Lessons From the Wilderness

Lessons From the Wilderness

Jun 13, 2009 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

Powerful images of authority dominate this week’s Torah portion. How do these images relate to contemporary readers who—despite our distance from the events in the wilderness—remain part of the people Israel’s progress toward the Promised Land? 

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The Ways God Leads Us

The Ways God Leads Us

Jun 14, 2008 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

Abraham Joshua Heschel writes eloquently that the supreme aspiration of religion is to inspire each one of us, in the words of the psalmist, “to lift up your eyes and see.”

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Communion and Closeness

Communion and Closeness

Jun 17, 2006 By JTS Alumni | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

By Rabbi Jay M. Kornsgold

I have always been intrigued when reading the Torah by the out of the ordinary occurrences in the text itself such as dots above words and larger or smaller letters. Often, discussions in my congregation become focused on these anomalies. In the portion of B’ha·alot’kha the Hebrew letter nun is reversed before and after the following passage: “When the Ark was to set out, Moses would say: Advance, O Lord! May Your enemies be scattered, And may Your foes flee before You! And when it halted, he would say: Return, O Lord, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands.” (Numbers 10:35 36)

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An Extra Book

An Extra Book

Jun 17, 2006 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

Parashat B’ha–alot’kha continues the narrative of the Israelite journey through the wilderness of Sinai. More than that, a curious phenomenon occurs at the midpoint of this week’s parashah. An inverted Hebrew letter nun appears twice, forming bookends around two verses: Numbers 10:35–36. They read, “When the Ark was to set out, Moses would say: Rise up, O Lord! May your enemies be scattered, and your foes flee before You! And when it halted, he would say: Return, O Lord, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands!” While these verses are most recognizable from the opening of the ark during the Torah service, the unusual markings formed by the inverted nuns lead to a fascinating teaching in the Babylonian Talmud.

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The Botanical Menorah

The Botanical Menorah

Jun 18, 2005 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

A central image of this week’s parashah is the seven-branched menorah, which was lit in the Israelites’ journey in the desert and later in the Temple. This ancient symbol turns our thoughts to Shabbat, and also toward the land of Israel.

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JTS’s Eternal Light

JTS’s Eternal Light

Jun 11, 2005 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

Forty-five years ago my marriage to my wife Sally coincided with the weekly Torah portion of Beha’alotekha, “When you (Aaron) mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand” (Numbers 8:2).

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The Lamp and the Oil

The Lamp and the Oil

Jun 5, 2004 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

Partnership is one of the core concepts of Torah. One individual cannot sustain the entire world. One family cannot build a people. And one nation cannot single handedly effect redemption. Or in the discourse of philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel, God needs Israel just as much as Israel needs God. This message is communicated quite eloquently in an illustrative midrash: “Rav Aha said, ‘Israel is likened to an olive tree: ‘A leafy olive tree fair with goodly fruits’ (Jeremiah 11:16). And God is likened to a lamp: ‘The lamp of the Lord is the spirit of man’ (Proverbs 20:27). What use is made of olive oil? It is put into a lamp and then the two together give light as though they were one.’ “

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A Paradox of Greatness and Humility

A Paradox of Greatness and Humility

Jun 5, 2004 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

America does not like wimps. We want our leaders to exude certainty and resolve, vigor and self-confidence. We deem a leader wise when decisive. The image, though, hardly comports with that of scripture. In the portrait of Moses offered up by this week’s parashah, we are treated to a leader conscious of his own fallibility. The Torah does not stress, to the exclusion of all other traits, Moses’ special charisma. True, unlike other prophets, he is on such intimate terms with God that God addresses him at any time of day in unmediated fashion. No need for somnolence and dreams. In reprimanding Aaron and Miriam for their presumption of equality, God affirms Moses’ unique stature: “With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord” (12:8).

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Rabbi Akiva’s Adult Bar-Mitzvah

Rabbi Akiva’s Adult Bar-Mitzvah

Jun 21, 2003 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

One of the most compelling new rituals in the Conservative synagogue is the adult bat–mitzvah. The impulse is egalitarian, the result religious empowerment. The women who participate enjoyed no bat–mitzvah ceremony in their youth. Years later they seek to fill the void. Usually in small groups of up to a dozen, they study with their rabbi and cantor for a period of at least two years. The practice is so widespread today that the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism has produced a carefully articulated curriculum to enhance the meaningfulness of the experience. Learning to read Hebrew is required. Biblically based yet religiously encompassing, the study period culminates in the preparation of a specific parashah and haftarah to be chanted in the synagogue on a Shabbat morning. There is definitely comfort in numbers. Doing the bat–mitzvah as a group lessens the tension of performing in public. Each participant must master only a part of the whole.

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Honoring Elders

Honoring Elders

Jun 1, 2002 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

Jews have a reputation for being dramatically argumentative. Opinions are pronounced vociferously. Everyone interrupts everyone else. It is perhaps not widely known that interrupting an elder is not only rude but is prohibited by Jewish law. As a religious system, Jewish law legislates about matters outside the bounds of secular law. Matters that secular society sees as ethical, but voluntary, are seen by Judaism as mandatory.

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The Meaning of the Shabbat Candles

The Meaning of the Shabbat Candles

Jun 1, 2002 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

If you have ever spent a Shabbat in Jerusalem, you have surely noticed that its imminent arrival is announced by the blowing of a shofar. The stores that are still open then close and the traffic left on the streets virtually halts. The atmosphere of Shabbat increasingly pervades the city. There is no artifice to the shofar; its harsh sound embodies an ancient practice.

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How God Leads

How God Leads

Jun 9, 2001 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

Abraham Joshua Heschel writes eloquently that the supreme aspiration of religion is to inspire each one of us, in the words of the psalmist, ‘to lift up your eyes and see.’ Heschel explains: “The grand premise of religion is that man is able to surpass himself; that man who is a part of this world may enter into a relationship with God who is greater than this world; that man may lift up his mind and be attached to the absolute; that man who is conditioned by a multiplicity of factors is capable of living with demands that are unconditioned.” The challenge, then, is to identify one’s path toward a meaningful and sanctified life, guided by one’s relationship with God.

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What Hands Teach Us about Religion

What Hands Teach Us about Religion

Jun 13, 1998 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

My father liked to study hands, not to predict the future but to judge character. An amateur graphologist, he had concluded that our hands are an even more revealing extension of our personality than our handwriting. The interest was a great ice–breaker. He would often ask guests visiting our home for the first time to show him their hands, palms down and held together in a triangle. After a brief gaze, he would offer a few comments about their personality type, talents and values. He was rarely way off. Though I failed to acquire his expertise, I remained ever sensitive to the expressiveness of hands.

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There Are No Shortcuts

There Are No Shortcuts

Jun 8, 1996 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

The nation Moses brought out of Egypt shared neither his vision nor faith.

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A Backstory for Moses

A Backstory for Moses

Jun 17, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

For all the grit and grandeur of his character, Moses could never be the biographical subject of a commercially successful book. We don’t know enough about his private life. New books on Franklin Delano Roosevelt or John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King sell because they slake our thirst for the salacious. By illuminating their private lives, their authors presume to deepen our understanding of their noteworthy public careers. But by now the quest has become an unedifying end in itself.

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How We See God

How We See God

May 28, 1994 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Beha'alotekha

The choosing of an epitaph for someone we love is excruciatingly difficult. That is, in part, because our minds are no longer stocked with literary associations and, in part, because we are humbled by the task of identifying the essence of a human life. Mercifully, the unveiling of the tombstone is customarily delayed till the first Yahrzeit, which gives us time to choose wisely.

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Beha’alotekha

Beha’alotekha

Jan 1, 1980

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.”

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Beha’alotekha

Beha’alotekha

Jan 1, 1980

14 Shout for joy, Fair Zion! For lo, I come; and I will dwell in your midst–declares the Lord.

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