Parshat Beha’alotcha: Insights to Inner Lights
Rabbi David and Tirtza Benchlouch are Straus-Amiel shlichim in Seattle, Washington, where David serves as the rabbi of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth
Parshat Beha’alotcha highlights themes central to the inner spark of Jewish belonging that concur with leadership and service, in tandem with individually embraced notions of greatness.
One of the key lessons in Beha’alotcha is the importance of strong leadership. This is emphasized through the appointment of Aaron and the Levi’im as his assistants. According to Rav Kook, “The role of the priestly leadership is to serve as a conduit for Divine grace and to guide the people towards spiritual growth and development” (Orot HaKodesh, vol. 3, p.82). This understanding of leadership as a spiritual calling has remained central in our continued linear standings, for without it breaches are made, and through which traditions are laid.
Another important theme is the need for unity and cooperation within the community. This is exemplified through the lighting of the menorah in the Mishkan, a symbol of unity and harmony. Rabbi Yehuda Halevy writes, “The menorah is a symbol of the unity of Israel, for it is made up of many branches which are all connected to the central stem” (Kuzari, 3:7). This understanding of the menorah as symbol of unity reflects the importance placed on community and communal responsibility within Jewish thought.
Finally, Beha’alotcha emphasizes the role of Divinity in guiding the Jewish thinker. This is exemplified through the guidance provided by the cloud and fire leading the Israelites through the wilderness. Rabbi Soloveitzik writes, “The Divine Presence serves as a guiding force for the Jewish people, providing them with direction and purpose in their journey through life” (Halakhic Man, p.99). This understanding of the Divine Presence as a guiding force in Jewish circles resonates much within the context of Shlichim, who deliberately make strides to enhance Jewish belonging in the farthest of places, notably foreign in other social circles.
From a sociological and anthropological perspective, the emphasis on leadership, community, and spirituality in the Torah portion of Beha’alotcha reflects the importance of these themes in shaping social and cultural practices within Modern Orthodox Jewish communities. The appointment of strong leaders, the emphasis on communal responsibility, and the centrality of faith and spirituality in daily life all serve to reinforce social cohesion and promote a sense of shared purpose and identity.
This Parsha is filled with powerful metaphors and symbols that illuminate the deep truths of our kedusha.
A highmax theme is the importance of inner illumination. This is exemplified through the lighting of the menorah, which is mirrored as a symbol of Divine light that illuminates the soul. According to Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, “The lighting of the menorah symbolizes the illumination of the inner soul, which is the source of true spiritual growth and development” (Tanya, ch. 34). This understanding of the menorah as a symbol of inner illumination reflects the importance of spirituality and self-reflection in Chassidic thought.
We also encounter the concept of spiritual elevation. This is exemplified through the appointment of the Levi’im as assistants to Aaron the High Priest, who serves as a conduit for Divine grace. According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, “The role of the Levites is to elevate the physical world through their service in the Tabernacle, thereby bringing the Divine Presence into the world” (Likutei Sichot, vol. 3, p.1045). This understanding of spiritual elevation as a transformative process reflects the importance of spiritual growth and development in our shlichut.
I remember once visiting an elderly man whose home burned to ashes. He was non- observant, and rather traditional. What sparked me most was his excitement in his Megilat Esther being saved from the fire and his measures to its restoration. I was deeply moved and promised myself to never forget how kedusha is found in the fire. There is a real longing for Godliness contained in the heart of every Jew. Our service as shlichim, educators, rabaniyot and rabanim at a micro level is to speak to that warmth within, and direct our attention to its beauty In our interactions with every Jew we must revert to their higher mind, apply kavod and esteem to their standing, and be patient until it chooses to find expression.
This could possibly form an alliance with the teachings of Rav Kook regarding the cloud and fire that led Am Yisrael through the wilderness. According to Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, “The cloud and fire serve as symbols of the Divine Presence, which guides us on our spiritual journey and provides the strength to overcome obstacles” (Orot HaKodesh, vol. 2, p.93).
While not limited to shlichim and shlichot, I believe that interventions in our respective communities have a dual premise, namely; the cloud approach and the fire approach. A hybrid leadership of both warm directives yet clouds of softness and patience, imbue the blend to a higher calling.
Congregation Ezra Bessaroth is an Orthodox Sephardic synagogue in Seattle, Washington, founded by immigrants from the Mediterranean Island of Rhodes. The synagogue is loyal to Sephardic heritage and traditions, proudly maintaining the liturgy and customs of Rhodes. We are a thriving and growing community with new young families and meaningful classes and programming for all.