Parshat Behaalotecha - Rectifying Past Mistakes

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah                                                               for her neshama.
By Shoshana Rosa



This week's Parshat Behaalotecha touches upon many topics; however, one theme that stands out is the consequences  of the sin with the golden calf in Parshat Ki Sisa. The first born lose their chance to be part of the service in the mishkan. Instead, the service is given entirely to the Leviites. 

Let's recap what happened at the sin of of the golden calf: the Jews accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Immediately after, Moshe ascended the mountain to receive further explanation. He left the nation with the directive: "Don't do anything stupid. I'll be back in forty days." Although we managed to stay on the bandwagon for the first thirty-nine, by day forty, we played into the Satan's hands. He convinced us to build a golden calf and then, talked us into worshiping it. It was a terrible mistake from which we are still suffering the after effects. 

Now, where does the theme of dealing with the consequences of one's actions have a voice in Behaalotech's Torah portion? To start: originally, every tribe's first born sons were given the honor of being part of the service in the mishkan. However, after the sin of the golden calf, this plan was rescinded. Instead, every role in the service was handed over to the tribe of Levi. Therefore, this week's parsha spells out the initiation of the son's of Levi into the mishkan service. Some of the first born among the other tribes must have looked on with cheeks glowing in shame and envy. 

Why not just forgive them, though? Isn't missing out on the temple service too great a price to pay? No, what they did was too serious. When the Jews worshiped the golden calf, G-d declared, "If the men in My nation are going to serve foreign G-ds, I am not willing for these same people to serve me in My earthly dwelling." 

There is one phrase in particular that hints at how the Levi'im were meant to atone for the first born groups. Moshe tells Aharon, "Take the Leviites from among the Jewish nation and cleanse them. ...Sprinkle them with the cleansing waters and pass a razor over all their flesh..." (Numbers 8:6-7). What's the correlation between shaving and atonement? Rashi, a famous commentary from the 11th century, answers, "A person who served idols was considered dead. It just so happens that one who was inflicted with tzra'as (roughly translated as leprosy) was also considered dead. Therefore, he had to be sent out of the encampments until he had healed (otherwise he'd infest everyone with his contagion). When he was ready he returned to the camps and was put through a purification process. This process included running a razor over his entire figure and therefore, we run a razor over the Levi'ites bodies to atone for the first born among Bnei Yisrael (the Jews') who sinned with the golden calf as well." 

We sinned with the golden calf after the Sinai event because we failed to perceive G-d's presence. G-d had shown us when He bequeathed us with His Torah, namely, that He is the ruling power and no one else. In the introduction to Mesilas Yisharim (path of the just), the author, the Ramchal warns, "Do not be like one who dances between two opinions." This means, do not allow yourself to become stuck between two contrasting ideals; it shows lack of clarity. When we worshiped an idol we became akin to one who dances between two opposing forces and in the end, we served that which is considered dead i.e. idols. 

How can one avoid this from happening? Integrity. Keep your word and the word will keep you. The challenge presented in remembering what you say you will do and when you will do it shall help you remember topics which are easily forgotten. When we are careful with our speech, we are using our faculties as humans to live properly. Therefore, we will have an easier time placing our faith in G-d.           
    

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