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When you go to war in your Land against an enemy who oppresses you, you shall sound short blasts of the trumpets. You shall be remembered before the L-rd your G-d, and you shall be saved from your enemies (10:9).
On the days of your rejoicing and festivals… you shall sound the trumpets… and they shall be a remembrance for you before the L-rd your G-d… (10:10).
Within the Holy Land, the occasions when the Torah commanded the public blowing of the trumpets were ones of great sorrow on one hand, and ones of great joy on the other. The Rambam brings the tradition that times of sorrow and distress do not only include war, but also epidemic and drought. These short blasts of the trumpets are a call to repentance, and a reminder that sin causes sorrow and suffering. It is cruel for people to view such calamities as mere coincidences, because that will prevent the nation from changing its habits, causing them to continue in the corrupt ways that brought the impending calamity on them in the first place (Hilchot Taanit 1:1-2). [Significantly, the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 29a) notes that short blasts denote sobbing, wailing.]
The Torah states that G-d will heed the sounds of the trumpets and react in favor of his people - whether they are blown in sorrow, or in joy. However, the text phrases G-d's attitude towards the blowing of the trumpets in two different ways. In times of sorrow, the Torah assures that 'you shall be remembered' before G-d - implying just on that occasion. In contrast, G-d's regard in times of happiness is much stronger: the text states that the sounds of the trumpets 'shall be a remembrance before… G-d'. That phrase implies that G-d will view His People's marking their happy occasions with the trumpets, and hold it in their continual, perpetual favor - not just on that occasion.
The Torah implies that the Almighty views the ceremonies rooted in real happiness more positively than those rooted in deep sadness. Why should this be so?
The Book of Judges relates the story of Jephtah. It opens with ill-treatment he suffered within his own family, causing him to run away from them:
Jephtah of Gilead - a mighty warrior, was the son of a woman who was a harlot. Gilead was the father of Jephtah. Gilead's wife gave birth to children. They… grew up and drove Jephtah away, saying to him, "You shall not inherit in our father's house because you are the son of another woman." (Judges 11:1-2)
Later on, their lives were in danger. The Israelites were terrified because of impending war and destruction at the hands of the people of Ammon. They elders of Gilead turned to Jephtah to lead them in the battle for very survival. Jepthah recalled his earlier suffering:
Don't you hate me, for you drove me out of my father's house? Why do you turn to me now, when it is bad for you? (ibid: 7)
Nevertheless, he agreed to lead them. With the 'spirit of G-d on him' (ibid. 29) he brought the Israelites to a successful victory over the people of Ammon.
This story reflects the way many people relate to G-d. When things are going well, they enjoy life to the full, and at the same time they think - if at all - that they can make their own terms with the Almighty. In verbally painting the future at the end of his life, Moses said:
Jeshurun (Israel) became fat and kicked… and spurned the L-rd who made him (Deut. 32:15).
Keeping the Mitzvot was too great a burden during times of prosperity - especially, for example, with huge profits to be made from exploiting slaves beyond bounds permitted by the Torah (Jeremiah 34:8-11). Thus they 'drove G-d out of their lives' when they thought they were under sunny skies.
That suggests why G-d appears to be less enthusiastic, as it were, when appealing for His mercy, than when saying 'thank you" because all is going well. The words of Jephtah, "Don't you hate me, for you drove me out of my… house? Why do you turn to me now, when it is bad for you?" may well sum up the way G-d relates to sinners who turn to Him only when fearing for their lives and those of their families. "Where were you until now?" says G-d. "Why did you not 'bring me into your lives' when times were good?"
That does not mean that G-d does not want our prayers. When the accompanying trumpet blasts are sounded, G-d promises, they will be remembered, and you will be saved. But only so far, and no further.
In contrast, says G-d, when you turn to me in genuine joy and happiness because of all the good things which others so easily take for granted, the act of blowing the trumpets will become a 'remembrance before me' - something of permanent, not temporary merit.
In human terms, a real friend is one who shows loyalty and care even when he does not depend on you - when it is not in his immediate interest to connect with you. A person who only shows friendship when he needs you is a friend of sorts, but not a real friend.
So too is our relationship with the Almighty. The Torah requires us to keep the Mitzvot, and relate to G-d whether times are easy or difficult. As King David put it:
When I am surrounded with the pains of death… I find myself in suffering and distress, and I call in the Name of the L-rd (Psalms 116:3-4).
However in better times David did not forget to whom he owed his gratitude:
How can I thank G-d for all the wonderful things He has brought on to me. I raise the cup of salvation and call in the Name of the L-rd… (ibid. 12-13)
QUESTIONS ON PARASHAT BEHAALOTCHA
1. What is the meaning and symbol of the phrase 'the seven lamps shall cast light towards the face of the Menorah' (8:2) according to the S'forno?
2. According to an earlier passage (4:3) the Levites were to go into service from the age of thirty, and yet in this Parasha (8:24) the age given is twenty-five. How does Rashi resolve that contradiction, and what teaching may be learnt from his answer?
3. What, according to the text and Rashi, are the differences between the regular Pesach, and Pesach Sheini? (- the day on which people unable to take part in the regular Passover offerings may bring that offering)
4. The Torah goes into great detail describing the means by which the Israelites were guided by the Divine Cloud in the desert. What may be learnt from the Torah's recording those proceedings at great length, according to the Ramban?
5. In Temple times, why are the Trumpets sounded in times of distress, according to the Ramban?
6. The two inverted 'nuns' divide between the reprehensible behavior recorded in 10:33 and the two sins in the next chapter. What was that reprehensible behavior in 10:33, as understood by the Ramban?
7. When the Israelites recalled the good food they had in Egypt, they said that they got it 'for nothing' (11:5). What does that expression mean, according to (a) Rashi, (b) the Ramban and (c) Ibn Ezra?
8. What, according to Rabbeinu Bachya, may be learnt from the Torah's putting together the two stories: of Moses' spirit being spread to the seventy elders, and of death by gluttony through overeating quails?
9. What was the substance of the negative report that Miriam spread to Aaron, according to the sources quoted by Rashi?
10. 'Please G-d, Heal her now' was Moses prayer on behalf of Miriam when she became a metzoraat. Why, according to the sources quoted by Rashi, was his prayer so short?
ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON PARASHAT BEHAALOTCHA
1. The lamps casting towards the face of the Menorah' teach that all man's activities should be directed to G-d service - symbolized by the central shaft (the face) of the Menorah. The three lamps on the right hand side symbolize Torah, spiritual pursuits, and the three to the left represent temporal, productive, activities (S'forno).
2. Rashi resolves the contradiction by stating that young Levites between the ages of twenty five and thirty prepared for their sacred duties, which were only to commence on reaching their full strength at thirty. That indicates a pedagogic lesson: a person who has shown no signs of success after five years' training would be unlikely to do so in the future.
3. The differences between the regular Pesach, and Pesach Sheini (second Pesach) are as follows. Pesach Sheini has no festival laws as such (prohibition of work), and no prohibition of eating and possessing leavened food (chametz) on the day - though the Pesach offering must be consumed with unleavened bread (matzot) and bitter herbs (maror).
4. The Ramban interprets the details describing the means by which the Israelites were guided by the Divine Cloud in the desert to the credit of the Israelites. Even though on some occasions the stopping and starting gave them little rest and often came unexpectedly and inconveniently, the Israelites followed G-d's marching orders willingly and without complaint.
5. According to the Ramban, the Trumpets sounded in times of distress in Temple times to remind them that suffering and war is a product of sin. For people to interpret wars, plagues, and droughts, as merely coincidence defeats the object, as their purpose is to warn the Israelites to change their ways for the better.
6. That reprehensible conduct was the manner in which the Israelites left the 'mountain of G-d' (10:33). The Ramban quotes a Midrashic tradition that the Israelites left Mount Sinai without the correct reverence befitting the ultimate spiritual experience of receiving the Torah - in other words 'like a child who runs away from his lessons'.
7. The good food they had 'for nothing' was, according to (a) Rashi - without any obligation to perform the many precepts (mitzvoth) associated with food (b) the Ramban - though they were slaves, they did not go short of food as fruits, vegetables, and fish were plentiful in Egypt and (c) Ibn Ezra - fish were so plentiful in the Nile that their sale value was virtually 'nothing'.
8. According to Rabbeinu Bachya, the Torah's putting together the stories of the seventy elders and the quails is to teach the following. In the same way that Moses' spirit could elevate all seventy men to greatness without reducing his own in any way, so G-d could provide meat without placing strain on the world's resources.
9. The negative report, following the traditions quoted by Rashi, refers to Moses' family life. The expression 'Cushite woman' (12:1) is a euphemism for the beauty of his wife, Zippora. The content of the information was that Moses had neglected his conjugal life as he was a prophet. Aaron and Miriam were also prophets, but did not withdraw from normal family life, and privately, between them, they criticized Moses for so acting.
10. According to Rashi, the recorded very short nature of Moses' prayer for Miriam 'Please G-d, Heal her now' is show that Moses did not neglect his people for family reasons, and that he did not go out of his way with lengthy prayer to show favoritism to his close relatives.
ADDITIONAL QUESTION ON PARASHAT BEHAALOTCHA
Wholesale punishment only came after that final sin of gluttony with the quails: the gross self-indulgence unworthy of those who had received the Torah. What was special about that offence that caused a very large destruction (11:33) to fall on the Israelites? In sharp contrast to the Sin of the Golden Calf, overeating - though hardly within the spirit of the Torah - would be hardly in actual breach of any of the 613 Mitzvot. The punishment of death by the Hand of G-d appears very harsh in the circumstances… How may this be explained?
For a suggested approach, see my 5761 item for Parashat Behaalotcha on the Shema Yisrael website at http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/index.htm
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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