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Parashat Beha'alotcha

Dedicated in honor of our grandson, Ray Haber

on his Bar Mitzvah Shabbat

by his Grandparents Jack & Debbie Rahmey


Parashat Beha'alotcha

Lighting the Menorah

This week’s parasha opens with Hashem telling Moshe to instruct Aharon, “When you kindle the lamps, toward the face of the menorah shall the seven lamps cast light.”

Rashi explains that the three wicks on the menorah’s right and the three wicks on the left were all directed toward the central stem, thereby concentrating the light toward the center. He asks why the wicks faced inward, thereby giving off less light. Rashi, following Midrash Tanchuma (Beha’alotcha 5), explains that this was so the people would not say that Hashem, Who is the source of all light, needed the menorah’s light to illuminate His Mishkan.

S’forno comments that the right side of the menorah symbolizes those who engage in spiritual pursuits, while the left side symbolizes those who engage in more worldly pursuits. By having both sides of the menorah give light toward its center, the Torah is teaching us clearly that all of man’s activities should be directed only towards the service of Hashem.

For example, we can work on our businesses to support our families and give tzedakah as commanded by Hashem, or we can eat healthily and work out in the gym so that we can keep our bodies strong to serve Hashem properly. Either way, we must direct all our efforts towards Hashem.

The Cloud Moves on and So Does Life

Rabbi Frand comments on a specific passuk in this parasha. “When the Cloud lingered upon the Mishkan many days, the Children of Israel would maintain the charge of Hashem and would not journey (9:19).” The Torah says that the pattern of the Jewish Nation traveling and camping in the wilderness was dependent upon the movement of the Cloud that accompanied them.

The Ramban says that it was not uncommon for the Jews to arrive at an undesirable place in the desert. At times, they wanted to leave a place immediately, but they would need to stay because the Shechina stopped over the Mishkan. Similarly, at other times, they arrived at a lovely place, exhausted, and wished to stay for a long time. Often, after only two or three days in such places, the Cloud began to move, and they continued their travels. Sometimes they would come to a spot, the Shechina would stop, and they would all unpack. Then, the next morning, after they finished unpacking all their belongings, the Cloud would move, and they would have to pack up and start traveling all over again.

Imagine such an experience! Think about what’s involved in going on a road trip. The kids get loaded and packed, the suitcases get tied to the roof. When we finally arrive at our destination, we at least want to stay for a couple of weeks! There is an obvious question. G-d is not a puppeteer who demands that people “jump” for no reason. What was the point of making the journey in the desert so arbitrary?

Rav Dessler offers insight in Michtav Me’Eliyahu (Volume 4). The time in the wilderness was the period during which the Jews were taught most of the Torah. Perhaps G-d was trying to teach us the lesson that we must learn Torah and perform mitzvot despite outside conditions. We often make excuses like “I am busy with work,” or “I am having trouble with dating,” … “Oh boy, would I be able to sit and learn and pray without rushing!” But life does not work like that. Life is always full of disturbances. We are not living in Gan Eden. There are financial problems. There are problems with parents, problems with children. There are always problems!

That is what the Torah is teaching us through the travels in the wilderness. Life in the desert was not easy. It was no picnic. But life must continue. In other words, we must continue learning and living as honest and dignified Jews despite the surrounding conditions.

Miriam’s Lashon Hara

Later in the parasha, Miriam was punished with tzaraat for speaking lashon hara about Moshe to her brother Aharon. Before we discuss this incident, we must understand that Miriam was very devoted to her brother Moshe. First, according to the Midrash, Miriam was responsible for Moshe being born. When their father Amram decided to separate from their mother because of Pharaoh’s decree to drown all the baby boys, Miriam told her father that he was worse than Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s decree was only against the boys, while Amram, by separating from his wife, was preventing both boys and girls from coming into the world. Then when Moshe was born and was put in a basket on the Nile river, Miriam followed the basket to make sure Moshe would be safe and end up in good hands.

In this parasha, Moshe appointed seventy elders according to Hashem’s instructions. This way the elders would be able to alleviate Moshe’s burden of leading the people and dealing with their many concerns and complaints. The Midrash tells us that when the elders were appointed, it was a happy day with much rejoicing, and Miriam exclaimed, “How fortunate are the wives of these elders, who have been granted ruach hakodesh—prophecy!”

Moshe’s wife, Tziporah, replied, “On the contrary, they will be unhappy because their husbands will now separate from them.” In this way, Miriam understood that Moshe had separated from his wife. Miriam then went to her brother Aharon to discuss this matter, to understand why Moshe would separate from Tziporah. So, we see that Miriam didn’t chas veshalom just gossip about Moshe for no reason — she suspected that he might have an issue in his personal life, so she wanted to discuss it with Aharon. Not only was Aharon their brother, but he was also the kohen gadol and a very brilliant rabbi and marriage counselor!

Miriam said to Aharon, “Has Hashem spoken only to Moshe? Hasn’t He spoken to us too?” In other words, Miriam said, “Why is Moshe separating from his wife? We are also prophets, and we haven’t separated from our spouses. We know that just because you’re a prophet, you don’t have to separate from your spouse! So why is he doing this?”

The answer is that Moshe was different than any other prophet. He was the only one who spoke to Hashem panim el panim—face to face. It’s true that all the other prophets did not need to separate from their spouses, but Moshe was not the typical prophet!

Rashi questions the Torah’s placement of Miriam’s error and the lashon hara of the spies in next week’s parasha. Rabbi Frand expounds on Rashi’s answer that the great nisiim--tribe leaders should have learned from the incident with Miriam. In fact, Rabbi Berel Weinberger says that they stumbled and erred in the same way! Like Miriam incorrectly compared Moshe Rabeinu to all the other prophets, the spies compared Eretz Yisrael to any other land. All these great people failed to make appropriate differentiations and not to equate things that are incommensurate.

Rabbi Weinberger explains that he is appalled by the use of the word Holocaust for anything other than the description of what happened to the Jews of Europe. The use of that term any time an injustice is done against people profanes it and equates that which should not be equated. It should be reserved for nothing less than the unprecedented systematic extermination of six million people. Making such inappropriate comparisons degrades and insults the people to whom it really happened.

Rav Meir Shapiro once commented that the difference between the Jews of America and the Jews of Europe is that in America people know how to make “Kiddush,” whereas in Europe they knew also how to make Havdalah--distinctions. We fail to make proper “havdalah” here. Not everything is the same. Jews are extremely different than gentiles. We are constantly bombarded with “moral equivalencies” that are totally absurd and thoroughly insulting. Moshe Rabbeinu is not to be compared with anyone else, and Eretz Yisrael is not to be compared to any place else. We need to know when things are equal and when they are radically different.

Shemirat Halashon—Guarding the Tongue

The Chafetz Chaim explains why lashon hara is more severe than the typical sin. When a person sins by committing a forbidden action, an accusing angel is created. It stands as a prosecutor in the Heavenly Bet Din and is the cause of the punishment that one receives for his sin. However, for sins that don’t involve negative speech, the angels are, therefore, unable to speak. They can try to prosecute, but without the power of speech, they don’t really have a case, and the sinner remains unpunished.

The sin of lashon hara is different because the angel created by it receives the power of speech. This gives it the ability to verbally express the nature of the lashon hara that the person perpetrated, but the Chafetz Chaim goes further and says that this angel also enumerates all the previously unmentioned sins that the person committed. Thus, speaking lashon hara opens the floodgates for the punishment for numerous other sins.

This powerful lesson of the Chafetz Chaim serves as another reminder of the importance of working on guarding one’s speech. Torah Sages have told us that it is essential to spend some time each day studying both the laws and ideas behind them. Without knowledge of the laws and constant awareness of one’s speech, it is impossible to guard oneself against this devastating sin.

Rav Menachem Weiss published a story about his friend, a principal of a yeshivah in Israel. This principal, his wife, and his family were known for being extremely careful about shemirat halashon—guarding the tongue and for diligently reviewing the halachot surrounding lashon hara daily.

Recently, the wife was in a situation where it was incredibly difficult for her to refrain from speaking lashon hara, but thanks to the family’s constant review of the halachot, she withstood the nisayon—test and remained silent.

Half an hour later she went into her kitchen and was horrified to find her two-year-old holding a sharp knife between his teeth. After freezing for a second, she spoke softly to him and managed to distract him enough to carefully extricate the knife from his mouth.

After she calmed down, she couldn’t help but draw the connection between her decision to keep her mouth closed and her rescue of her son’s mouth from serious injury mere moments later.

Moshe’s Humility

The text continues, “And Hashem heard [Miriam’s words]. Now the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any other person on the face of the earth.” A question is asked; why is Moshe’s humility introduced in the middle of this exchange?

The Ramban and the Ohr Hachaim both explain that Moshe was so humble that it was unthinkable to accuse him of considering himself superior to the other prophets. Because of his humility, Moshe would never have defended himself against Miriam’s charge. Therefore, Hashem had to intervene and punish Miriam for speaking against His servant Moshe.

The Torah’s characterization of Moshe as being humble sheds light on the nature of true humility. It is commonly assumed that humble people are afraid to speak up or assert their authority. This surely does not apply to the humblest man on the face of the earth. Moshe did not hesitate to confront Pharaoh or rebuke the entire nation of Israel. His humility did not deter him from doing what was proper, even if it was unpopular or dangerous. Rather, humility refers to someone’s personal assessment of himself. He may feel humble that he has not achieved his potential, or if he has, his greater innate ability puts greater responsibility on him, and no one has a right to feel haughty merely for doing what one is obligated to do. We learn from Moshe how genuine humility is a most outstanding trait that we should all aspire to attain.

May we all appreciate the blessings we get from the kohanim. May we remember to use the tools gifted to us to always serve Hashem. May we learn and pray despite our circumstances. May we also learn the importance of not speaking lashon hara even when it’s seemingly innocent. May we be humble like Moshe, knowing although we are not even close to reaching our full potential, humility does not mean we can’t stand up for what’s right.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Point:

Do we learn, pray, and do mitzvot regardless of our circumstances?

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Eliyahu Ben Rachel

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Ovadia Ben Esther

Rav Haim Ben Rivka

Moshe Ben Mazal

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Yitzchak Ben Adele

Avraham Ben Mazal

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Chanah Bat Esther

Yaakov Ben Rachel

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Luratte Bat Masouda

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