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Torah Sparks

June 14, 2008 – 11 Sivan 5768

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 Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

God tells Moses to instruct Aaron about lighting the menorah in the Tabernacle. He then tells Moses how he is to purify the Levites and consecrate them to serve in the sanctuary.

At the beginning of the second year following the Exodus, God tells Moses that the Israelites are to offer the Passover sacrifice at twilight on the fourteenth day of the month. Hearing this, some men who had become ritually impure through contact with a corpse and therefore could not offer the sacrifice approach Moses and Aaron and asked if there was a way they too could participate. Moses brings their question to God, who says that anyone who is prevented from offering the sacrifice at its proper time because of impurity or distance may do so one month later.

From the time the Tabernacle was set up it was covered by a cloud that appeared as a fire at night. This cloud would lift up to signal the Israelites to break camp and travel and it would rest over the Tabernacle when it was time to make camp, whether for a few days or for a year.

God instructs Moses to have two silver trumpets made. These would be used to send messages to the Israelites, calling them to assemble or to march. In the future, once the Israelites were settled in their land, the trumpets were to be sounded during war and at festival times.

Shortly after they set out from Sinai, the people begin complaining. God becomes angry and sends a fire into the camp. The lesson does not take, for soon the people are complaining again, this time about the manna and all the wonderful things they used to eat in Egypt. Moses in turn complains to God, asking how he is supposed to lead the people by himself. God tells Moses to gather 70 elders and officers to whom God will give a share of Moses’ spirit so they may assist him. Moses also is to tell the people that God will give them meat to eat, so much that it will sicken them. God brings huge amounts of quails but also a plague to punish the people for their ingratitude.

Miriam and Aaron speak against Moses, ostensibly because he had married a Cushite woman. However, their real issue is jealousy, for they believe they should be considered equal to Moses in prophecy. God tells them that Moses is unique and strikes Miriam with tzara’at. Moses prays for her healing.

Just the Way You Are

Aaron did so; he mounted the lamps at the front of the lampstand, as the Lord had commanded Moses. (Bamidbar 8:3)

  1. To declare the praise of Aaron, that he did not act differently. (Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105, France])
  2. Would it occur to you to think that Aaron would change and not do as God commanded? So why praise him for not changing? Even though Aaron rose to the highest level, to the position of high priest, he didn’t change his behavior but remained the man he had been: involved with others, mixing with people, making peace between friend and friend and between husband and wife. This is the “praise of Aaron that he did not act differently” – he didn’t change himself. (Rabbi Meir of Premishlan, 1780-1850, Poland)
  3. Although he had been privileged to attain such great honors, Aaron never changed. He did not become conceited or arrogant, but remained humble and meek as he had been before. (Attributed to Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Przysucha, 1765-1827, Poland)
  4. The Kotzker and the Gaon of Vilna explain that there was no difference between the way he performed the commandment the first time and the way he performed it thereafter for the following 39 years, day after day. Each time, he felt the same enthusiasm and the commandment never became a matter of rote to him. (Emet ve-Emunah [author unknown])

Sparks for Discussion

Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Simcha Bunim understand that Aaron’s character and behavior were not affected by his appointment as high priest – he remained involved with ordinary people and did not become arrogant. How common do you think this is? We see many people who achieve success and fame in business, politics, sports, or entertainment who then become arrogant, believing that they are entitled to special treatment, that rules and laws don’t apply to them. How can a person become a star without becoming a jerk?

Emet ve-Emunah takes a different tack – Aaron never lost the enthusiasm for his position that he felt on the very first day. Do you believe it is credible that Aaron never had a bad day, never felt sick, never had a fight with his wife and just wanted to stay in bed and be left alone? Perhaps we should praise Aaron for behaving as if his enthusiasm never flagged. How does a person remain committed to a task or a relationship at those times when the enthusiasm is not there? How do you rekindle the original fire?

Try, Try Again?

But there were some men who were impure by reason of a corpse and could not offer the Passover sacrifice on that day. Appearing that same day before Moses and Aaron, those men said to them, “Impure though we are by reason of a corpse, why must we be debarred from presenting the Lord’s offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites?”... But if a man who is pure and not on a journey refrains from offering the Passover sacrifice, that person shall be cut off from his kin, for he did not present the Lord’s offering at its set time; that man shall bear his guilt. (Bamidbar 9:6-7, 13)

  1. Why must we be debarred – There is no other commandment in the Torah that is to be performed at a certain time and for which an alternative time is assigned should it not be able to be performed at the assigned time. Why is the paschal sacrifice different from all other time-related commandments? The reason is because there were Jews who did everything in their power to fulfill this commandment, as they begged Moses, why must we be debarred...? The redemption of the Jewish people will be the same. If the Jews are stubborn and harness all their powers and energy to inherit the land of their forefathers, redemption will come. (Rabbi Shlomo Ha-Kohen of Radomsk, 1803-1866, Poland)
  2. Mishnah: If one has eaten and forgotten to say grace [after meals – Birkat Ha-mazon], Beit Shammai say that he must return to the place where he ate and say the grace, while Beit Hillel say that he should say it in the place where he remembered.

    Gemara: If one has eaten, etc: Rabbi Zevid, or some say Rabbi Dimi bar Abba, said: Opinions differ only in the case where one forgot, but if he omitted willfully he must return to his place and say grace. This is obvious! The Mishnah says “forgotten” – You might think that the rule is the same even if he did it purposely, and the reason why it says “forgotten” is to show you how far Beit Shammai are prepared to go. Therefore we are told. It has been taught: Beit Hillel said to Beit Shammai, according to you, if a man ate at the top of the Temple Mount and forgot and descended without having said grace, he should return to the top of the Temple Mount and say grace? Beit Shammai replied to Beit Hillel, according to you, if he forgot a purse at the top of the Temple Mount, is he not to go up and get it? And if he will ascend for his own sake, surely he should do so all the more for the honor of Heaven.

    There were once two disciples who omitted saying grace. One who did it accidentally followed the rule of Beit Shammai and found a purse of gold, while the other who did it purposely followed the rule of Beit Hillel and he was eaten by a lion. (Talmud Berakhot 53b)
  3. Rabbi Eliezer said, “Repent one day before your death.” His disciples asked him, “But does a person know on what day he is going to die?” “All the more reason, therefore, to repent today, lest one die tomorrow.” (Shabbat 153a)

Sparks for Discussion

How do you think the men [who had been unclean and not able to celebrate Pesach] approached Moses and Aaron? Were they diffident, asking meekly if there was a way for them to participate, or did they loudly demand their rights? Why was it so important to them to be part of this ritual?

Our tradition established Pesach Sheni, but not Shavuot or Sukkot Sheni. Why? What can you deduce from the Rabbinic texts cited here about missed opportunities and second chances?

Sometimes parents of a baby boy want to move the brit milah from the eighth day to Sunday to make it easier for family and friends to attend. Sometimes a family wants to postpone the Bar or Bat Mitzvah celebration of a child born in January to April or May when the weather will be better. Do you think shuls and their Rabbis should honor such requests? What values are in conflict in these cases? If it were your decision, how would you mediate between them?

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