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Torah Sparks

June 18, 2005 - 11 Sivan 5765

Annual: Numbers 8:1 - 12:16 (Etz Hayim, p. 816; Hertz p. 605)
Triennial: Numbers 8:1 - 9:14 (Etz Hayim, p. 816; Hertz p. 605)
Haftarah: Zekhariah 2:14 - 4:7 (Etz Hayim, p. 837; Hertz p. 620)

Prepared by David M. Eligberg
Congregation B'nai Tikvah, North Brunswick, NJ

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director


The parasha begins with a description of the menorah and the correct procedure for lighting it. The Levites are purified, elevated and presented by the Israelites as a "wave" offering into the service of the Tabernacle.

The Israelites prepare to celebrate their first anniversary of Passover in the wilderness. The observance of a second Passover is introduced for those who are in a state of ritual impurity at the time of celebration.

The parasha describes the cloud and the fire-like apparition that rested above the Tent of Meeting, symbols of the Divine presence in the Israelite camp. The motion of these manifestations served as indicators for the Israelites to encamp and to march.

The parasha sets forth the Israelite order of march. The Tabernacle both rested and traveled at the center of the Israelite camp.

Moshe is unsuccessful in convincing his father-in-law to remain with the Israelites, to continue to share his knowledge with them and to share in God's blessings.

Surrounded by a pair of inverted letter nuns are two famous phrases that were recited by our ancestors when the Ark was lifted and when the Ark came to rest.

A continuing motif theme of the book of Bamidbar emerges. The people complain and God responds with a punishment, specifically here in this parasha, a fire that begins to consume the edge of the camp. The people turn to Moshe who prays on their behalf and God relents.

The Israelites express their ennui with the manna that has sustained them and look back with longing to the array of foods they enjoyed in Egypt. Both God and Moshe are angered by their ingratitude. Recognizing Moshe's distress, God orders Moshe to gather seventy elders who will be empowered to assist him. The Israelites are promised a month's worth of meat but their gluttony leads to their demise.

Miriam and Aaron criticize Moshe and assert their own importance. God proclaims Moshe's unique status and we are given some insight into the nature of prophecy.

Discussion Topic 1: Keeping the Fires Burning

Speak to Aaron and say to him, "When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand. Aaron did so; he mounted the lamps at the front of the lampstand, as the Lord had commanded Moses. (Numbers 8:2-3)

Derash: Study

  • Rambam ruled that according to the law the lighting of the menorah is permissible by an outsider but the preparation of the oil and wicks is prohibited to outsiders. This provides proof that the preparation for a mitzvah is greater than the mitzvah itself. (Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Peltz)
  • One must light the wick until a flame burns by itself. (Rashi) A person must accustom him or herself to God's work through established times and perpetual care until it becomes part of his or her inner being that the repetition shall cause it to be part of one's nature and the inner flame shall burn by itself. (Korban HehAni)
  • To tell us the praiseworthiness of Aaron who did not change (Rashi). Rabbi Menahem Mendl of Kotzk explained that Aaron changed nothing from the way he performed the mitzvah the first time -- not in his approach or his feelings --- that over the 39 years of lighting the menorah daily the task never became a tedious chore, a routine or an ennui rather the excitement and the passion of the first lighting was with him all the time, without change. (Emet v' Emunah)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Why do you think Rambam and Rabbi Menahem Mendel of Peltz place such emphasis on the preparations for a mitzvah?
  2. How does our preparation to enhance our experience of performing a mitzvah?
  3. What can we do to follow in Aaron's footsteps and keep our observance of Judaism enthusiastic and impassioned?

Discussion Theme 2: On the Outside Looking In

Speak to the Israelite people, saying: "When any of you or your posterity who are defiled by a corpse or are on a long journey would offer a Passover sacrifice to the Lord..." (Numbers 9:10)

Derash: Study

  • The dots which appear above the words "are on a long journey" in the Torah are meant to indicate that this was not a real (geographic) distance but that the individual was outside the gateway of the Temple courtyard (Rashi). This dot in the Torah teaches us that the distance from the Temple is not measured in thousands of miles; one can be at the gateway of the courtyard, literally on the doorstep, and even so be outside [and at a great distance from] the Temple. (HaRav M. Rottenberg)
  • That it was within his power to observe Pesach (namely, to bring the pascal offering) but he did not (Pesachim 92). In truth such a person is not too distant from Torah and mitzvot since it is his desire to observe Pesach Sheni but he simply "does not do it" implying that his action is weak, without passion without enthusiasm. There is a barrier of some type that precludes him from doing this mitzvah for he could have done Pesach with the rest of the people of Israel but did not. (HaRav M. Rottenberg)
  • The Torah alludes in various places to four types of children: one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who does not know how to ask... What does the wicked child say? "Whatever does this service mean to you?" The child emphasizes "you" and not himself! Since the child excludes himself from the community and rejects a major principle of faith, you should "set his teeth on edge" and say to him: "It is because of this that the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt" "Me" and not him! Had he been there, he would not have been redeemed. (The Passover Haggadah)

The "Wicked Child" -- An Unfair Description?

The "wicked" child expresses a sense of alienation from our Jewish heritage. In this age of liberalism and democracy, of pluralistic tolerance for many cultural expressions, should a person who expresses such a feeling be condemned as "wicked" or evil"?

Would a different characterization be more appropriate to our contemporary sensibilities? What of terms such as "the rebellious one," "the skeptic," "the arrogant -- chutzpadik?"

Is "setting his teeth on edge" the best strategy to deal with such a person? (This Night Is Different Haggadah)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How do we answer the issues of the alienated and disaffected members of our community such as those raisedabove?
  2. Do those who feel alienated still have an obligation to seek a place for themselves at the table?

Discussion Theme 3: With a Hope and a Prayer

So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying: "O God, pray heal her!" (Numbers 12:13)

Derash: Study

  • In my distress I called upon my Lord; to my God I cried for help. (Psalm 18:7)
  • When you address the Holy One, let your words be few! (Berachot 61a)
  • Prayer is the service of the heart. (Ta'anit 2a)
  • Prayer is acceptable only if the soul is offered with it. (Ta'anit 8a)
  • The prayer of the sick for himself will avail more than any other. (Genesis Rabbah 53)
  • The gates of prayer are never closed. (D'varim Rabbah 2)

Me Sheberakh: May the One Who Blessed

May the One who blessed our ancestors: Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah and; Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob Bless the one who is ill -- May the Holy One, the fount of blessings, shower abundant mercies upon him/her, fulfilling his/her dreams of healing, strengthening him/her with the power of life. Merciful One: restore him/her, heal him/her, strengthen him/her, enliven him/her. Send him/her refuah sh'leimah, a complete healing, a healing of spirit and a healing of body -- together with all who are ill, among all the people of Israel and all humankind, soon, speedily, without delay, and let us say: Amen.

We may wonder why prayer is paradoxical and unpredictable, but the most astonishing fact is that it simply works at all -- and not only in ways that can be tested in laboratory experiments, but in the most glorious and benevolent way imaginable -- as a reminder of our origin and destiny: the Absolute, the Universal, the Divine. (Dr. Larry Dossey, Healing Words: the Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine)

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What needs does reciting a Me Sheberach fill for the person who is ill? What about for the person who prays?
  2. How do we deal with outcomes that are different than what we prayed for?
  3. Is what we pray for always the best thing?

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