June 24-25, 2016 – 19 Sivan 5776
Annual (Numbers 8:1-12:16): Etz Hayim p. 816; Hertz p. 605
Triennial (Numbers 10:35-12:16): Etz Hayim p. 826; Hertz p. 613
Haftarah (Zechariah 2:14-4:7): Etz Hayim p. 837; Hertz p. 620
Lessons on Prayer
Rachel Marder is a student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and a recent alumna of the Conservative Yeshiva.
Prayer is not easy. We stumble over the words of the siddur. We struggle to maintain focus and kavannah (intentionality). We find it challenging to emote freely, to talk to God honestly, express praise and gratitude, make impassioned requests and vent frustration. From Moses’ prayers in parashat Beha’alotekha we can learn some strategies that may aid our prayer practice.
Moses’s first prayer here is a passage we know from the Torah service: “When the Ark traveled, Moses would say, ‘Arise, O Lord, and let Your enemies be scattered, may Your foes flee before You.’ And when it rested, he said, ‘Return, O Lord, to the thousands of families of Israel’” (Numbers 10: 35-36). The Israelites carried the Ark into their battles, for forty years in the desert and in conquering the land, a sign of God’s support and protection. Moses is more than “praying” here, he actually commands God to rise and fight His enemies. In the second verse, Moses demands that God return to be present with the people. He does not hesitate to hold God accountable to the Sinai covenant to care for the people.
R’ Amram Yitzchak Zaks (1926-2012), Rosh yeshiva of the Slabodka yeshiva of Bnei Brak, wrote that in just 12 words (in the Hebrew) Moses captured the essence of Jewish history. The Ark in transit signifies our wanderings, exiles and expulsions – our vulnerability. So Moses prays “Arise, O Lord, and scatter Your enemies.” The Ark at rest signifies peace and calm for the Jewish people, but then danger faces us through assimilation and a laxness to Torah. “Return O, Lord,” to Your place amongst the thousands of families of Israel, when You are also needed. Moses’s prayer is short, but packed with honesty and communal concern.
Moses prays again in the parasha (“Moses cried out to [אֶל] the Lord” -11:2) when fire from the Lord breaks out in the camp after the people complain. Rabbi Elazar said: Do not read el ‘to’ the Lord, but al ‘against’ the Lord” (Berachot 32a). Moses, holding God to a high standard of justice, unabashedly challenges the harshness of the Divine punishment, “and the fire abated.”
Moses prays again when his sister Miriam is afflicted with leprosy for gossiping about Moses. He expresses much pain, anger and frustration in just five words:
אֵל, נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ
Lord, I pray you, heal her, I pray you!” (Numbers 12:13), from which the Rabbis learn that prayers need not be long (Brachot 34a). They even note that Moses did not mention Miriam by name. One might have thought that the longer one prays, the greater the level of detail, the more pious one would seem in God’s eyes, but the rabbis conclude otherwise (ibid). God responds sharply, but then limits the ailment to seven days.
On three occasions here, Moses expresses himself to God directly and with honesty and courage, indeed as Hannah does later, pouring her soul out to God (1 Samuel 2). They provide us several important insights for our prayer strategy – Pray for others (the community), keep it short, and don’t be afraid to challenge God.
A Vort for Parashat Beha’alotekha
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
R’ Chaim of Volozhin (1749 – 1821, Belarus/Lithuania, a leading disciple of the Vilna Ga’on) said that the verse “and Moses the man was very humble, more than anyone else on earth” (Num 12:3) contains a riddle and its solution. How could anyone of Moses’s spiritual greatness and closeness to God be so humble? “More humble than anyone else (anav m’kol ha’adam),” he explained, can also mean “humble from everybody else.” Anybody who can learn good things “from every person on the earth,” particularly from the simple people who work the land, will become a truly modest person. R’ Mendele of Kotsk said that while kavanah, intention, enhances mitzvot, modesty is not an attribute that benefits from intent.
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
Parashat Beha’alotekha is loaded with interesting topics. A year has been spent in the desert since the people of Israel left Egypt. Ahead is the entry into the land – the goal of the exodus. But not all goes smoothly; let us see how they manage in the desert:
1) As Pesach (Passover) approached, a year since the people left Egypt, they are reminded to celebrate it in the desert (9:1-5). This is the first time that Pesach is a commemoration of the exodus. What do you think went through people’s minds as they celebrated this? How might that first Pesach differ from our Pesach today?
2) In 9:15-23 we get a glimpse of the travel itinerary of the people. How did they know when it was time to travel and where to go? How much time passed between one travel and the next? How long did they stay in a place?
3) As the People of Israel prepare to travel into the land, Moshe (Moses) asks his father-in-law to come with them. What does Moshe promise his father-in-law (10:29)? What do you think that means? What does his father-in-law answer (v.30)? Why do you think that he prefers these over Moshe’s promise?
4) In chapter 11 we see the people in a crisis. They cry for meat (which they have) and are heard by Moshe and God. Look at Moshe’s words to God in vv.11-15. What is the main point of his speech? What does God respond to first, Moshe’s pain or the people’s demand (vv.16-20)? Why do you think that this is the order of response?
5) Miriam and Aaron, Moshe’s siblings, are talking about him and his family (12:1-2). Why do you think that they were talking about Moshe? What was wrong in that act? Read the rest of the chapter; does Moshe take action against them in any way? Why do you think that is so?