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Parshat - Beha'alotecha

Thursday, 31 May, 2018 - 12:32 pm

When we think of the 40 years that the Jewish people spent in the desert from the time they left Egypt until the time they arrived in Israel, most people I know define this time as a time of strife, complaining and disrespect. In the Biblical stories, we see the various problems that came up – the Golden Calf, the complaining about lack of water and food, the request for meat, the rebellion of Korach, and of course the story of the spies that caused them to be stuck there for 40 years in the first place. In fact, the Torah says that the people tested Hashem ten times. But the truth is that rather than framing their entire experience in the desert as negative, there is another whole story that is also written in the Torah that we don’t often focus on.

One of the stories told in this week’s Parsha, Beha’alotcha, is the way the decision was made to camp in a certain place and how long to stay there before the next journey. There was no council of elders deciding this, nor was it the decision of the leadership or a consensus of the people. The Torah tells us of a cloud that rested above the Mishkan (Sanctuary), and when the cloud would lift, the people would pack up and travel in the direction that the cloud led them. When the cloud settled, they would camp. Imagine what it took to set up camp. 600,000 families had to set up their tents and unpack. The Levi’im (Levites) would set the Mishkan up. Huge beams, long poles, hundreds of feet of cloth, goats’ hair and leather roof coverings, curtains, hundreds of feet of screens and pegs for the courtyard, furniture, all the utensils and all the many items necessary for the sacrifices. 

When you go on vacation, how much unpacking do you do? I would imagine that it depends on how long you are staying in the same place. If you are going to spend a while in the same hotel or on a cruise, you unpack everything from the suitcases. If you are just spending a night at a motel on your way, you might just take out whatever you need for the night. Well, all of the unpacking and setting up camp that the Jews did in the desert, including the huge job of setting up the Mishkan, was done without knowing how long they would be staying. As the Torah describes, sometimes it would be only for a long time, and sometimes as short as day and a night! Yet the Jews followed the instructions from Hashem without complaining and, in good faith, set up the camp when shown by the cloud and took it down again whenever the time came.

Another major expression of faith was that they would go to bed every night with no food to eat, knowing that the next morning when they woke up there would be Mann – the heavenly bread that fell each morning – for them to eat. Here again, 600,000 families in the desert going to bed every night without a scrap of food to eat, none of them going to the neighboring countries to find provisions, simply trusting that Hashem would provide for them.

This was a powerful lesson for the people after they had questioned their ability to follow Hashem’s instructions to capture the land. They now experienced the direct involvement that Hashem had in their lives, going where He led them and eating what He directly provided for them. This foundation of faith was a lesson for all times. When we live in a home and eat food that we grow, we often forget about Hashem’s involvement in providing for us. The Torah teaches us that although we may not see it with our physical eyes, in fact where we end up is Hashem’s decision and what we eat is provided by His blessing. We have the choice to live with this faith or not, and we have the choice to do whatever we want when we get to wherever we are. But recognizing this lesson, we are more open to recognizing that Hashem is bringing us to a place for a mission, and our life fulfillment comes from fulfilling that mission, as directed in the Torah.

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