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Friday, May 28, 2010

Poetic Commentary on Parshat Be'haalotekha

This week's parashah is Be'haalotekha (Numbers/Be'midbar 8:1-12:16).  At the end of the last parashah, God was described as speaking to Moses from between the wings of the cherubim (angelic/animal beings too difficult to describe right now) that hovered over the Ark of the Covenant.  This occurred immediately following the completion of the Mishkan/ portable desert sanctuary.  In the opening line of Be'haalotekha, God continues the conversation and tell Moses to instruct his brother Aaron, the Kohen Gadol/High Priest concerning his ascent to kindle the lights of the seven-branch menorah.  Hence the name Be’haalotekha, meaning “when you ascend.”

Rabbis and commentators through the ages have discussed the symbolism of the menorah as representing the light of the Divine.  In addition, the Kabbalists/mystics imagined that the seven branches of the menorah represented the seven lower sefirot/divine emanations that human beings can experience in this world through their actions and spiritual practice.

Light as a representation of God's presence is also found in this particular parashah in the image of the fire enshrouded in a pillar of cloud that hovered over the Mishkan as a sign of God's presence.  According to the text, the fire/presence of God would be seen within a cloud over the Mishkan by day and simply as fire by night, which is when Aaron would kindle the menorah.  When the cloud/fire would lift that was the signal to the people that it was time for the community to move on. When the cloud would again descend, the people knew that God was “dwelling” in their midst and so they would stop and set up camp.  Then they would wait for the cloud to lift again and the command from Moses to continue their march through the desert.

The pillar of cloud/fire, the conversation between God and Moses, as well as Aaron's ascent to light the menorah, can be seen as representing the divine-human partnership.  Moses was able to "hear" God's voice directly from between the angelic wings, Aaron was able to bring the light of the Divine to the people by lighting the menorah, and the people experienced God’s presence through the cloud and fire.  The poetic commentary that follows builds upon this premise.  I hope that you find it meaningful and always welcome any comments or questions that you might have.

Shabbat Shalom,

The Ascent

     to light
       God’s lamps
          an overwhelming

       my brother
 hears           God’s voice
    from         between
the wings of cherubim
   God speaks to him
        not to me

is this so
I question
I still
I ascend
       I light
God’s lamps
the sanctuary
God’s house
       my house
my soul
our soul

I see the light
he hears
what I wish
I could
the Voice speaks

I cannot here
I do see
God’s light
enabling others
to see it

lighting the lamps
the glow increases
   piercing  my soul
     their warmth
penetrating my heart
       breaking through
              the jealousy
             enveloping it
          allowing me
    to still see
the light
within all

               each evening
as darkness fall
      fear   uncertainty
         I rise to light
           for us all

          grow brighter
     each person  sees   feels
  the light surrounding them
 love   strength   peace  serenity
majesty    eternity      wholeness
her presence   shekhinah glorious
        divine   holy   light
   filling us with abundance

 outside the tent
  all can see
         cloud and fire
      God’s presence
standing where we are
in awe of the Presence
trembling with fear and love
opening our hearts
to compassion   mercy
   divinity   humanity

in daytime
God’s light is enshrouded
within a pillar of cloud
we know
we feel
the Presence

at night
God’s presence burns
a pillar of fire
flames searing soulmindheart
infusing us with
the Presence

fire is
more easily seen  

clouds of mist
       blur vision
    fog the mind
block the way
soften the intensity
then fire returns again
    burning it away
so we can see
more clearly
the Presence
of which we are
   a part
we need both
we need balance
fire and cloud
complimentary opposites

we all must learn
       to see
the fire
within the cloud
the cloud
         within the fire
the tranquility
within chaos
the serenity
         within uncertainty
    all is one
the not-quite-darkness-not-quite-light
unknowable illuminating Presence
    infusing every moment

within our tents
our bodies
our homes
our sanctuaries
each night
we ascend
as one
God’s partners
light the lamps
       in that moment
         we are Moses
 trying to discern the voice
          the message
         surrounded by
  not quite angelic beings
striving     seeking     together
          we are Aaron
lighting the lamps with our actions
       bringing God’s light
     into our tent
       into the universe
Our compassion justice mercy
   feed the fire within
     brings the Presence into the world
    lends clarity to a clouded world
  bringing the reality of the presence
      the truth of the present
          Into our lives
         allowing us all
    to continue the journey

Moses and Aaron
two brothers
    one essence
      showing others
different yet the same
    alone    yet not
 fire and cloud
day and night
sight and sound
body and soul


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