From The Rabbi’s Study… June 17,2022/18 and 19 Sivan 5782
Torah Behaalotecha (Numbers 8:1-12:16) Haftarah (Zechariah 2:14-4:7)
The Torah portion has the description of the seven-branched candelabrum (menorah), the dedication of the Levites, the second Passover, the journey from Sinai to Moab, murmurings from the children of Israel, appointment of seventy elders to assist Moses and Miriam and Aaron speaking against Moses.
While the Israelites witnessed the 10 Plagues, the wall of fire, the parting of the sea and the drowning of the Egyptians they started to complain. It is just two years after receiving the commandments at Mount Sinai and building of the sanctuary! They start remembering their lives in Egypt and deceiving themselves how it was better than during slavery to Pharaoh. “If only we had meat to eat. Remember the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onion, and the garlic (Numbers 11:4-7).
The commentators ask two questions: What caused the grievances? What might have been an appropriate response by Moses? Rashi suggested that the Israelites were exhausted from their journey, and not having time to rest, raised their voices in protest. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch argued that the Israelites were suffering from boredom, since almost all their needs were met. Keep in mind heavenly manna and fresh water they received daily(double portions for the Sabbath). They were frustrated, having no goal, so they complained to Moses.
Hearing their complaints, Moses voices a few of his own. Feeling isolated and besieged, he asks G-d: “Why have you dealt ill with Your servant, and why have I not enjoyed Your favor? The Torah portion has G-d responding by telling Moses to appoint seventy elders and officers, men of experience, to share the burden of leadership with him. Torah shows us a suggested model of leadership-not to grumble or complain but rather gather experienced people around you to share the burden.
The Haftarah from Zechariah, who was one of the returning exiles from Babylon in 537 B.C.E. Zechariah assures the exiled people of the divine assistance in their work building the Temple and national rehabilitation. The Haftarah concludes with the famous words “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.” These words proclaim the lesson of all of Jewish history. It is the prophetic teaching of the Maccabean festival of Hanukkah, in which Zechariah’s name is linked in the synagogue.
It is not through might but by means of G-d’s spirit that great things have been achieved by the Jewish people.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel teaches us that Shabbat is an opportunity “ to collect rather than dissipate time.” When the three stars appear on Friday night; then the Shabbat candles are kindled, prayers are recited, followed by kiddush and hamotzi. A wonderful Sabbath meal is eaten. Can you ask for anything more pleasing?
So when one searches for ways to make everyday have meaning through the long work days, activities, social obligations, household demands, and then to find the space and time to be free from rigorous schedules…G-d gave humanity the precious gift of the Sabbath, just enjoy it!
Rabbi Helene Ainbinder