CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 9
Rabbi Mordechai Yosef of Isbitz explains in Mei HaShiloach that from the first mention of the
building of the Mishkan in T'rumah until Naso there are seventeen parashiyot. The numerical
value of tov is seventeen, "hinting at the primary goodness of place: makom tov.... So we find
that with the completion of the Mishkan and camping of the Tribes around it, k'dushah is fixed in
the heart of Israel that we may be drawn after the will of God." The Mishkan created a place, a
makom tov, for the words of Torah to be fixed in the hearts of the Israelites.
Even places in our lives far removed from being any kind of mishkan, places we would not term
tov, may have helped us apprehend wisdom, engage with God, experience holiness. Arcadia,
seemingly by any measure a terrible place, nonetheless remained Bit's anchor and the goodness
he exhibited later in life he learned there. Perhaps the meaning of the mobile mishkan is the
importance of learning and creating k'dushah even in a place that seems devoid of it.
Parashat B'haalot'cha (like much of Torah) may be seen as a study in pairs, a study in contrasts.
There are those who are ritually pure for Pesach, and those who are not but need a way to
observe the mitzvah. God guides the people as a cloud by day and as fire by night. Within these
two manifestations resides another set of pairs: a cloud guides yet sometimes obscures; fire
guides, but as the portion shows, it may also kill and terrorize.
Several commentators have pointed out the contrast between the black skin of the Cushite
woman and the whitening of Miriam's skin with tzaraat, as well as the contrast between the two
women's powerlessness after Miriam's punishment and the power of Aaron and Moses, who
pray for Miriam's healing. Indeed, there is also a contrast between silence and speech in this
passage: Miriam sins with her speech, and the Cushite woman is silent in the text.
Perhaps more than anything, this portion illustrates the inclination of the human mind to view the
world in a binary fashion. Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaefer, in a lecture on ethical decision-making
at HUC-JIR in Los Angeles, taught that it is important to look beyond reductionist binaries to a
fuller spectrum of options. We tend to frame our choices as "this or that," but a good counselor
will assist people in seeing many more shades of possibility. In that way, we can escape the
limiting illusion of black-and-white and see our world in its true and abundant colors.
The phonic link between Lech L'echa and Sh'lach L'cha cannot be ignored. Lech L'echa may
be interpreted as an inward-looking command, an instruction to Abraham to go into himself to
find his inner strength and faith. With Sh'lach L'cha, God appears to instruct the spies to do the
opposite, to think outside of themselves and go beyond their comfort zone.
While we should always strive to avoid self-obsession, honest self-appraisal can be a very good
thing, helping us to reason out our strengths and weaknesses and honestly face aspects of our
character that we might improve. Honest aspiration can also be a very good thing, inspiring us
to reach for what we might otherwise consider impossible, to aspire to something better; but it
can also lead to disappointment, bitterness, and even despair.
A willingness to take a risk is essential for growth; we may not be successful straight away, or at
all, but every risk taken contains the kernel of achievement when we hold our nerve and bring
all our experience and ability to the task at hand.
Abraham was willing to risk leaving home and country. He prevailed, though not without cost.
The spies face a risk that affords an opportunity not for themselves but for the nation. They
fulfilled their mission but failed to communicate to the Israelites that they should take the risk as
We do well to remember the wise words of Benjamin Franklin: "Nothing ventured, nothing
Reflecting on the nature of the service of the
Levites in the Tent of Meeting (Numbers 18:23),
Shne'ur Zalman of Lyady writes in Maamarei
Admor HaZakein: "The service of the Levites is
in song, to arouse such [emotional] qualities
as love, awe, and joy. Their arousal below
brings about the arousal of those above." The
Levites' songs arouse emotional responses with
a keen spiritual component. Music that arouses
us spiritually moves us beyond the power even
of the melody. You can recite the words of a
psalm of prayer, but it is only when you sing it
that the full emotional power is expressed and
Shne'ur Zalman explains that the music of
the Levites also engendered contemplation,
chochmah "that lies beyond all these qualities"
and, indeed, beyond the music itself, transporting
one to the place where ein od milvado, which
as a kabbalist he understands to mean "there
is nothing else [but God]," for all is contained
Silence is the next step. "Silence reaches higher
than sound, which is the Levites' song." Levites
achieve a certain spiritual level through song, but
silence facilitates a spiritual experience beyond
the body, bringing prayer to the highest level.
Silence is the moment after, when you're taking it
all in and feel the full impact.
I experienced this in the music of Cantor
Stephanie Shore and recommend to you two
versions of Hashkiveinu, one paired with "Count
My Blessings" (https://tinyurl.com/yd5kwk85)
and the other with "Bridge Over Troubled Water"
(https://tinyurl.com/yaj4z23f). Music can engage
our minds, our hearts, and our souls-and then
there's the silence that comes after the music
stops and we are transported to another plane.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 1
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 2
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 3
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 4
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 5
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 6
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 7
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 8
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 9
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 10
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 11
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 12
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 13
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 14