Rabbi Finkelstein


FIRST ALIYAH– Hashem commands Aaron through Moshe to ensure the menorah is lit on a daily basis. Aaron and future Cohanim ascended a platform in order to light the menorah, the candles of which were tilted toward the middle candle, three on either side, according to one opinion in the Talmud. The flame of the menorah would shoot upwards.

In the second part of the Aliyah, we read of the purification rites of the Leviim. This purification requirement would establish their unique position in the community of Israel.

RASHI cites the rabbinic teaching that after the princes of the tribes contributed to the dedication of the altar, Aaron felt badly that he was not able to contribute as well. Therefore, we read that Hashem assures him that his responsibility and that of his descendants to look after taking care of the menorah would be greater than the gifts brought by the princes. The RAMBAN fails to understand Rashi’s assessment of Aaron’s thoughts, considering that the latter’s responsibilities as Kohen Gadol in toto far exceeded any other type of dedication to the sanctuary. Therefore, the Ramban writes that this opening paragraph of our parsha is a reminder that in the future, there will be a future Chaukah which will be commemorated by the lighting of the candles in the Second Temple and the Chanukiyot of our homes. This will reflect the miracle of the discovery of the single pure flask of olive oil, used by the Maccabees to light the menorah in the Temple, which lasted eight days instead of one.

SECOND ALIYAH– The Torah continues to describe the inauguration of the Leviim into service in the mishkan, and assigns age restrictions to parts of their service. At age 25, the Levite begins a five year apprenticeship and enters into full service at 30 retiring at 50 from work that he has to do in relation to the maintenance of the mishkan, carrying it and its articles and looking after these articles and their coverings.

The Talmud points out in Chullin 24B that the age restrictions mentioned in our parsha this week are only in reference to the transportation of the mishkan in the desert. This age restriction was removed in Shiloh where the mishkan resided for 310 years and later in Jerusalem in the Temple.  The Talmud indicates that a Levi would have to retire from his service in the Temple if he were no longer singing with the other Leviim. In contrast, the Talmud in Chullin points out that age was not a factor in terms of the length of the Cohen’s service. Physical defects could invalidate him from participating in the service.

THIRD ALIYAH– This Aliyah introduces us to the concept of Pesach Sheni, as a second chance opportunity for individuals who were unable for reasons of impurity or distance were not able to offer or be involved in the Paschal sacrifice a month earlier on the 14th and 15th of Nisan. Thus, they could bring the sacrifice in Iyar This answer is connected to the claims of those who approached Moshe claiming that they should not be deprived of the mitzvah of Korban Pesach because of their impure state

The Ohr Hachaim,  in commenting on this matter answers a question that the Kli Yakar asks that it should have been known that an impure individual could not partake in the consumption of sanctified offering. Therefore, the Kli Yakar wonders as to why these impure individuals even asked as to why they should be deprived from bringing a Passover sacrifice even after Pesach./ The Ohr Hachaim explains that these individuals felt wronged by the Halachic process which deprived them from partaking in the original Pesach sacrifice for that year, because their impurity was caused by Halachic considerations. He brings down two opinions from the sages, the first indicating that these impure people had performed the most important mitzva of burying the Met Mitzvah who had no relatives to look after his burial The second answer is that these impure individuals were given the task of transporting Joseph’s remains back to Canaan,  a religious task that should have given them religious dispensation not to be left out of the original Pesach sacrifice requirements and rituals.

FOURTH ALIYAH-The fourth Aliyah begins with a description of the travels of the camps of the Israelites in the desert, and as to how the camps were guided by the presence of a cloud by day and fire by night in terms of when to travel or when to rest. The journeys always began in the mornings, and the length of these trips or the amount of time, short or long, that the people of Israel stayed in a place was determined by G-d.

The second part of the Aliyah speaks of the necessity to make two trumpets of silver that would be blown to gather the people together, to indicate that it was time to travel, to accompany the offerings of public sacrifices, a call to war, and as a symbolic means of marking the holidays.

While most commentators indicate that the length of time the Israelites spent in a specific location in the desert was not of public choice, but determined by G-d, the OHR HACHAIM gives us some perspective as to why sojourns in particular locations were short or long. Kabbalistically, the Ohr Hachaim writes that it was necessary for the people of Israel to spend specific periods of time in designated locations, so as to ‘rescue’ sparks of holiness that were trapped in the wilderness. While one cannot pretend to understand the Ohr Hachaim’s words in this regard, perhaps he is referring to the necessity for the Israelites to undergo periods of sanctification, however long in short, in these locations on their way to go to the land of Canaan.

In regard to the trumpets, the CHINUCH indicates that their sounding was designed to arouse the people of Israel not only to the gatherings and other reasons mentioned earlier, but to the necessity to underscore the importance of concentration and intention (kavannah) in the offerings of sacrifices, for example. Improper thoughts invalidated sacrifices, and the blast of the trumpet would remind the community of its need to dedicate itself to G-d, the Torah and its laws. The Chinuch, in a similar vein, refers to the Shofar, as an instrument designed to do the same.

FIFTH ALIYAH– We read of the travels of the tribes in the desert according to their formations as outlined at the beginning of the book of Bamidbar. Moshe pleads with  Jethro, his father-in-law, to remain with the people of Israel. Jethro responds he has to return to his land and to his birthplace.

According to the RAMBAN, Jethro is concerned that though the people of Israel will shower him with all kinds of gifts and privileges, he will never be able to receive property within the land of Israel because he was not an Israelite by birth. The Torah refers to him as Chobav, indicating that he had converted to the faith of the Israelites because of his love (chibah, in Hebrew) for the Torah. In the end, according to commentaries, Jethro acquiesces and remains with the people of Israel. As RASHI points out, Jethro’s descendants receive the territory surrounding the city of Jericho.

SIXTH ALIYAH– The sixth Aliyah begins with two sentences that we say when we take the Torah out of the Ark, and when we put it back. The first one declares that when the Ark of the Covenant travels through the desert it, the enemies of the Jewish people should be scattered, a reference to both internal and external foes. When the Ark rests, a prayer goes forth to Hashem to enable the myriads of Israel to return to the Torah, and that the Torah should not be isolated not only from the Jewish people, but from the world population as well. (Hirsch)

These two verses are surrounded by inverse “nunin’, Hebrew letters, to indicate according to rabbinic statements that they constitute their own book, thereby increasing the five books of Moshe to seven. However, the Ramban and the Kli Yakar both cite a Sifrei that says that the tow verses serve as a dividing point between two negative occurrences involving the Israelites, one which is written and one which is not. The latter refers to the people of Israel exiting the region of Mount Sinai as students running away from school, in their desire to avoid receiving any more laws. The episode that is written refers to the people of Israel complaining about their diets, their distaste for manna. Hashem provides quail for the people to consume over a thirty day period, three times a day, an unsavoury menu for the complaining people.

As a result of the bickering and complaining of the people of Israel about the manna, Moshe becomes frustrated and expresses his displeasure with them by complaining to G-d as to why he was placed in this thankless position of leadership. Hashem responds to him stating that seventy people chosen by divine lottery shall assist Moshe, each of whom will be the recipient of prophecy. Two would be candidates, Eldad and Meidad, rejected by the lottery, prophesy according to Rashi, that Moshe will die and Joshua will succeed him. Joshua on hearing this asks Moshe to imprison them. Moshe’s response is that he wishes all had the power of prophecy.

SEVENTH ALIYAH– The seventh Aliyah concludes with the account of Miriam’s speaking to Aaron about her concern that Moshe is no longer living with Zipporah, his wife. Zipporah is referred as the Cushite woman in the text. Though Miriam’s remarks to Aaron about their brother are not intended to hurt Moshe, they still fall under the category of Lashon Hara, prompting her suffering from Zaraat, mistranslated as leprosy and consequent quarantine. In the interim, Hashem intervenes in this family issue, and declares to the siblings that the prophecy of Moshe is different and superior to that of Miriam and Aaron. Moshe has the ability to converse with Hashem in a direct fashion, using anthropomorphic terms such as ‘mouth to mouth’ and later at the end of Devarim as ‘face to face.’ Moshe is privileged to communicate with G-d through what is called ‘Aspaklaria Hameirah’ which is clear communication, while others can only communicate through the avenues of riddles, visions and dreams