Behaaloscha - In Search of Whole
By Rabbi Aron Tendler
This week's Parsha is divided into two distinct parts (Perek 11). The first
half deals with the Menorah, the inauguration of the Leviyim into the
service of the Mishkan in exchange for the first born, the first Pesach
following the Exodus and the dedication of the Mishkan, the establishment
of Pesach Sheni The "Second-Pesach), the movement of the nation as
indicated by the cloud over the Mishkan, and the forging of the two silver
The second half of the Parsha (after Shishi) focuses our attention to the
happenings within the society of the Jewish encampment. As Rav Hirsch
wrote, "We are led down into the midst of the camp of the nation to see how
much training and maturation this nation still required in order to fulfill
the lofty aims that had been set for it." (8:1)
The nation began to "kvetch." "The Manna isn't sufficient for us. We miss
the fish, melons, squashes and vegetables that we ate in Egypt! The legal
restrictions, especially in the arena of family law and sexuality are too
limiting! Oy vey! Woe to us!
Moshe turned to G-d for guidance in his personal frustration and
disappointment at the expressed attitudes and complaints of the nation. G-d
instructed Moshe to gather 70 worthy elders who would share the burden of
administrating the people and their needs. He also guaranteed that the
nation would be given enough meat to satisfy their physical cravings 'ad
nauseum.' Before the episode of the complaints was concluded Eldad and
Maydad, the two worthy elders who were not chosen to be among the 70,
prophesized that Moshe would die and Yehoshua would lead the nation into
The episode of the Slav - quail is detailed culminating in a plague that
punished the nation for lack of appreciation and trust in G-d. The Torah
then recorded the episode of Aharon and Miriam speaking against Moshe and
Miriam being punished with Tzaraas (leprosy).
From the perspective of what "should have been", the Jewish people where
within months of entering the Promised Land. Had they remained focused on
their mission as the Chosen People they would have avoided the punishment
of the 38 additional years in the desert as well as altering the rest of
history. How is it that the closer they came to attaining their goals and
ideals the more obsessed they became with physicality and materialism? They
had witnessed the grandeur of the Parting of the Sea, the awesome majesty
of Revelation, and the constancy of G-d's caring and love in miraculously
providing tem with shelter and sustenance. Why did they begin to loose
faith and trust in G-d so near to the promised goal?
Similarly, we find this happening again at the end of the 40 years in the
desert with the incident of Baal Peor. There too the Jews were poised at
the edge of the Promised Land waiting the final moments of their crossing.
Yet, they sinned terribly with the Midianite women bringing G-d's wrath
down upon the nation. Why is it that our desires for physicality and
materialism awaken with such force at the moments of our greatest spiritual
In last week's Rabbi's Notebook I ended with the question of, "Why the 50
days?" Why did G-d intend that the Jews spend 50 final days in the desert
between the 9th day of Av and the Nation occupying the land? (My question
presumed that the Jews had not sinned with the Spies. It theorized that had
the Spies returned with an encouraging report the Jews would have crossed
over the Jordan on the first day of Tishrei, Rosh Hashanah, 2450. It
assumed that they were always intended to spend at least 18 months in the
desert from the time of the Exodus until entering Israel.)
The time spent in the desert was to provide the time and training necessary
for the nation to integrate their physicality with their spirituality. From
the beginning of time this has been humanities greatest challenge. On the
one hand, we are physical creatures no different than any other of G-d's
creations. On the other hand, we were endowed with a divine Nefesh - soul
that sets us apart and above the rest of nature. However, that which
satisfies the body may be poison for the soul, and that which satisfies the
soul is often rejected by the body. Obviously, had G-d wished for us not to
be physical He would have made us into angels; therefore, physicality is
G-d's intention and G-d's intention cannot be intrinsically evil.
Physicality is not evil and we do not believe that physicality is evil;
however, we do believe that physicality is a challenge.
The name Yisroel captures the essence of that callenge. Yitzchak and Rivkah
comprised the unnatural whole. They accomplished, as best seen in the
Akeidas Yitzchak (Binding of Isaac), the total sanctification of the
physical in service to the spiritual. Only Yitzchak, the physical and
material Yitzchak, was ever offered as an Olah Temimah - the perfect Ascent
offering. It suggested the total subjugation of his physical being in
service to G-d. In that capacity he married his complement Rivkah and gave
birth to Yakov and Eisav.
(Personal Note: Rivkah was born into a family where everything, including
spirituality (note: Billam) was in service of the physical - in service of
personal avarice and desire. Note: It also explains why he becomes blind
and why he was the only of the Forefathers to be a farmer rather than a
However, as I just noted, Yitzchak's accomplishment was unnatural. It
cannot be presumed that Yitzchak's accomplishments are common to all of us.
It is not G-d's expectation that we be like Yitzchak. Instead, the two
components, Yakov and Eisav, the spiritual and the physical, were separated
at birth so that the process of integration could be studied and imitated.
The "tent" of his parents protected Yakov's young and vulnerable
spirituality so that he physically matured with the proper focus and goals.
Unfortunately, Eisav's physicality was not properly attended to (See Rav
Hirsch Ber. 25:27) and it became an end in and of itself rather than the
means toward serving G-d and humanity. (The name Sadeh - field, and Bayis -
house that is used in reference to the Bais Hamikdash - Temple reflects
upon the two approaches in serving G-d. Eisav is the Sadeh and Yakov is the
Bayis. The Bayis was built in or on the Sadeh)
With the purchase of the Birth-right Yakov assumed the dual role of Eisav
and Yakov. He alone became the role model of the humanly possible and
therefore attainable integration of the physical and the spiritual, or the
physical in service of the spiritual. The catalyst for being able to do so
was the study of Torah. (77 years of continuous study. Kidushin 31a)
Yakov completed the integration of the two components of Yakov and Eisav
into a single whole in his battle with the Angel of Eisav. That battle
concluded with the Angel changing Yakov's name to Yisroel. As the Torah
states, "You have become a prince among the angels and man." (Translation
of the Targum) Later the Torah states, "And Yakov came 'whole' to the city
We are called the Bnai Yisroel - Sons of Israel. We are not called the Bnai
Avraham, or Yitzchak, or Yakov. We are the product of Yakov's successful
integration of the two components, Eisav the physical and Yakov the
spiritual into Yisroel. We are the issue of the one (which includes his
four wives) who was "a prince among angels and man." We are the heirs to
the very real and able integration of the physical in service to the
However, the fact that Yakov became the Ish Hashaleim - the whole man - the
physical man whose face is engraved on the heavenly throne only indicates
our potential. It does not guarantee our individual or collective success.
The challenges to our own spiritual maturation are constant and individual.
We are each challenged and we are each able to succeed.
In last week's Parsha, the Torah presented the institution of the Nazir.
The Shem Mishmuel explained the focus and process of the Nazir. The Nazir
desires to grow spiritually. He wishes to immerse himself in the totality
of G-d's service, no different than the Kohain Gadol - High Priest. To do
so he separates himself from the regular workings of society and devotes
his time and energy to the study of Torah and the doing of Mitzvos. The
Torah places three basic demands on him.
1. He is not allowed to eat grapes
or grape by-products.
2. He is not allowed to come in contact with the
3. He must not cut his hair.
The Shem Mishmuel related the three
demands to the three mediums of our service to G-d: grapes = speech, death = physical action, and hair = thought. He further connected the three
offerings brought by the Nazir at the conclusion of his Nazir period to the
same purpose of sanctifying the whole person, his speech = Shelamim - peace
offering, his actions = Chatas - sin offering, and his thoughts = Olah -
ascent offering in service to G-d.
This week's Parsha begins with the lighting of the Menorah. Most of the
commentaries explain the Menorah's significance as the integration of the
whole person, especially his intellect and knowledge, in service to G-d.
The Laviyim and their service in the Mishkan are key to our integration of
the spiritual and the physical. Both the Laviyim and the Mishkan are
physical entities that represent the totality of the physical in service to
The holiday of Pesach and the adjunct Pesach Shaynie also reflect upon the
national and the personal commitment to the total integration of the
physical in service to G-d.
Finally, the movement of the nation as determined by the clouds and the
trumpets is another prime example and training for that generation of their
physical comforts and reality being directed by G-d and therefore being
committed to His service. (See Rav Hirsch)
However, the second half of the Parsha focuses us on the actual process of the
integration. Regardless of experiences and awareness, teachings and ideals,
the integration of the physical in service to the spiritual is up to all of
us and each of us. Two issues are detailed: food and sexuality. Two
conflicts are foremost in the integration of the physical in service to the
spiritual - food and relationships. (Same as with the Nazir - grapes and
attending funerals) Both are natural and necessary for the human creature
and both are structured and directed by the Torah.
The generation of the desert was clearly divided into tribes and families.
The distinctions were protected by the Torah to insure proper division and
transfer of the land as well as to protect the autonomy and purpose of
every tribe, family, and person. Surrounded by the manifestation of G-d's
generosity it was impossible to deny the obvious. Their physical existence
was completely dependent upon G-d. However, as they neared the Promised
Land, as they prepared to live a physical life of luxury and wealth in a
land flowing with milk and honey, as they readied themselves to live a
physical existence in service and subjugation to G-d, the Eisav and Yakov
components of Yisroel engaged each other in battle.
It was never supposed to be easy. It was never supposed to be a guaranteed
success. We were always intended to fight for what we believed in and to
fight to integrate the Eisav and the Yakov.
The number 50 reflects upon success. We received the Torah on the 50th day
after leaving Egypt. The Yovel - Jubilee comes every 50 years and reorients
the nation as to its proper division of land and purpose. So too, the
nation needed a final 50 days in the designed training classroom of the
desert in order to ready them for entering the land. Had they not sinned
with the Spies, the nation would have arrived at the edge of the Jordan
ready and willing to undertake the job of the Chosen People. They would
have been ready to present to the world a society founded upon the
integration of the physical world in all its glory in service to G-d, and
it would have done so confirmed on the Day of Judgment.
Unfortunately, there were many among the nation who failed the challenge.
They gave into their physical desires in thought and action without the
integration of spirituality and purpose. The episode of the quail was
physical cravings being demanded and then satisfied, not in service to G-d.
For the Jews that was tantamount to death. It denied their choseness and
their heritage. It denied who they were supposed to be.
Finally, the Torah presented the ultimate challenge between the physical
and the spiritual at it highest level. Even the great Aharon and Miriam
struggled with their humanness and therefore assumed that Moshe too
struggled with his. In truth they were not wrong. Moshe too struggled with
his physical in subjugating it to the service of G-d. However, Moshe had
succeeded. Moshe had won his fight. Moshe was the complete Ish Haelokim -
Man of G-d. He was the embodiment of Yisroel, the prince among angels and
man. As G-d said, "He is the most trusted in all my home." To be the most
trusted can only mean one thing. "I trust that Moshe will use his free will
to direct his thoughts, speech, and actions, the totality of his
physicality in My service."
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.