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Parashat BeHa’alot’cha 5780 — 06/13/2020

Parashat BeHa’alot’cha 5780 — 06/13/2020

Bamidbar 8:1-12:16

He [Gd] said, “Hear now my words. If there shall be prophets among you, in a vision shall I, Hashem, make Myself known to him; in a dream shall I speak with him. Not so is My servant Moshe; in My entire house he is the trusted one. Mouth to mouth do I speak to him, in a clear vision and not in riddles, at the image of Hashem does he gaze. (12:6-8)

These words were spoken to Aharon and Miriam, after they had spoken against Moshe. Among other things, Gd informs them that their level of prophecy was not nearly on Moshe’s level. Here is the back-story, some of which is in the terse Torah text, and some of which is filled in by Midrash. Just before our passage is the passage where the first Sanhedrin was constituted with the 70 elders who went out to the Ohel Moed with Moshe and they were given some of Moshe’s spirit, and they prophesied. Two other men, Eldad and Meidad, remained in the camp and also prophesied. Now Aharon, Miriam and Moshe’s wife, Zipporah, were hanging out in the camp, and heard the prophesying. Zipporah said that she felt sorry for Eldad and Meidad’s wives, because now their husbands would no longer have relations with them. Moshe had separated from Zipporah because he had to be prepared for prophecy at any time, and one cannot receive prophecy if one is ritually impure, as is the case right after having relations. Miriam and Aharon rolled their eyes and said, “Wait a minute, we’re prophets too and we didn’t separate from our spouses.” Gd appears to them suddenly and tells them to go out to the Ohel Moed, as He wanted to have a word with them. They were both impure at the time and had to hurry and find a mikveh to immerse in and then hurry out to the Ohel Moed. There, Gd gives them a piece of His Mind, which is, after all, exactly what prophecy is.

In a very long passage, Or haChaim describes the different levels of prophecy. I will quote some of it – the full passage is well worth reading and worth the price of the whole volume in fact.

Hashem sought to inform [Aharon and Miriam] of the difference between the level of (other) prophets and the level of Moshe. There are three major aspects to the prophetic experience. One is how the vision is perceived. The second is when a prophet experiences [prophecy], that is, whether he can prophesy whenever he wants, or whether the matter does not depend on what he wants, but rather he prophesies only when Hashem chooses. The third is how the speech component is perceived. …

Or haChaim begins with the levels of perception of Hashem:

There are three general levels of “perceiving” Hashem. One has never been attained by a living person, even through prophecy. This is what Moshe requested when he said (Ex 33:18) Show me now Your glory. … Show me now what You will ultimately show me after I die. … Hashem answered him: You will not be able to see My Face, for no human can see Me and live – only after death. This level involves the essence of the radiance of Hashem, blessed be He, although the term “essence” can be associated with Hashem only to appease the ear [RAR: i.e. to make a concept somewhat understandable to a finite human].

It appears that Or haChaim is describing a state in which the individuality of the person is completely lost, subsumed entirely in Gd’s universality, the way a drop of water, merging back into the unbounded ocean, loses its individuality in its entirety. This is clearly impossible if one still has a body. Even if one’s mind is completely expanded, completely identified with the universal, transcendental level of consciousness, one’s body keeps one individuated. The level of perception that Or haChaim describes here can hardly be called “perception” in the way that we understand it, where there is a perceiver and an object of perception. Here the perceiver has merged into the object of perception, so that the two are now one. While this may be possible on the level of the mind, still, it is somebody’s mind that has gotten fully expanded to appreciate and identify with the transcendent. But I think what Or haChaim is describing here is something much higher.

The second level is perceiving the radiance that emanates from Him, blessed be He. Here the concept of an “image” can be associated with it. This image, however, is unlike the image of anything in existence, for [this radiance] does not have an image in the regular sense, only an image that is hidden from the eyes of all living things, never perceived by anyone other than Moshe, whom Hashem enabled to perceive it, as it is written, at the image of Hashem does he gaze.

It seems to me that this level of perception is just slightly lower than the unattainable one. Here the mind is fully expanded and fully identified with the transcendent, and the perception too has expanded to the point where we see that everything, on all levels, is nothing other than an emanation from Gd. We live the reality that ayn od milvado / there is nothing besides Him. All of creation exists within Gd, Gd expresses Himself to Himself, speaks to Himself as it were (see our musings on Shavuot, two weeks ago). Our perception is perception of wholeness, unity, barely broken by ripples of expression, of individuality. This, according to Or haChaim, is the highest level of development a human being is capable of attaining.

The third level is perception of the glow of the radiance of Hashem, blessed be He, at a distance. To what is this comparable? To a burning candle whose light travels a long way, and a person sees that light from afar. This is referred to as a mar’ah / vision and it is the perception attained by all prophets other than Moshe.

Another analogy – when we approach a busy marketplace from afar, all we hear is an undifferentiated hum; this is like the glow of Gd’s radiance seen from afar. As we get closer and closer to the marketplace, we start to be able to distinguish individual sounds, the fishmonger, the vegetable and fruit stands, the clang of a smithy’s hammer, etc. Instead of just a hum, we can discern structure and interaction within the hum. I think this is the relationship between Moshe Rabbeinu’s perception of Gd’s Self-speech, and the perception of the other prophets, and this is why no prophet can overturn anything in Torah; their vision is just not acute enough.

There are other differences as well, and Or haChaim has equally fascinating comments, but I am out of time and space. I would suggest that if you’d like to explore these ideas further you get one or more the volumes of Or haChaim’s commentary. If your Hebrew is like mine or worse, splurge on the Artscroll (full disclosure: I get no commissions from Artscroll, although I probably should!). If you read Hebrew fluently, you can probably find a free version at It’s your heritage – claim it!


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat BeHa’alotcha

Gd commands Moses to tell Aaron, the High Priest, when he lights the seven lamps (of the menorah) he should light them turning toward the face, the middle lamp.

Symbolism of Light: Easy to see that this symbolizes the Light of Gd, which is not separate from Gd, but Gd’s Nature. The lamps symbolize not only the Light of Gd but also all the other uncountable attributes of Gd; for example, Love, Joy, Compassion, Justice, Purity, Totality, Perfection.

Lighting the lamps in the Temple symbolizes lighting the lights inside our own temple – our own personality and physiology

Symbolism of seven lamps: Can be the seven more concrete qualities given to the Sephirot, qualities of Gd; can be the qualities of the seven traditional planets; can be seven days of Creation, many sevens. Can also be, in essence, revealing the Many within the One: though Gd is One, Gd has detail, infinite detail, and seven just gives a sense of the Infinity that is Gd. And of the seventh, the day of rest, the light of rest, that contains all the others within it and integrates them

Symbolism of lighting toward the face of the menorah: Rashi comments that this is the middle lamp, the central lamp, not on a branch of the menorah but part of the central column. The symbolism can be that we always need to turn diversity toward the Center that Unifies.

Symbolism of raising the lights: The literal translation of “Behaalotecha” is not just “light” or “kindle” but “cause to ascend.”  The idea is that one just warms the wick enough so it rises by itself. Symbolically, we move with devotion toward Love of Gd, Love of our neighbor, Love of our Self, and just a small move brings a large result—the Light of Gd, of One lights us up.

Symbolism of single piece: The Menorah was made of a single piece of gold symbolizing that All is One, though it appears as many.

Symbolism of gold: Gold symbolizes purity.

May we all experience today and always the Light of Gd, of One, fully lit within ourself, fully lit within our neighbors and all creation!

We are the Light and the Love,

Baruch HaShem