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Parashat B’ha-alot’cha (Numbers 8:1-12:16)

“Thus shall you separate the Levites from the among the children of Israel;
and the Levites shall be mine.” (Numbers 8: 14)

Most professionals know the letters CEU refer to continuing education units, a recognized measure of in-service (as opposed to pre-service) training. Not so many know the idea of continuous learning is rooted in Parashat B’ha-alot’cha.

Among other things in B’ha-alot’cha (lighting the menorah, purifying the Levites, the organization of the Israelite camp, and the trumpet signals for movement), Moses tells the Israelites to “…make the Passover offering.” (Num. 9:4) But Moses has given this instruction before (Lev. 23:44). Sifrei (a rabbinic commentary on Numbers) explains the repetition: the first time at Mt. Sinai, Moses taught the laws of all three pilgrimage festivals. Now, Moses teaches each festival again when it comes time to actually celebrate: Moses repeats these teachings over time because he knows people forget.

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, (1959-; Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University) reads this episode as a reminder knowledge is not an immutable object one can possess. Rather, knowing is a mysterious process requiring periodic “refreshment.” Everyone, young and old, forgets things they once knew. Only by active engagement with the subject matter can you maintain your facility for it. This is why many professions require regular study and acquisition of CEUs to maintain licensed standing; competence requires constant learning.

The rabbis take this universal shortcoming (forgetting what we’ve learned) and with radical cunning, turn it into a virtue. They state it’s good we forget the lessons of the Torah, because if we didn’t, people would study Torah for a year or two and then stop. Because we forget, though, we never abandon the study of Torah (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah).

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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