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Parashat Behalotcha - Damaging Reputations

Warren Buffet purportedly once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

In this week's Parasha, we read the portion of ויהי בנסע הארון which is bracketed in the Sefer Torah by means of inverted letter nun's before and after. The Gemara, (Shabbat 116a), explains that this portion of ויהי בנסע הארון is in the wrong place and was only put there to split between פורענות - bad episodes that took place. Nachmanides quotes the Midrash that says, that the Jewish people ran away from Har Sinai "like a child running away from school".

There is, however, an obvious question. In the previous chapter, it says three times על פי ה’ יסעו— Bnei Yisrael didn’t move at all without the command of HaShem. Why then, were they criticized for moving away from Har Sinai? Furthermore, was this sin so egregious to lead Ramban to say that this led to them to not being able to enter Eretz Yisrael?

Rav Elazar Shach, (the famed Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovez, Israel) suggest that it wasn’t about the action they took but the attitude. They might have been commanded to leave Har Sinai, but they didn’t resist and they were happy about it. By doing so, it wasn’t simply a minor infringement of acting inappropriately for a moment. Rather, they cast aspersions on their whole acceptance of Torah נעשה ונשמע. Their attitudes didn’t only speak to that moment but to their overall outlook towards their acceptance of the Torah. There was a certain resentment that was brewing beneath the surface and because they didn’t deal with it, when they left Har Sinai and were at a moment of “down time,” it spiraled out of control.

Every day, there are news stories that prove what Warren Buffett said, sometimes the people involved are famous and sometimes not. For the most part, these reputation-ruining moments were brewing beneath the surface. The drunk driver who killed someone had a history of driving drunk or engaging in other acts of drunkenness. The executive who assaulted someone had a history of anger management issues. And if there really was nothing brewing below the surface, society is generally much more forgiving.

We all have character flaws that we struggle with and we know which ones have the potential of blowing up in a really bad moment. The person who is constantly texting gossip and Lashon harah will eventually send it to the wrong person; the person who makes inappropriate comments will eventually cross a line and nobody will be surprised; the person who gets angered easily may blow up at a boss and lose his/her job. When we read about people falling from grace, it is a wake-up call to reflect on our own character flaws and what concrete steps we are taking to work on ourselves.

Wishing you a Shabat Shalom;
Rabbi Shlomo Gabay

Parasha Summary - Parashat Behalotecha

Rishon: Aharon is instructed to light the Menorah, and the Menorah’s construction is reviewed. Moshe is commanded to inaugurate the Leviyim into the service of the Mishkan.

Sheni: The Leviyim are inaugurated into Temple service. Their term of service was from age 25 to age 50.

Shelishi: The Bnai Yisrael keep their second Pesach since leaving Egypt. The laws of Pesach Sheni – the makeup Pesach (one month after Pesach) are taught for those who were unable to bring the Paschal Lamb at the appropriate time.

Revei: The movement of the Pillar of Clouds as the indicators of when to set or break the camp is identified. In addition to the Pillar of Clouds, Moshe is commanded to make two silver trumpets that would be used to herald the traveling of the encampment or the movement of troops during war.

Chamishi: The description of the nation’s travels from the desert of Sinai is recorded. Moshe approaches Yitro, who refuses his offer to join them in Eretz Yisrael.

Shishi: The two verses of “When the Ark went forth” are stated, and then things begin to unravel. The main body of this Aliya describes the nation’s complaints against the physical conditions of their dwelling in the desert. The Manna is described in contrast to the nation’s desire for “real food”. Moshe expresses his frustrations as a leader, and Hashem promises to send quail to satisfy the people’s desire for meat. Moshe is instructed to appoint a Sanhedrin to help him govern and teach the nation. The 70 Elders are divinely confirmed, and Eldad and Maydad prophesies the transition of leadership from Moshe to Yehoshua.

Shevei: The quail descend upon the camp in such quantity that each person collected 1000 lb. of meat. Aharon and Miriam speak Lashon Harah about Moshe, resulting in Hashem confirming Moshe as His preeminent servant and prophet. Miriam is afflicted with Tzaraat.