Torah from Around the World #275

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This Shabbat we will read Parashat “Beha’alotcha”, the third portion in the book of Bamidbar (Numbers). “Beha’alotcha” is the 36th portion in the Torah (which contains 54 Portions), from Numbers 8:1 to 12:16. It has 136 verses, 7,055 Hebrew letters, 1,840 Hebrew words, and about 240 lines in a regular Torah Scroll.

Our weekly portion begins with the lighting of the Menorah (olive oil lamp) in the Mishkan (Tabernacle), continues with the Levites work in the Tent of Meeting, the story of celebrating Passover in the second year, the sound of silver trumpets, the Israelites journeys, and Miriam speaking about Moses.

According to the Torah, God commanded Aaron to light the menorah while standing toward the face of the Menorah (in Hebrew “el mul pnei hamenorah”) as it is written:

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:

2 Speak to Aaron and say to him:

“When you light the lamps,

the seven lamps shall cast their light

toward the face of the menorah.”

3 Aaron did so; he lit the lamps

toward the face of the menorah,

as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Biblical exegesis offers different interpretations for this Hebrew words “el mul pnei hamenorah” – towards the Face of the Menorah.

According to Rashi “toward the face of the menorah” means: “Toward the middle lamp, which is not on one of the branches, but on the menorah itself…. of the six branches; the three eastern ones-that is their wicks-facing towards the center one, and likewise, the three western ones, the tops of their wicks facing toward the center one”.

An interesting Midrash says that God instructed that the seven lamps shall give light toward the face/center of the menorah, “so that the evil inclination should not mislead one to believe that God needed the light”. (Midrash Tanhuma). In a different midrash it is told that “Rabbi Simeon reported that when he went to Rome, he saw the Menorah there, and all the lamps faced the middle lamp”. (Sifré Zuta to Numbers).

In my understanding, when Aaron lights the candlesticks he is standing in front of the Menorah, which symbolizes the History and Tradition of the Jewish People.

Another midrash asks and answers the question: “Do You need our light? You are the Source of Light!” The answer is “that The Holy Blessed One said to Moses, it is not because I require lamps that I have reminded you about them, but only in order that Israel may acquire merit.”

God gives every day opportunities to bring our light to this world. We can elevate ourselves through Tikun Olam, healing and repairing the world, by performing Good Deeds and Mitzvot bein adam lehavero, ubein adam lamakom (between people and between us and G-d).

My dear friend Reuven Marko leads every Shabbat and holiday service with me at Congregation “Natan-Ya”. Last year he was elected chairperson of the IMPJ and he just came back from the WUPJ convention in Brazil – CONNECTIONS 2015. He told me that it was inspirational, interesting and uplifting.

Reuven is the son of Sara and Itzhak Marko, founders of Congregation “Natan-Ya” in 1969. Since the age of 13, and for the past 46 years, Reuven Marko has been the volunteer prayer leader of our congregation. He has undertaken the sacred work of “Natan-Ya” with love, devotion and responsibility. We all know that with his great heart, kindness and creativity he will lead the Israeli Reform Movement over the next four years! We all salute you, Reuven and we are proud that you represented us in Brazil with honor. We all have faith in your leadership.

Also for all of us in the Reform-Progressive Movement in Israel (IMPJ), now is a time of joy and blessing. Last year (2014) thousands of proud Reform Jews in Israel gathered together to celebrate 50 years of existence as an established movement, in our moving biennial. As in our Torah portion Beha’alotecha we feel that “the silver trumpets” are inspiring us with their sacred sound (Numbers chapter 10) calling us!

It is a time of praying and a time of learning, remembering the courageous work of the first Reform Israeli Congregations, dreaming of a future in which we will have full equal rights in the State of Israel. We say today as they said in the past: No more religious coercion in Israel! No more orthodox monopoly!. Let’s begin a new age of freedom of choice for Israel’s Jews! The silver trumpets of Parashat “Beha’alotcha” are sounding for us.

As Rashi explains at the beginning of our Torah portion: “Scripture describes kindling in terms of ascending. He (Aaron) is required to kindle the lamp until the flame rises by itself.” We, the Reform Jews in Israel also want to be lifted up, as everyone else; not only serving in the IDF or paying taxes, but also enjoying the religious equality promised in the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948.

For me, the message of our Torah Portion “Beha’alocha” is a message of Faith and Determination, of Inner Peace, Respect and Love of our History and Tradition.

Since becoming ordained at HUC-Jerusalem in 1991, I have been working within Israeli society, trying to bring peace and understanding between Jews and non-Jews, Jews in Israel and Jews in the Diaspora, between Jews of all denominations, and between Jews that can help and Jews who need help. I am so fortunate that I have the possibility of working on Tikun Olam every day at Congregation “Natan-Ya” and also at “Gesharim Le’Tikvah-Bridges for Hope”, and that so many wonderful Israeli Jews join me every day to do God’s work. I am blessed by all of them, and they strengthen me since they never gave up on the hope of a better Israeli society, based on the principles of justice and compassion of “Nevi’ei Israel” (the Prophets of Israel).

I wish to send to all of our brothers and sisters in the WUPJ, in each country and continent, our blessing of Peace and Love to all of you.

May the wise words of our sacred Torah this Shabbat, bring you Joy and Harmony, Good Health and Happiness, Love and Hope, God’s Peace, Blessing and Understanding.

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