There is a commandment given to Israel that once every 7 years, during the Festival of Sukkot, they should assemble ALL the people to hear the Torah read to them. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). Chazal (a Hebrew acronym that means, “our sages of blessed memory”) instituted a continuous cycle of reading the Torah. They defined weekly sections so that Jews would be reading and hearing Torah every single week and complete the 5 Books of Moses in a set time. The teachers I learned under taught me to follow the yearly Torah cycle and I discovered that Chabad divides their Torah study into daily aliyot. When the Torah portion is read in its entirety on Shabbat in the synagogue, there are seven sections, seven aliyot. The Chabad tradition is to study one aliyah each day, starting Sunday and going through to Shabbat. One who does this can get a double dose of the same Torah Portion each week.
It’s time to explore Torah Portion 36 Beha’alotcha, aliyah by aliyah.
Aliyah 1: Numbers 8:1-14
Numbers 8:2 “Tell Aharon, ‘When you set up the lamps, the seven lamps are to cast their light forward, in front of the menorah.’”
I don’t understand what this means. Where else would the light be cast? Does this have to do with how the wicks were oriented?
Numbers 8:3 Aharon did this: he lit its lamps so as to give light in front of the menorah, as HaShem had ordered Moshe.
I applaud Aharon’s obedience. May we all do likewise. I still don’t quite get what he did.
Numbers 8:4 Here is how the menorah was made: it was hammered gold from its base to its flowers, hammered work, following the pattern HaShem had shown Moshe. This is how he made the menorah.
It is amazing to think that the craftsman were able to do such fine work out in the desert, but they were filled with the Spirit of HaShem, so it really is no wonder they were strengthened to accomplish the task he set for them.
Numbers 8:6 “Take the L’vi’im from among the people of Isra’el and cleanse them.
The Tabernacle is ready to go. So far only Moses, Aaron and his sons have served in it. They went through their consecration, now the Levites will join them.
Numbers 8:7 Here is how you are to cleanse them: sprinkle the purification water on them, have them shave their whole body with a razor, and have them wash their clothes and cleanse themselves.
I assume the “purification water” is the water of the ashes of the red heifer. Did the Levites have to shave off their eyebrows and beards too? How far does this shaving go? What is the purpose of it?
Numbers 8:8 Then they are to take a young bull with its grain offering, which is to be fine flour mixed with olive oil; while you take another bull for a sin offering.
Is the bull with the grain offering an Olah or Whole Burnt offering? It’s funny that it doesn’t specify, but it may be that the accompanying grain offering is a clear indicator that this first bull is Olah or something else. I need to review the laws of the korbanot/sacrifices to clarify.
Numbers 8:9 You are to present the L’vi’im in front of the tent of meeting, and assemble the entire community of the people of Isra’el.
Like with Aaron and his sons before.
Numbers 8:10 You will present the L’vi’im before HaShem, the people of Isra’el will lay their hands on the L’vi’im,
How many of the people of Israel will lay their hands on the L’vi’im? All of them by some miracle? The Princes of the 12 tribes? The 70 elders?
Numbers 8:11 and Aharon will offer the L’vi’im before HaShem as a wave offering from the people of Isra’el, so that they may do HaShem’s service.
This implies Aaron literally lifted up and waved more than 8,000 Levites
Numbers 8:12 The L’vi’im will lay their hands on the heads of the bulls; the one you will offer as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering to HaShem to make atonement for the L’vi’im.
Which Levites? All of them? Some of them? Who? The heads of the 3 clans?
Also, this confirms that the first bull was for an Olah or Whole Burnt offering. Still, I wonder if that grain offering is the key marker or not.
Numbers 8:13 You are to place the L’vi’im before Aharon and his sons, and offer them as a wave offering to HaShem.
Maybe Elezar and Itamar helped Aaron wave all the Levites.
Numbers 8:14 In this way you will separate the L’vi’im from the people of Isra’el, and the L’vi’im will belong to me.
It is remarkable that only two animals are offered as part of the consecration of over 8,000 men. I would think there would have been many more.
Aliyah 2: Numbers 8:15-26
Numbers 8:16 because they are entirely given to me from among the people of Isra’el; I have taken them for myself in place of all those who come first out of the womb, that is, the firstborn males of the people of Isra’el.
This affirms my assertion that the firstborn from all of Israel were to be the servants of the Tabernacle.
Aliyah 3: Numbers 9:1-14
Numbers 9:11 But he will observe it in the second month on the fourteenth day at dusk. They are to eat it with matzah and maror
Why would Pesach make a provision for a second Pesach? Why isn’t there a second chance for all the Biblical Feasts? What separates Pesach from the rest?
Aliyah 4: Numbers 9:15-10:10
Numbers 9:22 Whether it was two days, a month or a year that the cloud remained over the tabernacle, staying on it, the people of Isra’el remained in camp and did not travel; but as soon as it was taken up, they traveled.
It has often been said that Israel was disobedient and rebellious towards HaShem. Indeed they were. You have been too, so have I. It has not often been said that this section of Numbers 9, is just one of the places where the Torah emphasizes how obedient Israel was to HaShem. The people listened here and heeded well and that is rarely mentioned.
Aliyah 5: Numbers 10:11-34
Numbers 10:11 On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle of the testimony
How does this work for the men who had just learned about Second Pesach? Did they get to bring their Pascal Lamb and have their seder? Were they worried about it, knowing that they may not make the offering if they were on the move? Or was it the case that they would have their designated lamb travel with them and that the samp had to break every single day, so they had a chance to make the offering and have the seder? Do you think HaShem set times for them to travel? Would they always start and stop at the same time of day? Would it change by season?
Aliyah 6: Numbers 10:35-11:29
Numbers 11:1 But the people began complaining about their hardships to HaShem. When HaShem heard it, his anger flared up, so that fire from HaShem broke out against them and consumed the outskirts of the camp.
Just because you have hardships doesn’t mean you have to complain about them. Some people like to complain, but it isn’t a vital life function, like breathing. We can instead hold our tongues about the difficulties and be grateful for all that is well with us. Don’t recount your trouble, count your blessings.
Aliyah 7: Numbers 11:30-12:16
Numbers 11:34 Therefore that place was named Kivrot-HaTa’avah [graves of greed], because there they buried the people who were so greedy.
Does this imply that this plague and maybe all the plagues of this type in the Wilderness only affected particular people who were guilty of the sin that triggered the plague? That seems just to me, scary, but just.
Before I go, I want to answer questions raised at the beginning of this session. These are my opinions, based on my time studying under various teachers and while I try to set aside any commentaries while examining each aliyah, I will allow myself to bring some back in for this section. I will disclose where I am getting these ideas where relevant.
I am going to Rashi’s commentary for these answers. Look it over yourself if you like below:
- What was Aaron supposed to do with the Menorah’s light?
- Why did HaShem order the Levites to be shaved?
- Did Aaron lift Levites?