“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Take the Levites
from among the Israelites and purify them.’” (Numbers 8:5)
Parashat B’ha-alot’cha describes the final preparations for leaving Sinai: the purification of the Levites, the order of the tribes, and the trumpet calls to signal the people (Num. 10:11-28). Then it presents a brief, puzzling interlude: Moses asks Chovav (usually understood to be Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law) to stay with the Israelites, since…”You know our encampments in the wilderness and have been like eyes for us.” (Num. 10:31) B’ha-alot’cha doesn’t record Chovav’s reply.
Bachya Ibn Pakuda (11th century Spanish rabbi and philosopher) says Moses asks Chovav to stay as testimony to God’s goodness. Rashi (an acronym for Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) interprets the verse from the other direction: having seen God’s miracles, Chovav’s leaving would cause the other nations to claim there was nothing Godly about the Israelites. Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz (1550-1619; poet and Torah commentator) looks inward: he suggests Moses is worried Chovav will leave because of the behavior he saw in the Israelites’ encampments (complaining, arguing, and lack of faith). Moses is concerned about the people’s reputation, not God’s.
A concern for the community’s (or a company’s or an individual’s) reputation often has hindered the ability to address very real problems; B’ha-alot’cha offers a prescient Biblical commentary on any number of contemporary issues: inequality, harassment, gender equity, and more. But B’ha-a lot’cha also provides a solution when it instructs Aaron to light the menorah, …”to let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.” (Num. 8:2) Shining a light into the darker corners of communal life may be uncomfortable, but is also holy.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom