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Weekly Message

May 28, 2021
17 Sivan 5781
Parashat Beha'alotcha
Numbers 8:1 - 12:16

Dear Friends,

If ever a Torah portion reflected the complexity and the many colors of what is going on in the world at this very moment, this week is the one. Beha’alotcha, which literally means "when you step up or rise up," seems to embody the challenge of the moment to step up to the plate in the midst of a chaotic time. Who knew that Numbers 8:1 - 12:16 would have so much to teach us in 2021?

In this portion, we go from an ordered world to a world where even what has been a close-knit family seems to be coming apart. We begin with acknowledging the sacred with the lighting of the seven branched menorah and a description of the way that the people were guarded over in the wilderness by the presence of the Divine with a cloud by day and a fire-like glow in the evening. For a year, this seemed to work, but in the second year the people took to complaining. The riffraff among the people were punished as one corner of the camp went up in flames and the people turned to Moses who prayed and the fires abated.

But the people were not satisfied. They remembered the fresh produce they had in Egypt and were not satisfied with the manna that appeared daily to sustain them. They cried out for meat. And Moses cried to God, “Why have You dealt ill with Your servant, and why have I not enjoyed Your favor, that You have laid the burden of all this people upon me? Did I conceive all these people, did I bear them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries an infant,’ to the land that You have promised on oath to their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people, when they whine before me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all this people by myself, for it is too much for me. If You would deal thus with me, kill me rather, I beg You, and let me see no more of my wretchedness!”

Poor Moses -- this burden is simply too much for one person to bear. I believe that we can all relate to Moses at this moment. God recognizes the difficulty and identifies seventy elders to help bear the burden and stand with Moses. Here, our Torah makes it clear that none of us, even Moses, can do it alone. Then there is the episode with the meat; God provided so much quail for thirty days that it caused people to get sick from it. Be careful of what you ask for! You might just get it and it won't be what you imagined at all.

Although Moses now has the support of the elders, he has to contend with the jealousy of his siblings. One incident leads to his sister Miriam being struck with a skin disease that leaves her looking like a corpse, until Aaron pleads on her behalf, and Moses cries “O God, please heal her" (a prayer we still use today).

It is from this moment as we come to the end of the Torah portion that I glean hope and a way to go forward in these difficult times.

Moses is not at his strongest in this Torah portion. He is fallible, impatient, and overwhelmed, yet he is able to rise above the situation with his siblings and cry out on his sister’s behalf. We may not be Moses, but we too are overwhelmed and frayed at the moment, unsure of what will come next and how to respond to this challenging moment. When we look at Moses' response to his sister’s situation, he is able to be present, and based on his strong relationship with the Divine he can call out for help. 

The parsha begins with the image of the lighting of the menorah. It is always easier to see the darkness. Our job is to see the light. Whether you find that light in the Divine, in the faces of the people around you, or in the acts of kindness that exist in the world, it is our task to bring the light in as best we can. That is the hope of this parsha, that at the end Aaron asks for help and Moses acts. May we all have the courage to do the same.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi LInda Shriner-Cahn


Tue, June 15 2021 5 Tammuz 5781