Parashat Beha’alotecha is the thirty-sixth weekly portion in the Torah and the third in the Book of Numbers (8:1-12:16). As we noted when discussing the nineteenth portion in the Torah, Parashat Teruma, the Torah’s portions may be divided into sets of eighteen. According to this structure, Parashat Beha’alotecha closes out the middle section of the Torah, focused on the Mishkan (Tabernacle), from its construction to its service to its transport.
This explains why this portion opens once again (8:1-4) with the Menorah, the seven-branched Candelabrum which we have heard about so many times before in the Torah. When we consider the structural implications, as in this portion the Israelites finally leave Mount Sinai and the focus shifts to the Promised Land, this apparently redundant passage makes sense.
The Menorah is discussed at the beginning of the Mishkan unit, in Parashat Teruma and Parashat Tetzaveh; in its middle, in Parashat Emor; and finally here, in Parashat Beha’alotecha. This is because the Menorah, with its light burning through the night inside the Mishkan, reflects the divine Pillar of Fire burning through the night over the Mishkan. Since all the other vessels are used by day, the normal time for travelling, being in transport represents a break in their schedule, and thus they have staves for carrying them. The Menorah is a nighttime vessel, and thus when it travels it does not have poles stuck in it, but rather it travels on a frame, maintaining its dignity. Indeed, it is the Menorah which has come to symbolize the sovereignty of Israel throughout the generations.
The portion goes on to describe the final preparations for leaving Sinai from the initiation of the Levites (8:5-26), to the first anniversary of Passover (9:1-14), from the procedures for following the Pillar of Cloud by day (turning into the Pillar of Fire at night, 9:15-23) to the silver trumpets used to direct traffic (10:1-10). Finally, the people set out from Sinai (10:11-36).
However, the first steps towards the Promised Land contain a few stumbles, as the Israelites’ progress is brought to a halt by both God’s fire and God’s cloud. These elements are supposed to guide their journeys, but instead they delay their advancement, as complaints are lodged against Moses. In Chapter 11, God’s fiery anger flares up against the grumbling Israelites, and they are thus delayed for a month to punish those who whine about the manna and demand meat instead. In Chapter 12, it is Moses’ own siblings who criticize him, and his sister Miriam is struck with leprosy when God comes down in a cloud to rebuke her. The people wait for a week until she recovers.
Finally, as the portion closes, the people have reached their destination, the Paran Desert, within striking distance of the Holy Land.
The portion from the Prophets is Zechariah 2:14-4:7. In it, the prophet has a vision of a heavenly Menorah, symbolizing that God is with the Jewish people as they return to Zion to rebuild the Temple.