Light up our way…

How can we understand the opening of this parasha with the lighting of the Menorah, so spiritual and beautiful, juxtaposed with beginning of the first “new” sins in the desert, the people complaining, the desire for meat, the words spoken against Moses? I was fortunate to study this section with a dear friend who exactly this week marks the 26th anniversary of her own Exodus as she and family left the FSU. Hearing her story helped me understand the journey of long ago.
Just like Bnai Israel, getting ready to go to a faraway beautiful land of freedom and opportunities, she too was “so excited to leave the hateful place and start in a new and promising place! But also, frightened to leave a well-known, familiar place and move to the completely unknown, unfamiliar one… There were so many leaving, you could hear it everywhere: ‘where are you going? when? how long did you wait?’ Some people waited 10 years; some only a few months. Either way, there was a sense of ‘now or never’ as the “pharaoh” was forced to open the gate and “let my People go”.
And just like the Children of Israel of so long ago, they were also told not to take many things; one suitcase, just few belongings, and the rest must be left behind. Not only things but also friends, traditions, customs, familiar and favorite and places… We often don’t think about this in conjunction with the Exodus from Egypt, but remember when the women went to ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold? Obviously, the Children of Israel had some contact with the locals, and eventually might have also missed them and other things of “back home”, even if home was a terrible place they longed to leave.
The modern journey, just like that of old was not direct. It included an extended waiting period in Europe where they would need to go through extensive preparations and a long wait. There are many rules in the old country, but entering the new freedom had even more rules, some of them strange, unfamiliar and even offensive. There were personal questions to answer, forms to fill out, tests to take, and a new culture to learn, marking a whole identity shift. What language to speak going forward? What clothes to wear? What food do we serve? Eat? Like?
For our modern Bnai Israel the stop in the “desert” happened to be in Europe. Indeed, Europe sounded great to some who wanted to use this time to be tourists, while others preferred to stay put, waiting to be called. Soon, the excitement and patience started to wane and boredom set in. Moses is writing up the Torah, but what is everybody else doing? Breakfast and dinner there is heavenly mann. That tastes great! That is, the first week. And the second? And the third? How about next month? And what’s the plan here?
Uncertainty and longing set in. The past slowly gets better as one moves away from it. Oh, it was so good back there! I’m bored! When are we going to get there?! In this reading it says literally that they “desired a desire” (Numbers 11:4). What does it mean? It’s like going to the fridge because I feel like something, not like anything particular at all. The desires started playing tricks within them. Soon, a new annoyance sets in: lack of privacy. Everybody is crowded together, people are everywhere, everything is shared: rooms and bathrooms; there is nothing to talk about but repeat the same talks all the time; there is nowhere to go but take the same walks nearby; and the food! Yes, we’re thankful but is there really nothing else?
On this backdrop it is easy to understand the opening with the lighting of the Menorah, and the name of this parasha, “Beha’alotcha”. Most English versions translate it into “when you light the Menorah” but Beha’alotcha shares its root with al – up or on top, and aliya – going up and also being called to the Torah or immigrating to Israel.
We too, are like the Children of Israel, and regardless of the endeavor ahead, in spite of the initial excitement, it is possible to lose the bigger picture during a long life journey. Our mind is easily manipulated, wandering elsewhere. We need something we can hold on to; something to look at, smell, touch, hear; something to remind us and inspire us along the way. Then as today, the lighting of the Menorah was not only a matter of bringing “light”, but a calling to keep our focus “up”.
Shabbat Shalom.

Operation Exodus

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This entry was posted in life and some, shabbat shalom, פרשת השבוע לחילוני האדוק. Bookmark the permalink.

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