Behaalotcha

“Parsha and Purpose” – Beha’alotcha/Shelach 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“The Rupture Between the Trees of Life and Knowledge:
The Sin of the Mekoshesh Eitzim”

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Parshat Beha’alotcha (Diaspora) and Parshat Shelach (Israel)

“The Rupture Between the Trees of Life and Knowledge:
The Sin of the Mekoshesh Eitzim

When we think of Parshat Sh’lach, we think about the episode of the Jewish people failing to be able to enter into the Promised Land. It takes up most of the verses of the parsha. [Numbers 13-14]

But there is a related story that’s only five verses short, which focuses on a very complicated story: an individual who goes unnamed, who violates the Shabbat. [Numbers 15:32-36]

Why is this story important? What is its message?

Indeed, Rabbi Akiva in the Talmud, feels the need to unveil the anonymity of the person, and suggest that the person who violates the Shabbat is Tzelafchad. [Shabbat 96b]

He is attacked by his colleagues: “Rabbi Akiva, you’re the one who always tells us, ‘Love thy neighbor as you love yourself’! Why do you need to unmask who this person is? If you’re right, it was the wrong thing to do; and if you’re wrong – if that’s not what Tzelafchad did – you’re blaming him for something that he didn’t commit!”

The Ba’alei Kabbalah, the Kabbalists, look at this story and they review the story in the following fashion: accompanying the Jewish people is the Eitz HaChayyim and the Eitz HaDa’as. [Zohar 3:157a]

The Eitz HaChayyim, which we find in the Garden of Eden, represents the idea of spirituality, the idea of ethereal concepts, and the Eitz HaDa’as represents the idea of the physical world and finding God in the physical world, not only in ethereal concepts.

Our job is to merge the Eitz HaChayyim, the spiritual concepts, and the Eitz HaDa’as, the intellectual, physical world, into one.

Indeed, the whole theme of Shabbat is that idea of merging the physical and the spiritual into one. It’s an island in time.

Moshe Rabbeinu highlights that this truly is the message of living in the Land of Israel, and he asks the meraglim, he asked the representatives regarding the land:

“היש בה עץ אם אין?”
“Is there a tree in it or not?”
[Numbers 13:20]

Will you be able to find the tree that represents both the Eitz HaChayyim, the spiritual ideals, and the Eitz HaDa’as, the physical ideas, into one?

Will you be able to understand the message of the Land of Israel, the spiritual and the physical fused to one?

The representatives failed to understand that message of the land of Israel, and the mekoshesh etzim – Tzelafchad, according to the Kabbalists – walks into the garden that is accompanying the Jewish people, and he separates the tree that represents the physical and the spiritual.

Because the trauma that has been created is that, in the desert, “BaMidbar”, it’s impossible to be able to merge the physical and the spiritual into one.

The reason why the story is so critically important is that the story represents the aftermath of one individual who fails to understand the message of being able to merge the physical and the spiritual into one.

It’s a continuation of the calamity that happened with the emissaries into the land of Israel.

Rabbi Akiva lives his entire life of trying to fuse the spiritual and the physical together. That’s why Rabbi Akiva is the rabbi of General Bar Kokhba. His job is still to maintain the physical and the spiritual together, even in the most desperate of times.

There’s a continuum: we’re introduced to the challenge of the meraglim, the challenge of the emissaries.

Then we’re introduced to two commandments that speak about going into the Land of Israel, and only when we go into the Land of Israel to use the physical bounty of the Land of Israel in service to God, the merger of the Eitz HaDa’as, the physical, and the Eitz HaChayyim, and the spiritual, into one.

The trauma, once again, of the mekoshesh etzim, who tries to separate it, and the message that is relevant to each and every one of us: to recognize the fact that in our life, we cannot be mekoshesh etzim, we can’t separate the physical and the spiritual.

The challenge is to live in both worlds. We have to merge the Eitz HaDa’as and the Eitz HaChayyim. We can’t be ‘mekoshesh etzim’, we can’t uproot these trees.

We have to live under the shade of both of them, the shade of the physical and the shade of the spiritual.

And to realize when we are able to live with both of them fused together, we are able to achieve the goals of what it means to be part of the Chosen People, to be part of Knesset Yisrael and to make a difference in the creation and the development of this world.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Beha’alotcha (Numbers 8:1-12:16) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –”Speak unto Aaron, and say unto him: when you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the menorah.” (Numbers 8:2) Is it permissible to study science and philosophy in the beit midrash (religious study hall)? Should a yeshiva …

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Rabbi Nechemia Krakover

A Cloudy Voyage Rabbi Nechemia Krakover is Principal of  Neveh Channah High School, Named in Memory of Anna Ehrman One of the greatest revolutions in recent years – one which has significantly impacted the way we travel – was the introduction of the navigation app, Waze.  It has become such a crucial tool for anyone …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Naso/Beha’alotcha 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Losing Our Youth: The Mistakes In Sefer Bamidbar That Continue To Plague Us”

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Parshat Naso (Diaspora) and Parshat Beha’alotcha (Israel)

“Losing Our Youth: The Mistakes In Sefer Bamidbar That Continue To Plague Us

Sefer Bamidbar: an amazing book that speaks to us about the journey of the Jewish People on its march to its destiny in the Land of Israel.

It begins with a counting and how to travel into the Land of Israel – which are communal in nature – but with a focus on “ish ish“, the unique gifts that every individual possesses. [1:4]

It continues with how to move the Tabernacle [Chapter 2], and with new institutions such as the Pesach Sheni: the opportunity to offer a second Pascal sacrifice in the Land of Israel, for those who are unable to offer the first Pascal sacrifice at the beginning of the holiday of Pesach. [9:1-14]

But a series of events then occur that delay the Jewish people from entering the Land of Israel and actualizing their opportunity to be a nation with their own destiny.

These events stem from a lack of respect for the recognition of the holiness of the other.

For instance, Aharon and Miriam challenge the unique qualities of Moshe. [Chapter 12]

The Jewish people misunderstand the gift of materialism when it comes to the mannah [11:6] and remember the alleged delicacies that they had in Egypt. [11:5]

Their fundamental misunderstanding of the Land of Israel and its importance takes place in Parshat Shelach [Chapters 13 and 14]. Then we read of the rebellion against the leadership of Moshe and Aharon [Chapters 16 and 17]; and then a challenge between the nations of the world – represented by Balak and Bil’am – and the people of Israel. [Chapters 22-24]

As I read these stories, I am reminded that they deter us from actualizing our potential.

And I ask myself, haven’t we learned from the Book of Bamidbar?

How can it be that Orthodox Jews have forgotten how to talk to each other?

How can it be that the great dynasty of the Sefat Emet, the great dynasty of Ger, has forgotten how to talk to each other, to the point that there are fights between various groups and the police are compelled to intervene on Shabbat?

How can it be that we have forgotten how to talk to other Jews, particularly when we don’t agree with the way they celebrate their Judaism?

How can it be that on Yom Yerushalayim, when we celebrate the gift of receiving the Land of Israel and a united Jerusalem, that there is a small group – and I stress just a small group – of people who have forgotten the responsibility to treat minorities, to treat Muslims, with respect and dignity?

Haven’t we learned from the Sefer Bamidbar?

What pains me even more – and what even depresses me – is the fact that our young people are watching and listening.

Our young people are seeing that often what is important to us are the minutiae of Judaism and not the meta narratives.

And they don’t want to be part of such a Judaism that is so interested in minutiae that it forgets the major ideas that are part of our Holy Torah.

Sefer Bamidbar: the responsibility for us to march to our destiny; to watch what comes out of our mouth, to teach our children and grandchildren how to respect the other: other Orthodox Jews, other Jews in general and other people.

Sefer Bamidbar, which teaches us the responsibility to look at things in this world and recognize their greatness.

We don’t step away from materialism; we engage it through the prism of holiness.

The messages found in the parashot of Naso and Beha’alotcha, the idea of finding inner peace, the Birkat Kohanim and the responsibility to march to our destiny while respecting the other.

Shabbat Shalom.

“Parsha and Purpose” – Beha’alotcha 5781 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Terror, Civil Unrest and Antisemitism: What the Parsha’s Trumpets Reveal About Our Current Crises”

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Parshat Behaalotcha (Numbers 8:1-12:16)

“Terror, Civil Unrest and Antisemitism: What the Parsha’s Trumpets Reveal About Our Current Crises”

The past few weeks of terrorist rocket-fire, civil unrest in Israel and a spike in antisemitic acts in the United States and Europe have put the Jewish world on edge.

How do we react to these multiple existential issues?

The answer to this question will tell us a lot about who we are as inidividuals, as a community and as a nation. 

I’d like to share with you an important  lesson for this moment that is found in our Torah portion, Beha’alot’cha.

In the parsha, we are introduced to the mitzvah of crafting trumpets – chatzotzrot – which are to be sounded on various occasions. (Numbers 10:1-10)

Amongst the occasions, times of community challenge: war, famine or distress, in which the blowing of the trumpets is a clarion call to the Jewish people to galvanize and respond to the crisis.

In contrast, other occasions include times of communal joy; on our holidays, Rosh Chodesh, or specific occasions to call the Jewish people in celebration.

As we are all aware, there is also another instrument mandated by the Torah that is still used today to galvanize the Jewish people together and with which we are all familiar: the shofar.

As we know, the shofar is sounded on Rosh HaShanah (Numbers 29:1), and, according to widespread custom, during the month of Elul to call us to re-engage with God, to do teshuva, in advance of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur (Rema, Orach Chayyim, 581:1).

Why are two different instruments needed?

Why are we commanded to use the chatzotzrot, the trumpets, in certain contexts, but the shofar, the ram’s horn, in the context of teshuva?

The answer can be found in the crucial difference between how each instrument is made.

The shofar, the ram’s horn, comes entirely from the world of nature, with minimal human involvement.

Conversely, the chatzotzrot, the trumpets, are painstakingly-fashioned out of silver by people.

Why is it that the instrument that is used to call us do teshuva must be found in nature? Why must the instrument that is used to call us together in times of joy or challenge be fashioned by human beings?

It is because when it comes to teshuva, what is critically important is for us to recognize the all-encompassing aspect of our relationship with God.

That God’s presence can be found in every aspect of our lives and everywhere in the world around us.

So in our effort to renew our relationship to God, we use an instrument that represents the notion that God visits blessings upon us, his creations, every moment of every day.

In contrast, the instruments used to gather us in times of joy and in times of challenge must be fashioned by people because, ultimately, how we react to the crises and joys that we experience, is largely dependent upon people: ourselves and others.

The Torah commands us to sound the human-crafted trumpets in times of crisis because it is human behavior, intelligence and initiative – with God’s help – that can transform crises into redemptive and uplifting moments.

As we face the crises of terror and civil unrest in Israel, and a threatening resurgence of acts of antisemitism throughout the world, we can hear both the shofar AND the trumpets being sounded from Above.

This is a time to do teshuva and to gather together as a people to respond, together, to the common threats we face.

Please God, may we succeed in taking the steps needed to repair our relationship with God and to transform these crises to celebrations in our lives, in the lives of our people and in society at large.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Daniel Epstein

Parshat Beha’alotcha: Realistic Recollections and Moving Forward A graduate of OTS’s Straus-Amiel Emissary Program, Rabbi Daniel Epstein is one half of the senior Rabbinic team at the Western Marble Arch Synagogue in London’s West End, together with his wife, Rebbetzin Ilana Epstein   Transitions are challenging. If the Book of Numbers had a theme, this …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Behaalotcha 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“The Song Doesn’t Remain the Same: How Each Generation Connects with God Differently”

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The Song Doesn’t Remain the Same: How Each Generation Connects with God Differently

One of the vessels that we’re introduced to in this week’s parsha is the trumpets. 

The trumpets have a unique quality to them. You see, every other vessel that Moshe forges, with the help of others, can be used for all generations: the candelabra, the menora, the aron, the ark. However, the chatzotzrot, the trumpets – which call the Jewish people together in times of joy and in times of challenge, such as warfare – the law is that those trumpets have to be fashioned anew in every single generation.  Menachot 28b

Why is that? Why is it that all the other vessels in the Tabernacle, in the Temple, were for generations, but the trumpets were only for one generation, and then they had to be remade, refashioned, redone? 

I believe that there’s an important message in this for us: that every generation has its own music, its own connection to God.

My music is not the same music as my children’s, and is not the same music as my parents’. 

My connection to God is also different, and therefore the chatzotzrot – the trumpets that call the Jewish people together, and symbolize this ‘music of the moment’ – cannot be fossilized. It has to be relevant. It has to speak to us in our generation. 

And therefore, etched within the laws of the trumpets is the recognition of the fact that the Holy Ark is eternal, the candelabra, the menora, is eternal, the lechem hapanim where the showbread is put is eternal. 

But the trumpets, the music that allows a generation to march to a relationship with God, is renewed, recast, in every generation. 

What’s our music?

What’s the way we connect?

It can’t be the same way our parents connected, and it’s different from the way our children connect. We have to find a space for our children to create their own music. We have to give them that space, and we have to make sure that we’re always searching for our own music to connect with God. 

B’ezrat Hashem, we’ll understand the message, “utekatem bachatzotzrot”, to blast those trumpets, to create our own music, to find a way in which we truly can connect in this generation to God, and to make sure Judaism is meaningful and purposeful; not just a relic of the past but rather something that leads us to the future.

Shabbat Shalom

This week’s parsha commentary has been sponsoredby the Charif family of Sydney, Australia in memory of Bryna (Bertha) bat Nottel Noteh Charif whose yartzheit is on 21 Sivan Shabbat Shalom: Behaalotcha (Numbers 8:1-12:16) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel – “The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to Aaron and say to him, ‘When you set up the …

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Rabbi Nechemia Krakover

Parashat Behaalotcha: At God’s Command They Shall Travel God tests the desert generation in a way that underscores the importance of commitment and the power of divine truth – travelling and camping at His command. Rabbi Nechemia Krakover, Principal of Neveh Channah High School, Named in Memory of Anna Ehrman Can any of us say …

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Rav Boaz Pash

Parshat Behaalotcha: The Structure of the Menorah and the Structure of the Torah Rabbi Boaz Pash is the Rosh Kollel of the Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary‘s Torat Yosef Kollel At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, we read the following: “Hashem spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When …

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Shabbat Shalom: Behaalotcha (Numbers 8:1-12:16) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And it came to pass, when the Ark traveled forward, that Moses said, “Rise up O God, and scatter Your enemies; and let them that hate You flee before You.” And when it rested he said, “Return O God, unto the myriads [literally ten …

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