Parashat Beha’alotekha

Two Minutes of Torah with Rabbi Abbi Sharofsky

Whether it was two days or a month or a year—however long the cloud lingered over the Tabernacle—the Israelites remained encamped and did not set out; only when it lifted did they break camp. 
On a sign from God they made camp and on a sign from God they broke camp; they observed God’s mandate at God’s bidding through Moses.

—Numbers 9:22-23

There is a poem circulating on social media, asking the question, “What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?” The poem caught the attention of social media influencers, celebrities and untold others, appearing several times in my Facebook feed.  Many called it inspirational, complimenting the 20-something writer on encouraging people to embrace the pain and loss of the year and use it to move forward.  Others, myself among them, did not agree.  I was  troubled by the idea of needing suffering and horrific losses to inspire change and make the world a better place. 

This week’s Torah portion, Beha’alotekha, is filled with insights and narratives about the Israelites as they travelled in the wilderness. They complained, they argued with leadership, they crafted ritual objects, they were innovators in how they observed religious rites. They faced sickness, racism, and conflict. They became a society. Part of that society was recognizing limits and the need for pause. The cloud that followed the Israelites, day and night, helped Moses and his people recognize God’s presence among them and when necessary, take time to pause. They only moved when the cloud moved, staying in place until it was the right time to move forward.

There is a difference between staying in a place that may be uncomfortable due to circumstances beyond one’s control and embracing the suffering of the last few months as important for growth. Throughout this pandemic, I’ve wondered how to balance the two concepts, as well as recognize the unexpected benefits of being home and the privilege I have in our society to be able to work from home. Parashat Beha’alotekha provides us with a blueprint for navigating the complexities of society and for me, the cornerstone of that blueprint is the guiding presence of the Divine.  All of the problems happened in the midst of the cloud, representing God’s presence among the Israelites – even the pauses. I look to the steadfast presence of the Divine as empowering us throughout the difficult journey, to be strong throughout the time, no matter how long it takes.  We don’t need to cancel 2020, nor do we need to see the bright side of pain. We can simply dwell in the spaces between, in the pauses, and do our best to improve ourselves and society in the spaces we are given.