Still traveling in the desert after their redemption from slavery in Egypt, the Jewish people continue to walk toward Torah – literally and figuratively.
In this week’s Parsha, Aharon, the brother of Moses, is given direction for the lighting of the Menorah. The Menorah was a seven-branched candelabra that was formed from one piece of gold. The three branches on each side were all formed in such a way that they pointed toward the seventh, central branch. The special construction of the Menorah represents the individuality that exists within the unified Jewish people. Perhaps, the pointing toward the central light is indicative of the Torah or G-d being the center of our lives. This Menorah was used in the Mishkan, the mobile Temple the Jewish people used in the Desert.
Also in our reading this week, the Levites – who were excluded from the census in Parsha Hamidbar – are installed into Temple service and the unique role they have been selected for. The Levites were to serve the Kohanim, or priests, in the Mishkan. Up until this time, the first-born sons were assigned to serve as spiritual leaders in the Tabernacle. The Levites earned this honor during the incident of the Golden Calf when they were the only tribe that did not participate in the creation of the Golden Calf.
As the Jewish people traveled in the desert, they observed their first Passover. Much different than our observance today, the Jews in the desert observed Passover by bringing a pascal lamb sacrifice to the Mishkan. Some people were considered impure and were not able to bring their sacrifice, so they approached Moses and asked for his help. Moses appealed to G-d on their behalf, and a second Passover – Pesach Sheni – provided a second chance for some people to bring their sacrifice.
Traveling in the desert was not easy – especially without a road map. A Pillar of Clouds acted as a physical representation of G-d’s presence. It brought comfort and, perhaps, more so – it told the Jewish people when to travel and when to stay put. When the Clouds rose, the Jewish people knew it was time to move on. When they lowered over the Mishkan, they knew it was time to set up camp.
The Jewish people became frustrated with their long travels in the desert and began to k’vetch. They were tired of the Manna that fell twice a day from the sky. They complained about not being able to eat meat. It was, of course, Moses who brought their complaints before G-d. G-d said that he would send quail for the Jewish people to eat, and that he did. There was plenty of quail for the greedy, but there was also punishment. The longing for quail was, in part, due to their detachment from G-d.
In Parsha Behaalotecha, the Jews continue to move toward the Holy Land. Typical of any soulful journey, they experienced moments of doubt, distraction, and uncertainty. With the help of G-d, Moses managed to alleviate their concerns and readied the Jewish people for the remainder of their journey (and growth).