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PARASHAT BEHA'ALOTCHA

Parashat BeHa’alotcha   Friday 10 June 2011        “In your making go up”

PARASHAT BEHA'ALOTCHA

Numbers 8:1-12:16; Zechariah 2:14-4:7; John 12:1-26

In our parasha this Shabbat, we read about the lighting of the menorah, one of the oldest symbols of the Jewish faith. The cohanim lit the menorah in the Sanctuary every evening and cleaned it out every morning, replacing the wicks and replenishing the central shaft with fresh olive oil. Today, the menorah is replaced by the ner tamid (lit. the continual light, usually translated as the eternal flame), which burns day and night before the Ark containing the Torah scrolls.

Now, the instructions given concerning the lighting of the Menorah are quite specific.

Num 8:2-4

2          "Speak to Aaron, and say to him, 'When you arrange the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.'"

3          And Aaron did so; he arranged the lamps to face toward the front of the lampstand, as the LORD commanded Moses.

4          Now this workmanship of the lampstand was hammered gold; from its shaft to its flowers it was hammered work. According to the pattern which the LORD had shown Moses, so he made the lampstand.

 

The normal English translations give the mistaken impression that the lamps were to cast their light IN FRONT OF the Menorah i.e. directed outwards. However, the Hebrew reads “el mul p’nei hamenorah’ – ‘toward the face of the Menorah’.  In other words, the light of the 6 branches was directed towards the central shaft called the Shamash or the Servant shaft.

The Menorah was made from a single piece of gold. The base was the primary feature and the central shaft called the Shamash or Servant shaft, rose out of the base. The 6 other shafts were attached to this central shaft, like sprouts growing out of the mother plant. The consecrated oil was fed only into this central shaft called the Shamash or Servant, and from there, it flowed to the other 6 branches.

Yeshua said “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30). Yeshua is the Shamash, the Servant , the One who is one with the base, the Father. It is the Servant who gives light both to Israel, the 1st set of 3 branches, and also, to the nations, the other set of 3 branches. All draw their sustenance – the oil of anointing - from Messiah, the Shamash, the Servant!

Yeshua taught in Matt 5:14-16

14        "You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.

15        "Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

16        "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

We don’t do good deeds to draw attention to ourselves; our good deeds draw attention only to the Son! The light that we radiate should only draw attention to Messiah in us and not to self! Furthermore, our parasha is named ‘B’ha’alothcha’, which means ‘to raise, to lift up’. From this we can learn some essential truths:

the light that emanates from within raises or lifts up the Son!

Yeshua said in John 12:32 that “I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself." This is an obvious allusion to His ascension after His resurrection but it also points to our lives that must leave behind the fragrance of the knowledge of Him in every place (2 Cor 2:14). Everything we do or say must honour the Father by edifying the Son!

  • The light of the menorah is directed upward

The light from the Menorah had to ascend, to be lifted, striving for greater heights. This teaches us that we too must strive for ever higher goals in our lives until our whole lives are dedicated in His service. We cannot rest on past accomplishments, past anointing. The Bible says ‘today if you hear His voice..”.

We need to daily be replenished by drawing sustenance from Messiah who is the Bread of life and our daily source of strength!

There are no guarantees that we won’t slip up and get it wrong along the way but out attitude should be that of Sha’ul who said in Phil 3 that no matter the disappointments and failures,

                “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God  in Messiah Yeshua. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind … “             (Phil 3:13-15).

As I have repeatedly taught, our walk with the Lord is always forward and upward. But, there is even another more profound lesson that we can learn from the Menorah; Let’s re-examine the first few verses of our parasha.

Num 8:1-3 

1          “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: "Speak to Aaron, and say to him,

2          'When you arrange the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.'"

3          And Aaron did so; he arranged the lamps to face toward the front of the lampstand, as the LORD commanded Moses.

Don’t you think that the language is somewhat superfluous? Speak and say to Aharon; and Aaron did so and Aharon did just as the Lord had commanded. The repetitive language seems unnecessary because Aaron would never deviate from HaShem’s instructions that Moses had just imparted to him! Why then, the repetitive language?

Well, let’s think about this for a moment. For 17 years, I was a restaurateur in Stellenbosch. I hunted down new recipes and I specialized in modifying them, trying to make it more healthy, less fatty, less oily. I would halve the fat content, use less sugar etc etc. But, it didn’t always work! Sometimes, the modified recipe was more dense, not as light as the original. But, I always experimented and persevered until I was satisfied.

We are like this at times. When we are instructed to do something; we follow the instructions the first few times. But, then we get bored and our attention flags. We initiate some changes or modifications to keep our interest from flagging. We say that we are expressing our creativity.

Aaron did not have the luxury to deviate from HaShem’s revealed pattern!

The sages teach that the Mishkan was used for 116 years. Each and every time, Aaron and those who replaced him, looked after the needs of the Menorah, they had to strictly adhere to the revealed pattern. To deviate even minutely from HaShem’s mitzvoth was unthinkable. It was the most heinous of sins. All Israel were bound to the terms of the covenant. As they stood at the foot of the mountain, they said “all that you have spoken, we will do”. They voluntarily took on the yoke of Torah and were bound by its terms.

Aaron was bound to complete obedience to the terms of the covenant and so, the text records that he did exactly, precisely … as the Lord had commanded. He did it this way the first time and on each and every subsequent occasion when he served G-d in the Mishkan, without variation, without any additions! He was fully alert, focussed and attentive in his service of the Lord! There was only one way to kindle the menorah and direct its light and Aaron adhered strictly to the pattern revealed to Moses.

But notice that age-old tension again that we stumble upon throughout scripture:

  • We follow the pattern as it is established in Torah. No deviation, no creative input.

Yet, we are called to be filled with and led by the Spirit. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart..” (Ps 95, Heb 3 & 4). We need to hear Him today and obey His prompting. And, there is no contradiction because it is not either/or but rather, both/and. We study to show ourselves approved (2 Tim 2:15) and yet simultaneously, we daily ask the Spirit of G-d to lead us through the maze of that day! Both/and!

This also speaks to us of a life that is wholly devoted to G-d in His service! In Jer 24:7, HaShem promises to restore Israel’s flagging hearts;

“then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the LORD; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God, for they shall return to Me with their whole heart”.

David is remembered in scripture as the only man with a heart after G-d’s own heart! And so, David could say “I will praise You, O LORD, with my whole heart (Ps 9:1). In Ps 119, there are 5 references to seeking after HaShem with one’s entire being!

Jer 29:11-14

11        For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

12        Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.

13        And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.

14        I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity;

All these are lessons that we learn from the menorah. The flame had to keep burning day and night, but it also required nurturing and maintenance. The wicks had to be trimmed every morning and the oil replenished.

Eph 5:15-18

15        See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise,

16        redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

17        Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

18       And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the  Spirit,

The cohanim had to diligently fulfil their mandate as far as the upkeep of the menorah was concerned and so too, must we be dilent about the way we conduct ourselves in our lifetime. We are instructed to walk “circumspectly”, the Greek word that means ‘diligently’ or ‘carefully’. The days are evil; therefore be filled with the Spirit. This is G-d’s provision for assuring that his light in us shines brightly into the darkened world.

Our parasha then moves on to repeat the consecration of the Levites to serve in the Sanctuary. In last week’s parasha, we were told that only those Levites between the age of 30 to 50 could participate in the Tabernacle service. But here in our parasha, we read that they began to serve from age 25.

Num 8:24-26

24       "This is what pertains to the Levites: From twenty-five years old and above one  may enter to perform service in the work of the tabernacle of meeting;

25       "and at the age of fifty years they must cease performing this work, and shall  work no more.

26       "They may minister with their brethren in the tabernacle of meeting, to attend  to needs, but they themselves shall do no work. Thus you shall do to the Levites regarding their duties."

Why does our Torah portion now mention that they commence from the age of 25 and not 30?

For 5 years, the Levites joined an apprenticeship training program. Then, only when they have gathered sufficient hands-on experience - at age 30 - could they actually do the work of service in the Tabernacle. They had to be trained in the ways of serving the Lord in the Tabernacle and the apprenticeship was quite stringent and lengthy – 5 whole years! Only after their training was complete, could they now be released into full-time ministry.

This must also speak to us about the need for mentorship and discipling. Yeshua gathered 12 disciples around him and poured his life into them for 3 ½ intensive years. And soon, others gathered around the twelve and on the day of Shavuoth, we read that

Acts 2:41-42

41        Then those who gladly received his word were immersed; and that day about  three thousand souls were added to them.

42       And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.

True disciples breed more disciples!

In Matthews Gospel alone, I counted the term ‘disciples’ used over 70 times. The 12 that Yeshua led and trained were not converts; they were not souls that were saved. THEY WERE DISCIPLES!

The Greek word for ‘disciple’ is a technical term that indicates that the pupil or learner was also an adherent who endeavoured to the best of their ability to imitate the ways of their Teacher. Yeshua said in Luke 6:40 that “a disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher”.

This was the principle in the lives of the early and medieval Jewish sages. These great rabbis gather disciples around them and trained them up in the way they should go. This requires commitment of time and energy from the teacher as well as the talmid - the disciple. Paul, a Pharisaical Rabbi, could say “imitate me just as I imitate Messiah” (1 Cor 11:1). Only someone who was a true disciple himself could make such a chutzpadik statement. He poured his life into Barnabas, Timothy and others. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Yeshua issued instructions that His 12 followers were to replicate themselves by making more disciples.

Matt 28:19-20

19    go and make people from all nations into talmidim (not converts, not just save some souls), immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach HaKodesh,

 20  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you always, yes, even until the end of the age.”

When you think about it, Yeshua’s words must have shocked those who heard it! In Matt 10, Yeshua sent the 12 out to go specifically and only ‘to the lost sheep of the House of Israel’ (Matt 10:6). Yeshua emphasized ‘do not go to into the way of the goyim’. This teaches us that Yeshua primary mission prior to the outpouring of the Spirit was to the Jewish people. This is the pattern that is established in scripture; ‘to the Jew first, and also the Greek’.

So, his instruction that they were to take the Good News to the goyim and make disciples of them must have surprised his talmidim. But, after the Spirit was poured out, the goyim were reached and grafted in to the Commonwealth of Israel. This reveals G-d’s heart that He desires that ‘all should not perish but come to the knowledge of the truth” ( 1 Tim 2 :4).

So, if the call to make talmidim must be our priority, where do we start?

Well, Yeshua said ‘start here in our own Jerusalem’! Start here at Beit Ariel. To best of our ability, we strive to accurately teach the Word and to encourage everyone to begin to inculcate an attitude of serving others, because you serve the Lord by serving others. We spend 1 ½ hours every Shabbat morning discussing the message of the parasha so that our minds may be renewed and our attitudes and our practice, transformed!

On Tuesday night at erev Shavuoth service, I briefly mentioned the need to be fruitful and I challenged our rather narrow perspective of what it means to live a fruitful life! In most instances, we measure the fruitfulness of our lives or our ministries by the number of people we lead to faith.

While this is an important aspect of being fruitful, it is not the only measure. Being fruitful is multi-faceted and on Tuesday night, I quoted the only verse in the B’rit Hadasha were the term ‘fruitful’ is mentioned.

Col 1: 9-11

9              Therefore, from the day we heard of it, we have not stopped praying for you, asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his   will in all the wisdom and understanding which the Spirit gives;

10             so that you may live lives worthy of the Lord and entirely pleasing to him, being fruitful in every good work and multiplying in the full knowledge of God.

Here, Paul asserts that we are fruitful when

  • *we grow in the grace and the knowledge of the Lord.
  • *when we live lives that honour G-d
  • *when we do our good deeds
  • *when we abide in Him (John 15)  

In any case, being fruitful is not a subjective experience and cannot or should not be measured by human terms or achieving fixed objectives. More often that not, you don’t even know that you’re being fruitful until someone comes along after the event – perhaps even years later - and tells you how they watched you conduct yourself in a difficult situation and it really spoke to them. (GIVE THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE LETTER I WROTE TO MY FOLKS THAT I WOULD ALWAYS HONOUT THEM)

Being fruitful is not about you and about your efforts, as well intended as they might be. It is a work of G-d’s Spirit in us and it is He who sows the seeds, nurtures them, and then, brings those seeds to fruition at the appointed time so that there will be a harvest to the glory of His name and the extension of His Kingdom!!

In Luke 8, Yeshua taught a parable about seed that fell on different soil types and the seed or the word that fell on rich soil, grew and was nurtured by G-d’s Spirit and produced a harvest ‘a hundred times as much as had been sown” (Luke 8:8).

Notice that Israel received her training in righteousness in the wilderness. They received their instructions at the foot of the mountain but in their years of wandering in the wilderness, they learnt how to apply what they had learned, in real-life situations. And so, we can say that we are also mentored by life itself because life in the world affords us the opportunities and hands-on experience to become increasingly more effective and fruitful. In John 15, Yeshua said that if you are fruitful, he will yet prune us so that we might become even more fruitful. And, more often than not, G-d uses life’s challenges to prune us. This is all part of the work of being mentored!

Now, in order to follow G-d in the wilderness, Israel had to watch the cloud of G-d’s Presence! They were given no warning as to when the cloud would begin to move. They simply had to be alert and ready! Not knowing whether they would camp for 2 days, 2 weeks or two months, they went about their daily chores but they always kept their eye upon the Cloud!

This is our challenge! After a day or two of the same repetitive mundane things of life, we tend to think that our lives tomorrow are linked to our experiences today. We develop routines which become the framework of our daily plans. We actually predict what we think will happen today based on our current situation or what we experienced yesterday. And, after a while, we’ve forgotten about the cloud! Our gaze has shifted and we become complacent, taking our eyes off the cloud. Israel was not afforded this sense of false security, since they never knew when they would have to get up and go. They had to watch and pray and be ready.

In Matt 25, Yeshua gave the parable of the 10 virgins. All 10 had lamps and wicks but only 5 took oil with them and when the bridegroom appeared, they trimmed the wicks, filled their lamps with oil and were ready. The remaining 5 were left floundering behind!

Family, we are called to let our light shine forth into a darkened world. We don’t know for whom the light is necessary and it is not for us to know. Our job is to shine! We are instructed to be filled with the oil of the Spirit, to have our wicks trimmed and to be ready in and out of season, waiting with expectancy to meet our Messiah in the day of his visitation.

We cannot know with certainty when this event will occur but we can recognize the signs of the times. There are only 3 occurrences in the new covenant where we are instructed to watch and pray. Two of these have to do with resisting temptation. The 3rd occurrence is in Mark 13;

Mark 13:33-37

33       "Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.

34       "It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch.

35       "Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming - in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning--

36       "lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping.

37       "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!"

The Greek word for ‘watch’ means ‘to raise up’ and so, we’re back to the menorah whose flames ascended to impart clarity and light to others, so that they too, might be equipped, prepared and ready, in the day of Messiah’s visitation!

When we live a life honouring G-d, unknowingly, we lift up the Name of Messiah and in doing so, we are being fruitful and are involved with the task of mentoring others   !