BEHA’ALOSCHA (Numbers, 8:1-12:16) — “G-d’s Partners”

The Menorah in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple, needed to be kindled every day by the High Priest:

G-d spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and tell him, ‘When you kindle the lights, the seven lights will illuminate the face of the Menorah.’ ” 

When you kindle the lights… It has been observed by many commentaries that the Torah uses an unusual word to describe the kindling of the lights.  Beha’aloscha, the title of this week’s Torah Portion, literally translates as “When you LIFT UP (the lights…)

Midrash Rabba (15:5) gives an interesting explanation:

Israel asked G-d:  “Master of the World!  Why are You telling us to light candles before You??!!  You are the Light of the World…”

G-d responded:  “It is not that I need the light; rather I want you to give Me light just as I gave you light.  I want to raise your status before the nations of the world.  Let them say ‘Look how Israel provides light for He who illuminates the entire world.’ ”

This can be compared to a sighted man and a blind man who walked together on the road.  The sighted man told the blind man, “When we enter the house, go light a candle for me and give me some light.”

The blind man requested an explanation.  “On the road you accompanied me.  Until we reached your house, you supported me. And now you say, ‘Light a candle for me and give me light?’ “

The sighted man responded, “I don’t want you to feel indebted to me for supporting you on the road.”

This was G-d’s message to Israel… He led them and provided light for them, as it says, G-d went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them on the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so they could travel day and night.  (Exodus, 16:21)  Once the Tabernacle was constructed, He called to Moses and said, “Give Me light,” as it says, “When you kindle [literally, lift up] the lights… — in order to lift YOU up!

This Midrash is fascinating!  It seems to be saying that G-d gives us Commandments as a payback—You scratch My back, and I’ll scratch Yours!  What is this Midrash trying to tell us?

[It is important to understand what a Midrash is.  It is not, as some would maintain, merely a collection of quaint legends and stories.  Many of the same rabbis who discuss and debate essential matters of Jewish law in the Talmud are quoted in the Midrash.  These are oral discussions of the written text of the Torah.  A Midrash is a Talmudic interpretation of Torah that has been handed down from generation to generation going back to Mount Sinai.  These are crucial lessons in Torah values.]

G-d doesn’t need our Mitzvah observance: He’s doing fine without them.  Yet, He produces the illusion of a quid pro quo.  Why?

There seem to be two reasons:

1) Our own attitude toward Mitzvah observance — We shouldn’t feel that we have nothing to offer to G-d.  In reality, we don’t have anything for Him.  We are the recipients of His charity.  He supports, sustains, and protects us purely out of love and compassion.  There is nothing in it for Him.

However, as the sighted man in the Midrash told the blind fellow, “I don’t want you to feel indebted to Me for supporting you on the road.”

We should not let ourselves feel so overwhelmed by G-d’s largesse, that we don’t even TRY to pay Him back.  In reality, there is absolutely nothing that we are capable of doing that equates to His gifts of life, protection, livelihood, etc.  (Just envision Adam in the Garden of Eden.  G-d gave mankind a Paradise with one small favor in return.  Had Adam and Eve NOT eaten from the forbidden tree, would we conclude that they now DESERVED the world G-d had created for them???)

If we focused on the fact that G-d gives us so much more than we can ever repay, we might be tempted to sit back and do nothing!  “Hey! I’m freeloading anyway!  I may as well freeload all the way!”

The Torah rejects that notion.  In one respect, are required to view our relationship with G-d as if it were a partnership.  “I do for G-d, because He does for me.”  (On the other hand, of course, we must keep in mind that it is not an equal partnership.  We dare not equate our Mitzvah observance with His Providence.  It is too easy to say, “I do Mitzvahs.  Why doesn’t G-d do more for me?”  He already gives us more than we deserve.)

2) The attitude of the rest of the world toward us.  This is an amazing concept.  The Midrash tells us that G-d said that He wanted to make it LOOK LIKE we are providing The Great Illuminator with light!  We are G-d’s partners in running the world.  We work together; He gives us light, we give Him light.  He takes us out of Egypt; we eat Matzah.  He wakes us up in the morning: we put on Tefillin and pray to Him in the morning.

Why does G-d want to promote this attitude?  Does He want the nations of the world to fear us?  Does He want them to respect us?  Does He want them to revere us?

Perhaps the answer to all these questions is yes.  In the eyes of the world, we are G-d’s partners.  We should see it the same way.

The Torah tells us to emulate G-d and to …walk in His Ways. (Deuteronomy, 28:9)  What are His ways?  G-d is…Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth…  (Exodus, 34:6)  Our Sages tell us that G-d is showing us the way:  Just as G-d is Compassionate and Gracious, so too must we be.

We’re the junior partner.  We have to keep striving to catch up with the Senior Partner.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives

“Let ‘Em Eat Doughnuts!” (2010) 

Some people are just never satisfied.

…Manna falls from Heaven, and it tastes like whatever you feel like eating…However, there were objections.  Suddenly, everyone got hungry:

Who will feed us meat?  We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt; the cucumbers and the melons; the leeks, onions, and garlic.  Our souls are dried out; there’s nothing to look forward to but manna!” …Ahh!  The good old days!  Make bricks, be whipped by your Egyptian taskmasters, build pyramids, and watch Jewish children thrown into theNile.  Oh, and by the way, eat all the onions you want! …

Read more.

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“G-d’s Partners” (2009)

…Israelasked G-d:  “Master of the World!  Why are You telling us to light candles before You??!!  You are the Light of the World…”

G-d responded:  “It is not that I need the light; rather I want you to give Me light just as I gave you light.  I want to raise your status before the nations of the world.  Let them say ‘Look howIsraelprovides light for He who illuminates the entire world.’ ”…

This Midrash is fascinating!  It seems to be saying that G-d gives us Commandments as a payback — You scratch My back, and I’ll scratch Yours!  What is this Midrash trying to tell us?…

Read more.

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“Who’s Your Brother?” (2006)

… the Torah expects us to live a normal lifestyle.  G-d expects us to marry and raise children.  In fact, one requirement of a High Priest is that he be married.

The one, single exception to this rule was Moses…

Miriam happened to find out about this fact, and she wasn’t happy about it…

Miriam and Aaron, loving sister and brother of Moses, discussed the matter in Moses’ presence.  This was done totally without malice.  It was an act of constructive criticism.

It was also a monumental mistake.  G-d was furious…

Read more.

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“Second Chance” (2005)

“It’s now or never.” So goes the saying.  A missed opportunity can’t be made up.  … when the time for performing a Mitzvah passes, it is too late; nothing can be done to right the wrong … There is a Mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur.  You can’t say, on the day after Yom Kippur, “Oh, I was hungry yesterday, so I ate.  I guess I’ll fast today instead.”  Or, “Oh, last week was Rosh Hashanah, and I missed the sounding of the Shofar!  I’ll just do it now!”

Sorry.  It doesn’t work… Some people in the desert were unhappy with this concept…

Read more.

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“The SEVEN Books of Moses?” (2004)

… I picked up my six-year-old nephew from Yeshiva the other day.  There were all these cute little kids, rambunctious with pent-up energy after a full day of school.  They were happy to have some free time after the discipline of a classroom.  Finally!  The pressure’s off!

There is nothing wrong with the above scenario.  Kids are kids.  The problem is when adults start acting like kids…

Read more.

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“Happy Passover . . . er . . .Chanukah!” (2003)

Aaron was distraught.

…For twelve days, leaders of the respective tribes ofIsraelpresented their gifts for the dedication of the Altar.  …Each day, a representative of a different tribe tendered his generous gift.  Every tribe was represented.   Every tribe but one.

Aaron and his fellow Levites were on the outside looking in.  They had not been included in the ceremony. …  Aaron feared that he and his tribe had been found unworthy of being part of the dedication of the Tabernacle …

Read more.

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“I’m the Greatest…and the Most Modest!” (2002)

 … if Moses was so humble, how did he manage to garner the Chutzpah to debate with G-d? … And what about the way he spoke to the Pharaoh?  Moses showed throughout his career that he was a man to be reckoned with.  Not exactly a wimp! …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain inMonsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on June 10, 2009 at 9:28 am  Leave a Comment  

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