“Well then, if you can’t afford the inn,” said the miserly rich man, “go around the corner to the schoolteacher. He likes to take in vagrants, and he will offer you a room, food and drink.” So, Reb Levi Yitzhak went around the corner to the schoolteacher and was offered lodging. But on his way there, someone in the town recognized him, and began to spread the word that the great Rabbi Levi Yitzhak was at the schoolteacher’s house. Before long, there were throngs of people crowding the house, trying to get a blessing from the master. Among the crowd was the miserly rich man, who pushed his way to the front. “Master! Master! Forgive me! I didn’t know who you were! Please come and stay with me. All the great rabbis who come through town stay with me!”
“Do you know,” replied Reb Levi Yitzhak, “why such a fuss is made over Avraham and Sarah for their hospitality when they opened their home to the visiting angels and gave them food and drink? Didn’t Lot also invite them in and give them food? But in the Torah’s description about Lot, it says:
וַ֠יָּבֹ֠אוּ שְׁנֵ֨י הַמַּלְאָכִ֤ים סְדֹ֙מָה֙ – two angels came to Sodom… But with Avraham, it says: שְׁלֹשָׁ֣ה אֲנָשִׁ֔ים נִצָּבִ֖ים עָלָ֑יו – three men were standing over him…
“You see, Lot saw majestic angels, whereas Avraham saw only dusty wayfarers…”
In this story, Reb Levi Yitzhak points out the hypocritical ulterior motive of the miser. Hospitality is a basic middah, a fundamental quality of the spiritual life, not a tool for elevating our status, which really means reinforcing and enhancing ego – that illusory self-sense which arises from identification with thoughts and feelings. It is easy to see the value of helping others out of love, without ulterior motive. But the “dusty wayfarers” of the story are not just people in need; they can be any undesirable experiences that come to us. When was the last time you were annoyed with something or someone? Were you able to open yourself fully? Did you give your attention generously to the situation or were you like the miserly fellow: “Don’t bother me!”
Every experience is an opportunity to remember: “This, now, is the Divine, appearing to me in this form. This, now, is an opportunity to transcend ego and welcome this moment as it appears, to welcome the Divine which comes in the form of this moment.” But to do that, we have to be aware not only of what is happening around us, but of what is happening within us:
אֶל־מוּל֙ פְּנֵ֣י הַמְּנוֹרָ֔ה יָאִ֖ירוּ שִׁבְעַ֥ת הַנֵּרֽוֹת – toward the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps shine… How can the lamps shine their light “toward the face of the menorah?” After all, it is the nature of fire to shine outward in all directions; you can’t “point” the light “toward” anything. But if we understand that the “light” represents our awareness, and the “menorah” represents our own bodies, then the metaphor can be instructive. Ordinarily, our “light” tends to shine “outward,” creating the sense of “me” in the body, looking out. But shine your “light” back into your body, and you will be able to sense your own impulses, your own feelings. Through this intentional act of “self” awareness, there is the potential to awaken – to transcend the “self” – meaning, to transcend the self-sense which is created through identification with thought and feeling. Through this transcendence, we can recognize: we are not our thoughts and feelings alone. We are the light. And in recognizing our deepest selves as this light, then there is the genuine potential to overcome that tendency toward “ulterior motive,” and to be an actual light of welcome.
There are three basic steps to this process: First, we must intentionally say “yes” to whatever comes to us; we must affirm the Presence that stands before us, as it is, as unsatisfactory as it might be. This step is internal; it is about our attitude toward the truth of this moment, and is represented by the letter ו vav, which has the meaning of “and.”
Second, we must recognize the Divine Reality which is present within the form that this moment has taken – the inner essence of Being behind all phenomena. This step is also internal, and is represented by the letter ט tet which begins the word טוֹב – “goodness.”
Third, we must “welcome the dusty wayfarer” – that is, take some action to express our hospitality toward the Divine before us. This may mean actual hospitality, or generosity in listening and empathizing, or it may be simply in our smile and tone of voice. This step is external, and is represented by the letter ב bet, which means “house,” hinting both at the hospitality we can express through sharing our homes, as well as the mishkan (the portable Sanctuary of the Israelites), and later the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, which was the “House” of the Divine Presence.
Together, these three letters form the word טוֹב tov – “goodness!”
May we bring forth the goodness that is our essence by shining our light of hospitality both within and then out into the world, doing our part to transform the tiny corner of the universe we inhabit into a Home for the Divine.
Read past teachings on Beha'alotkha HERE.
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