Parasha Behaalotecha (When You Raise)
Numbers 8:1–12:16; Zechariah 2:10–4:7; Luke 17:11–18:14
“Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and say to him, When you set up [behaalotecha בְּהַעֲלֹתְךָ] the lamps [hanerot הַנֵּרֹ֔ת], the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.” (Numbers 8:1–2)
Last week, in Parasha Naso, the numbering of Israel continued with a census of the Levites. God also detailed the laws pertaining to the suspected adulteress and the Nazirite, as well as gave to Moses and Aaron the priestly blessing. The Parasha ended with the heads of tribes bringing their gifts to the Tabernacle.
This week’s portion of Scripture opens with God’s instructions regarding the lighting of the seven-branched golden lampstand in the Tabernacle.
Raising Up the Light
The Hebrew word Behaalotecha, which means to raise or set up or mount, comes from the Hebrew root alah, which means to go up or ascend.
The word aliyah—to ascend to the Land of Israel—is also derived from this root. The word oleh (m) or olah (f) , one who immigrates to Israel, is also related. Since coming to the Promised Land is to ascend, leaving the Land carries, perhaps, the connotation of descending spiritually.
In Parasha Behaalotecha, God told Moses how to raise up the lampstands [nerot]. The word nerot not only means lampstands but also candles.
Light is so very precious! In fact, one of the Ten Plagues in Egypt was darkness.
Without a light, we cannot find our way; we stumble in the darkness. How true spiritually, as well.
The Bible contrasts the dark path of the wicked to the bright path of the righteous, whose light grows ever brighter!
“The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” (Proverbs 4:18–19)
The Dark Path of Complaining
Yeshua emphasized the theme of spiritual light during His earthly ministry.
He recognized our need for light and revealed that those who follow Him will never be in darkness.
“When Yeshua spoke again to the people, He said, ‘I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12)
We are also called to be lights.
One of the main ways that followers of Yeshua can shine as lights in the world is to love one another and to refrain from complaining and arguing.
“Do everything without complaining or arguing that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world …” (Philippians 2:14–15)
The Yiddish word for complaining is kvetching. This week’s Torah portion is often called the kvetching sedra (the Book of Complaints) because in it, the Israelites protest, grumble, gripe, and complain.
“Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when He heard them His anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.” (Numbers 11:1)
Kvetching is the subject of many a Jewish joke; however, it is no laughing matter in God’s eyes.
The habitual complaining is a serious sin that indicates lack of trust in God and a heart bereft of gratitude.
Complaining brought down God’s wrath upon the children of Israel and caused them to wander aimlessly in the wilderness until they died. How tragic!
Despite their dramatic encounter with God and witnessing firsthand His mighty deliverance—saving them from a life of slavery and bondage in Egypt—they still failed to take hold of their destiny.
An entire nation lost their spiritual compass and sense of purpose by being disgruntled and dissatisfied with all that God had provided for them.
Rather than being thankful for the miracle of deliverance from Egypt and daily manna, they demanded meat, longing for foods they were accustomed to eating in Egypt.
“The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!’” (Numbers 11:4–6)
They failed to recall, however, the price they had paid for these foods—the lashes of the Egyptian slave masters and a life of bitter oppression.
In previous times, when the people complained of having no water to drink or food to eat, God was not angry. Instead, He met their very real needs and blessed them.
Then why did God punish them for their complaints this time?
They were murmuring and grumbling for no good reason. They had everything they needed, and instead of being grateful for God’s provision, they clamored for more.
In this Parasha, God gave the people the meat they craved, but death followed instead of life.
“So He gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease among them.” (Psalm 106:15)
There is a warning in this for us.
Just because we receive what we desire doesn’t mean it will be a life-giving blessing. When we are greedy and lust after things, we are sowing into our flesh. This leads only to death. Sowing into the Spirit, however, leads to life.
Contentment in Our Trials and Difficulties
“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6)
The cravings and blindness that the Israelites were guilty of in the desert is just as common today.
The inability to see beyond trials and difficulties into a hope for the future causes many to want to return to oppressive situations rather than face the day and go through it boldly.
Some people even return to slavery to sin after God rescues them, throwing away their confidence in the Messiah because of difficulties on the way to the Promised Land.
It is a human tendency to slide back into what was known and familiar, even if it is troublesome, rather than endure the uncertainty and challenges of freedom.
The price of freedom is facing difficult situations that we did not have to cope with when we were enslaved.
Sometimes we do experience genuine lack. When we have justifiable complaints, we may present these before the Lord knowing that God is on our side to help us. It is a time for prayer and possible action.
Yet, people who go through life complaining even when they have their needs met do not appreciate all the good in their life, and that kind of discontentment is contagious.
We must beware of negative people, marginal believers (called the rabble or the mixed multitude in this Parasha) who stay on the sidelines and do nothing but complain.
They may influence us to murmur and grumble about our situation when really, we have no reason to complain at all.
So, we owe it to others not to be kvetchers, lest somone catch our bad attitude. This is especially important in families. When we learn to see the good in situations and in others, we can be a real light and example of the love of Messiah.
When we examine the real need evident around us, we realize just how abundantly God meets our needs.
Even when our blessings seem small in comparison to others, we can maintain an attitude of gratitude when we focus on the Giver.
We have an obligation to be grateful to the Lord.
Although everyone gripes once in a while, it should not be a character trait. Thankfulness and appreciation should be.
We can build this trait by verbalizing our appreciation for all that others do for us, even little favors and kindnesses.
This is important, both for our emotional state and our relationship with the Lord.
The Triumph of Mercy
“Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13)
In this Parasha, Moses is terribly grieved by the constant complaining of the people, and burdened by their demands and the weight of leadership:
“Moses heard the people of every family wailing at the entrance to their tents. The Lord became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. He asked the Lord, ‘Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me?’” (Numbers 11:10–11)
Moses said that he would rather die than continue to carry such a heavy burden alone.
“I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me,” he said. “If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Numbers 11:14–15)
Moses was not simply kvetching, but expressing legitimate despair. God heard his cry.
In response, He put the spirit of Moses on 70 elders to ease the burden of leadership.
As if the sin of thousands of Israelites complaining were not enough to bear, his brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam, publicly criticized Moses for marrying a Cushite (Ethiopian) woman. They became envious of his status with God as a prophet and a leader.
After all, God gave them His Spirit to prophecy as well—but not as much or in the same way as He gave to Moses.
A prophet should know better than to envy another prophet.
God asked Miriam and Aaron, “Were you not afraid to speak against My servant, Moses?” (Numbers 12:8)
After seeing thousands of Israelites struck dead from their complaining, they should have been very afraid, but they weren’t.
As a consequence of their verbal attack against Moses, Miriam was struck with leprosy. (Numbers 12:10)
Leprosy is a punishment for the sin of Lashon Hara, literally, evil tongue. It is the use of truth (Moses married a Cushite woman) for a wrongful purpose (to lower Moses’ status in the eyes of God and the people).
The truth is never to be used as a weapon of hate or envy. While we are to be speakers of the truth, we are to do so with love.
“Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Messiah.” (Ephesians 4:15)
James, the half-brother of Yeshua, states that if we consider ourselves religious but don’t control our speech, then we’re deceiving ourselves and our religion is useless. (James 1:26)
“Do not speak evil of one another, brethren … Who are you to judge another?” (James 4:11–12)
We should be afraid to speak against the men and women who are truly serving God. Even if we don’t agree on this or that, we can pray for them and discuss issues with them.
When we use the truth against people for a wrongful purpose, however, we are guilty of the sin of Lashon Hara.
Moses showed true meekness and humility by not defending himself or getting angry at his siblings.
Instead, he interceded for Miriam, asking God to heal her. (Numbers 12:13)
Likewise, Believers are not to stand by and watch people suffering and think, “You had it coming. You deserve this!”
Yes, the price of sin is death, but in Yeshua all can find mercy and grace. He is continually interceding for us to the Father and is a mediator between us and God.
When people in our lives behave badly and reap the consequences of their foolish choices and sinful actions, we can also intercede on their behalf, like Moses and Yeshua.
“Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Messiah Yeshua who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34)