Parashat BeHa'alotcha - July 1st

בהעלתך Beha'alotcha

Numbers 8.1—12.16

This week's Parasha begins with the cleansing of the priests.  Numbers 8.5-6, 14, 19, 22: And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the Levites from among the people of Israel and cleanse them. . . . you shall separate the Levites from among the people of Israel, and the Levites shall be mine. . . . they are wholly given to me from among the people of Israel, . . . I have taken them for myself. . . . I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the people of Israel, to do the service for the people of Israel at the tent of meeting and to make atonement for the people of Israel, . . . And the Levites purified themselves from sin and washed their clothes, and Aaron offered them as a wave offering before the Lord, and Aaron made atonement for them to cleanse them.”

We have seen elsewhere that the high priest is a type for the coming Messiah. This is stated many times in the letter to the Hebrews (for example, Hebrews 2.17; 9.11-12). In this passage from this week’s parashah we learn that God gave the high priest helpers, the Levites. Does this have anything to say to us as followers of the Messiah? We remember that under the new covenant, every believer is considered a priest, not just a select group. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” (1 Peter 2.9). Not only are we called “a kingdom of priests,” but we are “a people for his own possession.” This is surely an allusion back to the words of the parashah: “the Levites shall be mine . . . I have taken them for myself.”

The Levites were to be purified so that they could serve in holiness in the presence of God in the tabernacle. So too, those who follow the Messiah, the greater High Priest, have been purified by the greatest sacrifice possible, his own blood. He is “our great God and Savior Jesus the Messiah, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own” (Titus 2.14). “How much more shall the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9.14).




Numbers 12.3: “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.”

Did Moses write these words about himself? It is possible that they were written later by someone else, just as we will read near the end of the book about Moses’ death. However, it is possible that Moses wrote even these words, that he was humble enough to make this statement without being motivated by pride. Surely it tells us something of the character of the “prophet like Moses” who would come later, the Messiah.

Jesus was able to make a claim very reminiscent of this statement about Moses: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11.29). The prophet Isaiah foretold that the coming Messiah “will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42.2-3), and Zechariah declared to Israel, “your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9.9).




Haftarah: Zechariah 2.10—4.9

Zechariah 3.8-10: “Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men of good omen: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, upon the stone which I have set before Joshua, upon a single stone with seven facets, I will engrave its inscription, says the Lord of hosts, and I will remove the guilt of this land in a single day. In that day, says the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.”

The words “My servant the Branch” take us back to Isaiah who first used these figures messianically. “In that day shall the Branch (Tsemach) of the Lord be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth shall be excellent and comely. . .” (Isaiah 4.2). A land that was desolate and cursed because of its sins will “in that day,” when Messiah comes, put forth a new and beautiful sprout (Tsemach) to wash away “the filth of the daughter of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof” (Isaiah 4.4). This is Isaiah’s picture of generated life in the Messianic Age. This new life is further revealed in Isaiah 11.1 through the offspring of David, a sprout from the stock of Jesse. Then Jeremiah (chapters 25 and 28) and Zechariah (3.8; 6.12) took up the same term to give more definite and personal expression. Thus “My Servant,” the title of the Messiah in the second half of the prophecy of Isaiah, takes our minds back to the familiar verses of Isaiah 42.1-6; 49.6.




Zechariah 3.8: The Targum of this verse reads: “Hear now, Joshua the high priest, you and your companions who sit before you, for they are men who are worthy that a sign be performed for them; for behold I will bring my servant the Messiah, and he shall be revealed.”

Rabbi David Kimchi (12th-13th century): “The Branch is the Messiah. God said, ‘Even though this is salvation, I will bring an even greater salvation when I bring my servant the Branch, and they will seek him because the Messiah is called “Menahem” (the Comforter), which in gematria (comparing numerical values of the Hebrew letters) is equal to “Branch.”



Zechariah 4.7: The midrash interprets the “great mountain” to be the Messiah. “Who are you, great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will be a plain. This speaks of Messiah son of David. And why is he called ‘great mountain’? Because he is greater than the fathers, as it says (Isaiah 52.13), ‘Behold, my servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.’ More exalted than Abraham, more lifted up than Isaac, higher than Jacob. . . . More lifted up than Moses . . . higher than the ministering angels.” (Midrash Tanchuma [W], Toldot 14)

Shabbat Shalom!

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