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Behaalotcha 5769

By: Rav Yonatan Horovitz

Hope to Despair and back to Hope - Rav Yonatan Horovitz

I recall that when I was in the early years of my schooling one of our teachers presented us with a small challenge. He listed the various topics in Parshat Beha'alotecha and then asked us to remember as many as we could. His point, I believe, was to show that there were, by his count, fifteen different subjects which appear in this week's parsha.

On a close study of the parsha one can sense the connection between the various components and one may very well reach the conclusion that the parsha splits into two distinct parts. Chazal have already informed us that the two pesukim of "vayehi binsoa" (Bamidbar 10:35-36) constitute an entire sefer thereby dividing the book of Bamidbar into two unequal halves.

The reason for these words of chazal becomes glaringly obvious once we attempt to read this week's parsha as one story. The first part deals with all the preparations necessary for the imminent journey to Eretz Yisrael. In the final episode before the march begins, we find Moshe Rabbeinu attempting to convince his father-in-law to join Bnei Yisrael on their way to Israel. As Rav Soleveitchik points out, Moshe uses the present tense "nosim anachnu, we are going (now)" denoting the fact that Am Yisrael are ready. The journey for which they have been waiting since their departure from Egypt is about to happen.

How different is the mindset of the people and Moshe just a few pesukim later as we tumble from one tragedy to the next. First the mitonenim, the group of people who complained for no apparent reason and who were subsequently consumed by a fire emanating from God. Next, the carnal lust for meat coupled with pining for the delicacies of Egypt, causes a crisis of both faith and leadership. And finally, Miriam and Aharon speak harshly about Moshe which results in Miriam being afflicted with tzara'at.

This is so different from the picture portrayed at the outset of the parsha. There we have a sense of anticipation, a feeling of excitement and enthusiasm, as Am Yisrael prepare for their long awaited travel to Eretz Yisrael. Mori veRabi, Rav Lichtenstein once explained that this passion is symbolized by the people who came to Moshe and Aharon with a complaint about the korban Pesach. They were tamei, in a state of impurity, and therefore exempt from partaking of the Pesach sacrifice. However, they felt that provisions should be made for them to be able to participate in this important ceremony. They plead with their leaders invoking the phrase "lama nigara, why should we lose out" (Bamidbar 9:7). This, says Rav Lichtenstein, is the attitude of Am Yisrael at the time. We may be technically exempt from the obligation but we feel that the korban Pesach is a privilege; we do not want to be denied the right to bring a sacrifice to the Almighty.

But we are required to read to the end of the parsha. We cannot remain in the idyllic setting found in the opening sections of the weekly portion. And as we depart from our study of parshat Beh'alotecha, what gives us the strength to believe in the eternity of Am Yisrael, in our ability to recapture that enthusiasm found in the request "lama nigara"?

The answer is to be found in this week's haftara taken from the prophecies of Zecharia. The simple reason for the choice of the haftara is the image of the Menorah described in one of the visions. This causes us to recall the opening verses of the parsha which describe the responsibilities placed on Aharon with respect to lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan. We suggest however, that as is often the case, there is also a thematic connection between parsha and haftara.

The book of Zecharia takes us back to the period of Shivat Tzion and the time when Am Yisrael are returning somewhat hesitantly to Eretz Yisrael after seventy years of exile. Understanding the details of this episode in our history is beyond the scope of this shiur but is necessary in order to explain the the fact that this haftara is also chosen for Shabbat Chanuka. Then too, the obvious connection is the Menorah but there remains a deeper
connection based on historical parallels. We will suffice by investigating one aspect of this collection of prophecies.

"He further showed me Yehoshua, the High Priest, standing before the angel of the Lord, and the Satan standing of the right to accuse them. But the angel of the Lord said to the Satan, "the Lord rebuke you O Satan, may the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you for this is a brand plucked from the fire". Now Yehoshua was clothed in filthy garments when he stood before the angel. The latter spoke and said to the attendants, "take the filthy garments off him". And he said to him "See, I have removed the guilt from you, and you shall be clothed in priestly robes". Then he gave the order, let a pure diadem be placed upon his head. They placed the pure diadem on his head and clothed him in priestly garments as the angel of the Lord stood by." (Zecharia 3:1-5)

The above prophecy finds Zecharia as witness to a form of court case involving the Kohen Gadol, Yehoshua. The Satan, sometimes translated as the Accuser, intends to explain why Yehoshua should be found guilty, although of what crime, we are not told. Hashem, represented here by an angel, does not even allow the Satan to present his case. Yehoshua is considered to be an "ud mutzal me'aish, a brand plucked from the fire". This means that Yehoshua is obviously deserving of special treatment as he has been saved from the fire, redeemed from the depths of destruction. In historical terms this means that Yehoshua has returned to Eretz Yisrael from the galut and therefore is viewed differently from others who may have been tried in the divine court. We can understand this in two ways. Either Yehoshua was protected by Hashem which demonstrates that he is unique or he has made an effort to return to Israel from the fire of the galut and so has much credit to his name.

Lest we come to the conclusion that Yehoshua was actually innocent, bore no sins and this is what caused the angel to castigate the Satan, the text tells us that this is not the case. Rather, Yehoshua was dressed in filthy clothes. These soiled garments represent his sins and the order to remove these and adorn him with priestly garments symbolizes the command from God to forgive Yehoshua of all his previous errors. In other words, Yehoshua was pronounced "not guilty", not because he had committed no crime but rather due to his being an "ud mutzal me'aish".

How does this relate to our parsha? We often read the stories of Am Yisrael in the wilderness and wonder why they seem to complain so much. We don't understand how it is that those who witnessed Yetziat Mitzrayim and Matan Torah constantly demonstrate lack of faith in both Moshe and Hashem. But if we look at the events of the midbar from a larger perspective we notice that over the course of the year we are only told of a handful of episodes in which the people complained. The vast majority of the time Am Yisrael followed Hashem in the midbar and, as the pasuk in Yirmiyahu (2:2) tells us, this is very much to their credit.

We suggest that this is also the message found in the haftara. In the same way as Yehoshua was "ud mutzal me'aish" so too were Am Yisrael in the wilderness. They too were taken by Hashem out of exile, in Egypt. They too traversed land and confronted hardships in an attempt to fulfill their ultimate goal to reach Eretz Yisrael. Yes, they may have sinned and in next week's parsha they make a grievous error which has serious ramifications but in the end, Hashem still took us out of Egypt. In the final analysis, Hashem will remove our filthy garments and adorn us with clean, pure clothing.

At the end of Parshat Beha'alotecha we may feel that there is no hope for Am Yisrael. The prophecies of Zecharia reassure us that Hashem is a merciful God and although there are times when we need to be punished, Hashem will be there to comfort us afterwards. The nevua goes on to explain the need to follow Hashem's commands in order to continue to merit this mercy from God. Yes, this is naturally the case but it is comforting to know that there are times when Hashem silences the Satan, overlooks our sins and gives us a fresh chance.

[It is interesting to note that the haftara concludes with the words "lo vechayil velo bekoach ki im beruchi, not by might, not by power, but by My spirit". (Zecharia 4:6) The word "ruach" appears several times in the parsha, and is one of the key words in Chapter 11. It is worth investigating the connection between the parsha and the haftara in this realm too.]

Your comments and questions are welcome.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rav Yonatan


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