Marc Chagall

2024-06-22 - Parashah Beha'alotecha

Torah: Bamidbar (Numbers) 8:1 – 12:16; Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 - 4:7

Kindled Obedience

This Parashah introduces beautiful concepts in the traditional Judaism: the kindling of the Menorah, the laying of hands as a form of consecration, the Second Passover as God's given second chance of repentance, and the blowing of the Shofarim on the day of one’s gladness including Rosh Chodesh and Shabbat. These can also be used as expressions of faith in the Messianic Judaism as we worship a God who is the same from eternity past, to present, and to eternity future. But the main theme of this Parashah is obedience to God, obedience in the spiritual issues as well as obedience in the physical issues.

After a long recitation of the offerings brought by the tribal leaders for the Tabernacle in the previous Parashah, the first aliyah of this week's Parashah starts with an interesting instruction: "And the LORD spoke to Moshe, saying, 'Speak to Aharon, and say to him, "When you kindle the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the Menorah."' And Aharon did so; he kindled its lamps to give light in front of the Menorah, as the LORD commanded Moshe" Numbers 8:1-3. Why is this instruction regarding the kindling of the Menorah, placed immediately after the passage about the offerings brought by the leaders of each tribe? To signify that each person has his, or her, unique role in worshiping God. Each member of the body of believers is an important instrument for the Kingdom. Because Aharon did not bring an offering as the other leaders, he was given other tasks to perform.

The rabbis teach that the kindling of the Menorah in this passage alludes to another Menorah, that of the miracle of Hanukkah. God was even alluding to Aharon that his role was greater than that of the other leaders, because there would be a time when the Temple service would stop and the Torah would be on the verge of being forgotten. Only the faith and heroism of the Hasmoneans, a family of Aharon's priestly descendants, would succeed in driving out the enemy, purifying the Temple, and once more kindling the Menorah. The offerings of the tribal leaders were great and impressive, but they were temporary. Aaron's contribution would be eternal.

To us, the Messianic believers, the kindling of the Menorah has a deeper meaning. The Menorah is the symbol of the Ekklesia, as Yochanan reveals in Revelation 1:12-20: "Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me, and, having turned, I saw seven golden Menorot and in the midst of the Menorot stood One like the Ben haAdam... And He had in the right hand seven stars and out of His mouth a sharp two-edged sword going forth and His face was like the sun shining in its power. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead, and he placed His right hand upon me saying, 'Do not fear; I am the First and the Last and the Living One, and I was dead, and—hinei!—I am alive forevermore and I have the keys of Death and of She'ol. Therefore, write down the things you saw and the things which are and the things which are about to happen after these things. The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand and the seven golden Menorot: the seven stars are the malachim (angels) of the Kehillot (Congregations) and the seven Menorot are the seven Kehillot.'"

Therefore, if the Menorah represents a congregation, the lights of the Menorah represent individual believers. The kindling of these lights symbolizes the fact that each believer can make a difference in the lives of others by letting his or her light shine brightly after being lit by our High Priest, the Author of light, Yeshua. Maintaining the place of worship is important but it must be followed by discipleship, by kindling the light that we have received and displaying it for all to see. May each of us be indeed a bright light in this increasingly darkening world and stimulate each other to study and worship with prayer, fellowship and mitzvot. Our contribution in kindling the Gospel’s light will be eternal as was Aharon’s.

With the completion of the Tabernacle, the Presence of the Lord was physically felt among the Israelis and here we have a beautiful example of obedience as everyone kept the commandments of God, albeit temporarily: "And on the day that the Tabernacle was erected the cloud covered the Tabernacle, the Tent of the Testimony; and at the evening there was upon the Tabernacle like the appearance of fire, until the morning. So it was always; the cloud covered it by day, and the appearance of fire by night. And when the cloud was taken up from the Tabernacle, then after that the people of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the people of Israel pitched their tents. At the commandment of the LORD the people of Israel journeyed, and at the commandment of the LORD they camped; as long as the cloud abode upon the Tabernacle they rested in their tents. And when the cloud remained long upon the Tabernacle many days, then the people of Israel kept the charge of the LORD and did not journey. And so it was, when the cloud was a few days upon the Tabernacle; according to the commandment of the LORD they abode in their tents, and according to the commandment of the LORD they journeyed. Or whether it was two days, or a month, or a year, that the cloud stayed upon the Tabernacle, remaining on it, the people of Israel abode in their tents, and did not journey; but when it was taken up, they journeyed. At the commandment of the LORD they rested in the tents, and at the commandment of the LORD they journeyed; they kept the charge of the LORD, at the commandment of the LORD by the hand of Moshe."

Unfortunately, this harmonious period – a glimpse of heaven – is interrupted by disobedience. When we remove our gaze from the heavenly and focus on the earthly matters the Adversary always finds a way to interrupt our relationship with our Heavenly Father. There are two incidents in this Parashah which from the human perspective seem natural to occur even though they were attacks on the spiritual realm, and, since we are spiritual new creations, they serve as examples of obedience; obedience to our Lord Yeshua and obedience to our leaders.

The first incident came right after the dedication of the Tabernacle. After this spiritual high point, people complained about not having meat to eat. It was true then and it is true now, after an uplifting spiritual event such as we have experienced at Shavuot, our humanity is the most vulnerable to fall prey to the Adversary. God supplied to them manna from heaven, a perfect food with all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, and calories needed to sustain life perfectly, but people's taste buds were not satisfied, the flesh wanted something else.

To parallel this with our Messianic life, God gave us the Manna from heaven, Yeshua haMoshiach - the Bread of Life, and He also gave us the Ruach haKodesh with an uplifting infilling event at Shavuot, but some of us are not satisfied – it is our flesh, it is our human nature that surfaces its ugly character. We want something else; we want to add to the pure message of salvation our own good works, or even mysticism. But we are warned. In the second letter to the Corinthians the apostle Shaul writes, chapter 11:3-4: "But I am afraid that, as the Serpent deceived Havah by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity {of devotion} to Moshiach. For if one comes and preaches another Yeshua, whom we have not preached, or you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different Gospel which you have not accepted, you bear him well enough." God was not pleased with the people of Israel's request for meat and He will not be pleased with us if we stray away from the purity of the Gospel. The many denominations that preach another Yeshua are a testimony that the Adversary is at work, and we must be on guard. The apostle not only warned us but also gave us the remedy, Ephesians 6:11: "Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil." And that "full armor" is studying the Scriptures - both Tanakh and Brit Chadashah - not Talmud, nor Kabbalah, or the book of Mormons, or the writings of Ellen White - but prayer, fellowship, and mitzvoth centered around the teachings of Yeshua.

And, as the next incident is about to exemplify, studying the whole Bible - Tanakh and Brit Chadashah, is an essential first step in obedience. After God established the Sanhedrin, the seventy elders, as the spiritual leaders of the congregation of Israel giving them an additional spirit of discernment and prophesy, there came the work of the flesh – why can't we all be leaders? Bamidbar 12:1-2: "And Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe because of the Kushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Kushite woman. And they said, 'Has the LORD indeed spoken only by Moshe? Has He not spoken also by us?' And the LORD heard it." Moshe wife's origin had nothing to do with their grumbling; it was just an excuse for their envy, challenging the authority of Moshe. The sin of speaking against their leader was immediately punished with Miriam having been afflicted with a disease called "tzaraat."

The popular translation of tzaraat has been leprosy, and it was commonly accepted that prevention from the disease's spread was to quarantine the afflicted. But there are different symptoms of tzaraat outlined in the Bible which may be different from those of leprosy as we know it today. The reason for the confinement is to prevent contagion, but interestingly enough when the malady covers the victim's entire body he is declared clean, but if his skin displays raw flesh, he becomes contagious, it is unclean and it is declared to be tzaraat. Vayikra 13:12,13: "And if the tzaraat breaks out in the skin, and the tzaraat covers all the skin of him who has the affliction from his head to his foot, wherever the priest looks, then the priest shall consider; and, behold, if the tzaraat has covered all his flesh, he shall pronounce clean him who has the affliction; it is all turned white; he is clean. But if raw flesh appears in him, he shall be unclean."

For this reason some of the Sages teach that tzaraat could be the physical manifestation of a spiritual disease, a punishment designed to show the sinner that he must mend his ways. They teach that the word "metzora" (the one afflicted by the tzaraat, i.e. the leper) is a contraction of "motzyira" meaning "one who spreads slander." Therefore, they conclude, tzaraat is a punishment for the sin of slander, false oaths, pride, and selfishness; it is a Divine retribution for the offender's failure to feel the needs and share the hurt of others. God rebukes this antisocial behavior by isolating him from society, so that he can experience the pain he has imposed on others and heal himself through repentance. Vayikra 13:44-46: "He is a person with tzaraat, he is unclean; the Kohen shall declare him contaminated; his affliction is upon his head. And the person with tzaraat in whom the affliction is, his clothes shall be torn, and his head bare, and he shall put a cover up to his upper lip, and he shall cry, 'Unclean, unclean.' All the days when the affliction shall be upon him he shall be unclean; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone; outside the camp shall his habitation be."

The Tanakh records only two instances of cleansing from tzaraat. The significance of those two instances was that the healing was done through prophets and not through priests, thus making the tzaraat affliction a result of a direct disrespect for God's anointed as His messengers. Moshe's sister Miriam was struck with tzaraat because she slandered Moshe, but Moshe prayed for her and she was cleansed — after staying seven days outside the camp. Elisha the prophet, who received double of the spirit of Elijah, cleansed Naaman, the captain of the army of the king of Aram (II Kings 5). We are not told why Naaman received the affliction but his cleansing was a testimony for Israel's lack of faith, moral degradation, and the treatment of its own prophets, as reiterated later by our Messiah: "And there were many metzorayim in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian" (Luke 4:27).

Yeshua was (and is) also not well received by most of His own people, especially the leaders, even though they were the only people on earth who received the Torah and should have known better about their Messiah and God’s prophetic requirement for forgiveness. He encountered opposition and lack of faith just as the prophets of old were, and let us not forget who convicted Him and gave Him up to the Romans to be crucified - the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders who were more interested in maintaining their status rather than in the truth. The irony of this is that because these religious leaders rejected Yeshua, the good news of salvation spread to the entire world for we read in the book of Romans chapter 11: “But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles.” But, the apostle does not stop there, he continues with an amazing prophecy: ”Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!... For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”

Even though the leaders were disobedient and failed to recognize the Messiah, God will not hold this against His people and the comforting prophecy given by the apostle is that: ”all Israel will be saved.” May He come back speedily in our time and see this amazing prophecy fulfilled.

Shabbat joy, peace, and blessings! Shabbat Shalom!

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