Insights into Beha'alotcha

Thoughts on various topics in the weekly portion.

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple, | updated: 09:18

Judaism  Raymond Apple
Raymond Apple


This week’s portion enumerates the duties of Aaron the High Priest.

Other kohanim should imitate his ritual efficiency; every Jew should emulate his character.

In Pir’kei Avot 1:12 we are told to be like Aaron, “loving peace and pursuing peace, loving one’s fellow creatures and bringing them near to the Torah”.

What an interesting series of verbs. Aaron loved peace and pursued it; he loved people and brought them near to the Torah.

Why doesn’t the text use the same set of verbs (“love” and “pursue”) about people as it does concerning peace? Why not say, “Love people and pursue them”?

With regard to peace, Aaron went after it. The more elusive it was, the more he followed it.

People were different. People weren’t elusive. They didn’t need to be pursued and found: they were there all around him. What he had to do was to go up to all the people he met and bring them the word of Torah.

Not like street-corner evangelists in Diaspora countries who push themselves forward and force their beliefs on the passer-by, but lovingly showing everybody a warm example of friendship with man and God.


Chapter 9 of B’midbar spells out the law of Pesach Sheni, the Second Passover observed by those who were unable to offer the Pesach offering at the right time during Nisan.

The Torah has such compassion on those who were prevented from bringing the korban pesach that it gives them a second chance. But there’s no second chance for those who failed to keep the other calendrical occasions.

In a broad sense we could ask about a second chance at life, and the answer is no. Unless one believes in the idea of "gilgul" (reincarnation), we have only one go at the gift of life.

That’s why every day should be used wisely and well because we can’t know when our last day will be.

There is a rabbinic teaching that life on earth is better than the next world. This is the world in which we can perform commandments. Every opportunity should be taken while we are still here.


The Levites had a retirement age of 50 (Num. 8:25-26).

What did their retirement mean? Because they were no longer so strong and energetic, at 50 they no longer carried heavy burdens on their shoulders, but they were not lost to the community thereafter.

The text says, “They shall serve with their brothers” (verse 26). Though some commentaries say this means that they served their fellow Levites, the more accepted view is that they had less onerous duties than before.

They could still lock the Temple gates, sing in the choir, and load the wagons. This is the view of Rashi based on the Sifrei.

The Ramban – Nachmanides - says they could not continue to sing after 50.


The Torah offers a strange juxtaposition, the kindling of the menorah and the offerings of the princes.

To understand the link between them we have to remind ourselves that, thank God, there always were and are princes, people well endowed and prepared to contribute lavishly to good causes.

But circumstances have not placed gold and silver in everybody’s hands. Those without material means have to find other ways to prove their loyalty. For them significant monetary gifts are not possible, though everyone should still give something.

Their contribution is symbolised by the menorah; their task is to be a light that lights up the darkness.

This they do by supporting people whose steps are faltering, by a smile and a nice word for those who are depressed, by personal service when a job of work needs to be done for the community… and by loyalty and dependability when others are tempted to let the leader down.

A good example is the person who said, “I cannot give much to the synagogue appeal ­ but whenever a minyan is needed, I’ll be there!”

(Though there is a problem if you are a prince and you try to get by with a non-princely contribution. A certain man once remained in the synagogue after the Kol Nidrei service in order to sit up all night and say T’hillim. The rabbi told him, “That’s not for you. Leave the T’hillim to others: you go home, get a good night’s sleep and resolve to give much more charity in the future!”)