A Journey to the Unknown

Parashat Beha’alotcha
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites
In this week’s parasha, Beha’alotcha, we read about the Israelites’ journey.  After about a year of camping near Mount Sinai, the children of Israel began moving toward the Promised Land.
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Before the journey, the Torah describes the manner in which the Jewish nation traveled in the desert: a divine cloud settled on the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, and at night, the cloud was like fire.  That same cloud that symbolized Divine Presence would determine when the nation would travel and when and where they should camp:

“…and according to the cloud’s departure from over the Tent, and afterwards, the children of Israel would travel, and in the place where the cloud settled, there the children of Israel would encamp. At the bidding of the Lord, the children of Israel traveled, and at the bidding of the Lord, they encamped. As long as the cloud hovered above the Mishkan, they encamped. When the cloud lingered over the Mishkan for many days, the children of Israel…did not travel. Sometimes, the cloud remained for several days above the Mishkan…and at the Lord’s bidding they traveled. Sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning, and when the cloud departed in the morning, they traveled. Or, the cloud remained for a day and a night…Whether it was for two days, a month or a year…At the Lord’s bidding they would encamp, and at the Lord’s bidding they would travel.”
(Numbers 9, 17 – 23)

These verses describe the Jewish nation’s complete dedication to G-d’s will.  When the cloud would rise above the Mishkan, the children of Israel knew they must get on their way and follow it.  When the cloud rested, they knew they should camp at that site.  They never knew how long they would journey or how long they would remain encamped. They went to sleep every night knowing that early the next morning, the cloud could rise and they would have to be on their way. Or, the cloud could stay on the Mishkan for an indeterminate period of time and they would stay put until it moved again. Occasionally, the time they remained camped was very short: in the evening they might set up camp after a very long journey and early the next morning, continue on following the cloud.

Why did G-d find this sort of journey necessary? Why couldn’t the children of Israel know the journey route in advance and the amount of time they would be staying somewhere?

It seems that such a journey needed total surrender to G-d’s will and was meant to train the Jewish nation for a life as the nation of G-d in the Land of Israel.  The purpose of the journey was to have them assimilate complete faith in G-d: He who provided them with food and water, and He who determined for them, without telling them in advance, when they would travel and where they would camp.  Only thus could the Jewish nation preserve this faith also when residing in their land, in times of peace and abundance as well as in times of war and deprivation.  This journey gives every Jew the strength to be devoted to values of goodness, justice and morality despite hardships and at any cost.

When the cloud would rise above the Mishkan or settle in place, not everyone would necessarily notice, so it was necessary to announce to the nation when they were about to reembark on the journey or stop.  For this purpose, two silver trumpets were created that the Kohanim (priests) would blow every time the cloud would move.  These trumpets also served to assemble the nation around the Mishkan when Moses wanted to convey a message from G-d.

After the verses describing the purpose of the horns, we read a curious commandment:

If you go to war in your land against an adversary that oppresses you, you shall blow a teruah with the trumpets and be remembered before the Lord your G-d, and thus be saved from your enemies. On the days of your rejoicing, on your festivals and on your new-moon celebrations, you shall blow on the trumpets for your ascent-offerings and your peace sacrifices, and it shall be a remembrance before your G-d…

(Numbers 10, 9-10)

We are commanded to blow trumpets in war in order to be remembered before G-d and thus be saved from our enemies.  Likewise, at times of rejoicing, celebrations, and festivals, we are commanded to blow the trumpets at the Temple to be remembered before G-d. Though it is easy to understand why the trumpets were used to convey messages to a huge congregation, why would G-d need them to remember His nation?

It seems that the reason is related to the use of the trumpets during the journey through the desert.  The trumpets – used to announce abrupt departures to the nation – symbolize the Jewish nation’s complete devotion to G-d.  Therefore, when the Jewish nation blows these trumpets, it is remembered well before G-d.

The reality of our lives leads us on a winding journey.  We often find ourselves facing situations we did not expect or prepare for.  We can draw from that same total faith in G-d that the children of Israel had in the desert, and use that power to overcome our challenges with peace and joy.


Today May 16, 2022

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Interesting Facts

The Western Wall Plaza hosts approximately 60,000 people. It symbolizes the Jewish link to Jerusalem and serves as the synagogue closest to the remains of both Holy Temples.
The Western Wall's visible stones tell of its history from the time of the Holy Temples' ruin. The original Herodian stones are distinct from the others in size and in their unique borders.
The building style of "grading" used when layering the Western Wall's stones, teaches us that the Temple Mount's walls were not perpendicular but marginally sloping.

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