Parsha Nugget Beha’aloscha – Numbers 8:1-12:16
Often I have the feeling the world is passing me by. Then I remind myself that many changes turn out to be meaningless fads that won't endure. And when it comes to mental development, this week’s parsha, Beha’aloscha, shows why the Torah’s is eternal:
They journeyed from the Mountain of G-d a distance of three-day, and the Ark of the Covenant of G-d journeyed before them a distance of three days to spy out for them a resting-place. (Numbers/Bamidbar 10:33)
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This Sabbath's parsha begins with lighting the Menorah and consecrating the Levites. Then it discusses bringing the Passover Offering and Pesach Sheini. Next, it describes the cloud and pillar of fire with which G-d led the Children of Israel and other aspects of their travels. Along the way, they complained about eating the Manna. The parsha explains G-d's response. It ends with Miriam’s affliction with tzaraas.
During the cycle of the Torah we read each weekly parsha three times. Having done this for a score of years I still find details that I had not previously noticed. Take the above verse. Do you notice anything strange about it?
What would you consider to be the Israelites' most precious possession? The Tabernacle? The Incense Altar? Wouldn’t it be the Ark of the Covenant with the Tablets of the Ten Commandments, both the complete second set and the fragments of the first set that Moses broke, inside? G-d “wrote” on these pieces of carved stone with His “finger.” Surely they were treasured above all else. So why would the Ark that contained them travel three days ahead of the Tribes where it was vulnerable to being stolen?
Rashi interprets the Hebrew word lasor, which usually means “to spy out,” as “to prepare.” The Israelites encamped where G-d indicated by having the Cloud of Glory stop at a particular location. How does that connect with the Ark preparing?
Mental Development for the Ages
There is a great deal of discussion about whether certain, perhaps many parts of the Torah are relevant today. For instance, why should we be concerned about the dietary laws when we have modern means of checking for contamination? Why do we need to live in communities close enough to walk to a synagogue when the automobile can get us there so easily?
Yet it seems that in other cases it is as if the wisdom of Torah is just being discovered or rediscovered. Psychologists recently acknowledged taking a set period for deep mourning of a deceased relative is excellent for dealing with the grief. This practice, called Shiva, has existed for millennia. The mikvah (a ritual immersion pool) has regained its centrality to the spiritual life of many women. In fact, the number and types of places where women can commune without men are increasing. Yet such were commonplace over two thousand years ago.
Like G-d, the Torah is omniscient. Its relevance is not merely to Biblical times but for all times. This is why the Ark, which contained the Tablets that embodied the Torah, traveled far in advance of the Children of Israel. Wherever they were going, whatever experiences they would face, the:
Torah was already prepared with the wisdom and guidance they needed
So today when you think that the demands of the Torah are outmoded, you close your mind to solutions to the greatest challenges you face. Torah is not obsolete. Rather your desire not to feel out of step with contemporary life may compel you to reject its millennial-old wisdom. Open your mind and consider how what the Torah asks of you can help you. By doing so, rather than conforming to an old-fashioned, uncool way of life, you put yourself at the forefront of spiritual and mental development.
What aspect of the Bible do you think is antiquated?
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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath we read a portion known as a sedra or parsha. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.
Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!