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Parashat Beha'alotcha

June 9, 2023
20 Sivan 5783
Numbers 8:1 - 12:16


Dear Friends,

June is Gay Pride Month, while last month was Asian Heritage and Jewish Heritage Month. How do we respect our differences and share our commonalities? All communities of color are being assailed at the moment; the LGBTQ community feels under siege and, while we are busy searching for a definition everyone can agree upon, antisemitic behavior continues to be accepted. Are we in this moment together or are we isolating ourselves from one another? Are we immobilized by fear? Fear has the incredible power to be destructive. This week’s Torah portion may give us some clues as to how to navigate the treacherous waters that surround us.

Beha’alotcha literally means, when you step up or rise up. Who knew that Numbers 8:1 - 12:16 would be quite so relevant? We are living in a moment where there is an amazing tendency to look back and, for so many, to believe that things were better in the past. In this Torah portion, the people look back and remember Egypt through rose-colored glasses. Their ability to work toward a better future has been stymied and there is a group of agitators who create a destructive atmosphere in the community only to be destroyed themselves. This is not a snapshot of the Israelites at their best; yet, amidst the destructive elements that are within this Torah portion, there is light and hope.

The people long for meat, so God sends them quail -- not nearly enough to satiate their hunger but more than they could possibly consume. The remains end up rotting all around them because they can't consume it fast enough. Their clamoring is heard but the result is not the one that they wanted.

Meanwhile, Moses is feeling overwhelmed by all of the neediness and dissatisfaction of the people. Although he has help in adjudicating problems, he seems to be functioning on his own when the people begin complaining. God recognizes Moses’ pain and identifies seventy elders to help bear the burden and stand with Moses. 

Although we look to Moses as being capable and an exemplar of good leadership, even Moses needs help. This is brought home to us when Moses appears to be greatly pleased that two of the seventy elders are prophesizing in the encampment. He wishes that there would be more like them. Eldad and Medad do not seek power and they do not seek to usurp Moses. They are, like Moses, there to serve the people.

We seem to be at a moment where there are two choices: do we join together and aid one another through difficult times? Or do we hunker down as individuals fueled by our fears? The Torah portion begins with the image of lighting the seven stemmed menorah: “Speak to Aaron and have him light the menorah so that the seven lights shall cast light.”

The image before us is one of light, not a single light casting light in the darkness, but of seven lights.  When we support one another and work together, we can create light that will dispel darkness and provide us with hope and support for one another.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784