29 May 2015

Beha’alotekha 5775: Not Quite What I Had in Mind

Beha’alotekha 5775: Not Quite What I Had in Mind

“Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it.

 — Lilly Tomlin

The great heroes of the Torah find themselves shaken with surprise in Beha’alotekha. Moshe, Yehoshua his disciple[1], and Miriam his sister[2], are all impacted by a shift in their lives that they neither anticipated nor were initially prepared to accept. For the sake of brevity, I will use only Moshe’s example to illustrate the study.

Disguised in an ostensibly innocent complaint for meat[3], Moshe’s leadership was threatened with rejection[4]. Moshe saw it not simply as a demand for different food options, but also as a rejection of the system of his administration. In one of his most scathing statements in all of Torah, Moshe takes it up with G-d, insisting that he is not equipped to provide what the people request:

Moshe said to G-d: For what reason have I not found favour in your eyes that you have placed the burden of this entire people on me? Did I myself conceive this entire people? Did I myself give birth to it? That you should say to me carry it in your bosom like a nursing parent carries a suckling child! Where should I get meat to give to [feed] this entire people? If thus you deal with me, kill me now, so that I do not see my own wretchedness! (11:11-13,15)

Why is it here, above all of the various troubles that came up with the Children of Israel over the forty years in the desert, that Moshe responds most viscerally? Moshe was hit with a situation that challenged his entire approach to leadership and guidance. This was not a particular problem for which he would need to find a solution, he was now the problem due to his eventual inadequacy, and the solution indeed aimed at ultimately replacing him.

G-d gently informed Moshe that a succession plan had to begin. He was to gather seventy men that would bear his burden:

Gather to me seventy men of the elders of Israel… I will extend from the rushing spirit that is upon you and place it on them; then they will carry along with you the burden of the people, so that you will not have to carry it alone. (11:16-17)

This was not just a local fix. Here G-d outlined the prototype for what would become a major part of Moshe’s succession plan. The complaint for meat was the impetus for sowing the seeds of the new regime. There would be a different way of dealing with Torah and law after Moshe died, and now was the time to put it in motion. Prophets would not ask G-d to inform them of the law as Moshe did[5]. Rather, seventy-one scholars of the Law would convene and adjudicate by majority opinion. This court would become the stand-in for Moshe in future generations. It would be the Supreme Court of Israel, or as it was better known, the Sanhedrin. 

A supreme court is established in the Temple. This is called the Great Sanhedrin. It was composed of 71 judges. This is derived from Numbers (Beha’alotekha) 11:16 which states: “Gather for Me

seventy men from the elders of Israel.” And Moses presided over them, as the verse continues: “And they shall stand there with you.” Thus there are 71.

Laws and statutes go forth to all of Israel from the Great Court in Jerusalem…they are the source of the Oral Law, and it is upon them that the Torah was secured.  (Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Sanhedrin, 1:3; Mamerim, 2:1)

Moshe had to come to terms with the fact that a new and different administration would emerge after his tenure. Systems and approaches would change in a manner that was best suited for the future of the people. The complaint was not a rejection of Moshe per se, but more an affirmation — albeit rude and poorly timed[6] — that things would need to eventually be significantly altered in order to remain viable. G-d had responded to Moshe’s plea and provided him with a body of people to help, but He also set into motion a system that was outside of Moshe’s anticipation and general paradigm of thought.

For many of us, thinking about changes within a system is difficult enough, but thinking about changing the system itself, is often beyond our capacity to follow whole-heartedly. Yet, we know from the perspective of history that paradigms do change and systems are greatly adjusted, and if we are to keep a firm footing in reality, we must bring ourselves to acknowledge and respond to such changes.

Changes come in many forms; people move in and out of our lives, structures that we have become accustomed to over many years may be replaced with others, and circumstances that have been our daily experiences for a long while might take unexpected turns. We can allow ourselves to be surprised by life’s constant changes, but ultimately embrace them — even with the pain that might accompany it. What, after all, is life? But G-d escorting us through an adventurous journey in search of ourselves – and of truth.

[1] 11:26-28

[2] 12:1-10

[3] 11:1-9

[4] The complaint for meat was a protest in search of greater freedom. The people were provided sustenance (manna) in a way that was always connected to G-d. Moshe was the minister of this system.

[5] For example, see 9:7-8

[6] The people are actually punished for the dissension. (11:19-20)


Law and Lore

About the Prayers

Kadish I

Kadish means ‘sanctification’ and it is a prayer that sanctifies and praises the name of G-d. It was originally written in Aramaic so that every person would understand it, as Aramaic was the vernacular of the Jewish people. In the Talmud it is generally referred to as “Yehe Shemeh Rabbah. The Talmud states that when one answers yehe sheme rabba mebarakh ‘may His great name be blessed’ with all of one’s might during the kadish, any negative divine decrees that one may have are wiped away[7].

There are several variations of wording for the kadish, but the basic kadish (also known as hatsi kadish or kadish le’elah) is comprised of five lines that are said in almost every variation. Different lines are added after the initial five depending on the circumstance (this will be detailed in later instalments). The congregation answers ‘amen after each line is recited. If one only heard people answering amen to the kadish but not the kadish itself, one should answer amen together with the people.

Kadish may only be said within a quorum of ten Jewish men or more (minyan). All ten men must be present together in the same room. If one or more were in an adjacent hallway or standing outside the doorway, it is not a minyan may not be recited.

The kadish is most often recited at a point where there is a transition between sections of prayers. An example of this would be between completing zemirot , and beginning Barekhu.

 [7] Shabbat, 119b


Parasha Perspectives

III  Behaalotecha

42        Lighting Menorah lights  (8:1-4)

Aharon must light the Menorah every day; description of Menorah as shown to Moshe

43a      Consecration of Leviim  (8:5-22)

Cleanse Levi’im, present them before God. Chatat and Olah offerings for their atonement.

43b      Age limits for Levi’im’s service   (8:23-26)

Serve for Ohel Moed from 25-50. After this they can only assist.

44        Pesach in the midbar  (9:1-8)

Kept on eve of 14/1. Impure cannot offer so they ask Moshe who asks God what to do…

45a      Pesach II  (9:9-14)

God says: If unclean on 14/1, keep on 14/2 in same way. 14/2 only for impure or too far away to travel.

45b      Cloud travel mechanics  (9:15-23)

46        Construction and use of two silver trumpets by Moshe  (10:1-10)

Kohanim blow to call People; or Nesiim; to move camp; alarm for war; for days of joy. [Chronology resumes]

47a      Departure from Sinai in formation  (10:11-28)

20/2, 2nd year. From Midbar Sinai to Paran. Degel Yehuda, Mishkan dismantled, Degel Reuven, Qehat carrying Mishkan, Degel Ephraim, Degel Dan.

47b      Hovav (Yitro) leaves. People travel ‘3 days’  (10:29-34)

47c      BACKWARDS ‘NUNPARENTHESES: Marching cry focused on the Ark, aron  (10:35-36)

48        The complaints begin  (11:1-15)

Swift punishment for murmurers. Multitude & people want meat, not manna. Moshe is sick of caring for  them.

49        God answers Moshe  (11:16-22)

70 to share responsibility. God plans a month long meat overload

50        Instant prophecy and the ‘Graves of Lust’  (11:23-35)

68 momentary prophets, but the other two, Eldad and Medad continue. ‘Quails’ swarm. People fres. God strikes back. Journey to Chatzerot.

51a      Siblings complain about ‘humble’ Moshe  (12:1-3)

51b      God explains and punishes   (12:4-13)

No prophet like Moshe. Miriam gets tzora’at. Moshe prays for her recovery.

52        Miriam leaves camp for a week, people wait, then all journey to Paran  (12:14-16)