May 16, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 16, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

From the Mikdash to the Machaneh

Parshat Behaalotecha continues the theme of Sefer Bamidbar—teaching us of the sanctity of the “machaneh”—the encampment of Am Yisrael as it surrounds the Mishkan in a dynamic state, preparing us for our journey and imminent settlement in the Land of Israel. That’s why numerous laws and narratives that we would have expected to find in Sefer Vayikra (and some we do) are mentioned (or repeated) in Sefer Bamidbar from a different perspective, complementing the holiness of the Tabernacle stemming from Hashem with the holiness of the camp, which the people themselves are responsible to maintain!

The kohanim, for example, in Sefer Vayikra, are presented as models and teachers of sanctity in the “ivory tower” of the Tabernacle, whereas in Sefer Bamidbar we’re taught of their participation with all members (thieves, promiscuous women) in the “machaneh.” A nazir may even reach a kohen-like state in the camp (see Ramban), and the princes consecrate the mizbei’ach on behalf of the people, just as the priests do for their sacrificial order.

Our parsha opens with the commandment to Aharon to light the Menorah (8:1-4), also mentioned in Sefer Vayikra (24:1-4), with a different emphasis. In Vayikra, the lighting of the Menorah constitutes a service for Hashem—“before the Lord continually.” In the book of Bamidbar, the lighting emphasizes the form of the Menorah—“the whole of it one beaten work of pure gold,” expressing a central idea evident to the people and a symbol of Jewish identity (see this week’s haftarah, Zechariah, ch. 4).

As the parsha continues with the appointment and sanctification of the levites and their service in safeguarding, dismantling and carrying the Mishkan, their role as representatives of the camp is emphasized. The tribe of Levi replaced the firstborn “from among the children of Israel,” a phrase that is repeated 16 times in the unit. In addition to the kohanim, the representatives of Hashem in the Mishkan as highlighted in Sefer Vayikra, the levi’im are set aside and authorized by the power of the people of Israel and for their sake—as part of their camp, in the book of Bamidbar.

Similarly, the “Pesach in the wilderness” is presented in the parsha to properly re-establish Jewish identity on the anniversary of the ceremony through which we left Egypt as we began our journey of religious identity. It is therefore necessary on the eve of our sojourn as a “machaneh” to Eretz Yisrael, to solidify our religious-national identity. Only now that there is “holiness” in the camp do we encounter the argument of “impure” people who cannot fathom national-religious FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) “among the children of Israel.” Hashem’s response to their initiative with the possibility of Pesach Sheini ensures their inclusion in the collective of the machaneh.

In our parsha (9:15-23), the details of when to travel and when to camp “at the commandment of Hashem” are delineated, indicated by the cloud of fire above the Mishkan. Juxtaposed to the travel of the cloud, the commandment of blasting the trumpets comes to complement the Divine initiative with a human response. Similarly, as the cloud leads Bnei Yisrael in the wilderness together with the Holy Ark of the Mishkan charting the course for the people, Moshe requests of Chovav to accompany them as well, serving as “eyes” for their journey. Moshe Rabbeinu understands from the commandment to fashion and blow the trumpets, that in addition to journeying based on God’s command and initiative, it’s necessary for the people to play a role—to sound the trumpets and guide.

We are reminded of our divinely inspired abilities to respond to the source of kedusha (holiness), initiated by Hashem in the Mishkan, with actions in the machaneh. Hashem does not want us to be a passive-robotic people, but rather an empowered and inspired nation who will participate and maintain a relationship of holiness through our actions in the machaneh. Even as we leave the “ivory towers” of yeshivot and midrashot, we’re meant to continue our symbiotic relationship of kedusha through our travels and tribulations in the wilderness, in our communities, and certainly as a nation “encamped” around the Mikdash in the Land.


Rabbanit Shani Taragin is educational director of World Mizrachi and teaches at Matan and other educational institutions in Israel.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles