Campfire Torah 5773
“In the Ascending”
“Gather around, children! We have some special stories tonight. Stories of lessons learned, and what it means to respect and love Hashem. He is our loving Father, and yet there are times when he must chastise his children, as well as provide good things for us. All of us who are parents know this. But sometimes we forget that we are children in the eyes of Adonai. Hopefully, we will take these lessons to heart, and learn from them.
“So, last time we got together, we were talking about when we offered the first sacrifices at the Mishkan, and some additional details about how we started the priesthood. For instance, we had each of the tribes bring sacrifices, and the priests were given a special blessing for putting the Name of Hashem upon the people of Israel.
“It astounded all of us when, after the initial sacrifices in the Mishkan, Adonai actually spoke with me face to face in the tent! When I went in to commune with the Creator of all, he actually spoke to me from between the two k’ruvim above the ark. It was as if the Almighty literally sat enthroned there upon the mercy seat! And from there, he continued to lead his people, giving me direct instructions for the nation.
“I’ve talked about much of this already. The priests had to be properly cleansed and consecrated to the service of Hashem, along with appropriate sacrifices. Essentially, the whole family of the priesthood was offered up to Hashem in the same way that we offer up sacrifices. They became a form of wave offering to Hashem from among the nation. It’s a pretty beautiful concept, really. The priests themselves constitute an offering from the people.
“I suppose that, in a way, we are all offerings on behalf of the world, as well. After all, we are a nation of priests to Hashem, serving on behalf of the nations. That means we are an offering from the nations to Adonai! I’ll have to keep working out what that entails, exactly. At the very least, it has to mean that Israel belongs specially to Hashem, the same way the Levi’im are specially separated from the rest of Israel.
“But, when we talk about separation, it doesn’t mean that the priests do not identify with the rest of Israel. In fact, they stand in the place of all our firstborn, reminding us of the deliverance from Mitzrayim, and reminding themselves that they are an intimate part of the Israeli national life. So, if we are going to compare Israel to a priesthood for the planet, would that same principle not apply? Even as we talk about being separate from the nations of the world, we also stand before Hashem, praying on behalf of the world, and taking his instruction to them. We are both distinct, and yet, the same. A unified whole, you might say.
“Perhaps it is similar to the fire that warms us these nights. The fire is distinct from the wood, and yet it would be impossible to have fire without wood.
Additional Rules for Pesach
“At any rate, we came to the end of that first year, encamped before Har Sinai. The Mishkan was built, and the Priesthood established. The time came to celebrate our first memorial of the deliverance from Mitzrayim. We won’t got into all the regulations for how to do a Pesach sacrifice right now, since we already covered that here in these campfire stories.
Pesach Sheini (Second Passover)
“But that was when we were made aware of a circumstance for which Hashem had not yet given us instructions. We realized that there were some people who were ritually unclean at the time we were supposed to offer the sacrifice. They were very sincere and devout people, but for one reason or another, they were not able to carry out the Pesach sacrifice. What a bummer!
“So, I went to Hashem and asked for guidance on how this situation should be handled.
“The resolution was remarkably simple. If someone was contaminated by contact with a dead body, or if he was on a journey and unable to return in time for the festival, then he would receive a special dispensation to offer the sacrifice a month later. However, someone who is at home, and ritually clean, may not invoke this rule. They are simply procrastinating, and refusing to act as part of the community.
Gerim and the Pesach
“While we are talking about special cases, we should also bring up what happens when a non-Jew wants to celebrate Pesach. It might seem odd that someone who is not part of our people wants to celebrate our deliverance from bondage. But there are some who are not descended from the Patriarchs, yet want to join us, and serve the God of Israel. Just look around you, and take note of the many Egyptians here with us! Such gerim are not to be excluded from our festivals. As long as they identify with us, and are willing to follow all the proper regulations, then they are to be given the exact same rights as any of us who are native-born descendants of Ya’akov. In short, we are to have the same law for the Gentile sojourner as for the citizen of the land—one law for all.
Traveling with the Shekinah
“Ever since we first put up the Mishkan, we have been witnessed to an amazing spectacle! Hashem has manifested his presence to us in the form of a pillar of… ‘Presence’. I don’t know how else to say it. During the day, it seems like a pillar of cloud-stuff, visible for miles around, and giving us shade from the desert sun. But at night, it seems like a stream of fire, shooting up into the night sky, and giving us warmth to protect us from the freezing desert nights.
“This Presence, this ‘Shekinah’, has been leading us ever since that first manifestation. Wherever it goes, we go. If it stays in one place for a period of time, then we stay there with it. It sure makes my job easier, I’ll say that! Normally, as caravan leader, it would be up to me to ensure we are moving in the right direction. But now that Hashem is directly leading us, that is one job less for me.
“Speaking of travel, that reminds me… Have I ever told you about those silver shofarot, those ram’s horns, that we use to alert everyone when it is time to pack up and travel? That whole system of using the two horns to call different groups of people for different purposes was given to me by Hashem. We have sounds for calling the people out to a meeting—both shofarot when we need everyone, and one shofar when only tribal leaders are needed. We have one pattern of sounds for calling everyone to travel, another for general meeting, another for warning everyone to prepare for battle, and yet another for festivals.
“Once we ‘hammered out’ these details regarding the shofarot, we were ready to go! A couple days after Pesach Sheini, in the second month of our second year of freedom, the Shekinah lifted up from the Mishkan and our journeys began. We moved out according to the groupings we’ve talked about in the past few weeks, and headed northwest, to the Paran region, just south of our destination. I was so excited! I thought we were on the verge of walking right in to the Land Hashem had promised us. I was so naïve!
“I even tried to persuade my father-in-law, Yitro, to come along with us into the Land. I figured it would be a win-win scenario. He and his people could act as scouts for us, and they would enjoy the blessings Hashem was pouring out on his people. But he wanted to get back to his own land, and his own people. I guess I can’t really blame him. But I hated to see him go.
“Anyway, our first trip with the Mishkan was short, only three days. I think of it as a practice run, giving us experience with tearing down and setting up the Mishkan while we followed the Shekinah pillar.
“Just as a military commander would pronounce a blessing upon his king while on the move, I figured it was my duty to make a similar sort of pronouncement when the ark of the Mishkan would move out. After all, that is the very throne of Hashem, the seat of all his glory and mercy. So, when the ark was lifted up and proceeded forward, I called out for everyone to hear,
Arise, Adonai! May your enemies be scattered!
Let those who hate you flee before you!
“Likewise, when the Shekinah stopped, and we reconstructed the Mishkan, I called out the announcement that Hashem was no longer on the move, and he was settling back into his throne,
Return, Adonai of the many, many thousands of Isra’el!
Crime and Punishment
“Sadly, it didn’t take long for the people of that generation to begin complaining. Everybody complained, each for different reasons. The people of Mitzrayim who traveled with us began to grow homesick for their family and friends in Mitzrayim, and the relatively easy life they had there in the cities. They weren’t used to hard desert travel.
“At the same time, our people complained because, although life had been more rigorous under the slavery in Mitrayim, they benefitted from the food that was available there in the Egyptian economy. Essentially, we weren’t used to being responsible for all that goes along with providing resources for an entire society—we were accustomed to relying on others for our provisions.
Suddenly, everyone wanted to go back to where they started! Hashem was not happy with us, and caused a fire to break out in the camp. I still don’t understand how that happened. But it was enough of a wake-up call that everyone came to me, asking me to intercede on their behalf to Hashem. Of course, I prayed. And the fire stopped. But the people didn’t really learn their lesson.
“Do you remember I mentioned several weeks ago that Hashem provided food for us when we first came out of Mitzrayim? We didn’t even know what to call it, so we called it, ‘man’, meaning, ‘What is it?’ Well, the novelty had worn off after eating the stuff for over a year, and, as good as the man is, we had already gotten bored with it. The people demanded real meat to eat! What do I look like, a butcher???
“This really got me angry. Here I was, working hard to get everything organized and working together, all the while trying to make sure we knew how to keep Hashem’s commandments so he would be pleased with us, and provide for us. Then… this… this… this… rebellion! I even went directly to Hashem, and told him I didn’t want the job anymore! Leading this people seemed to me more like a curse than a blessing. Oh, I was so irritated! I even accused Hashem of using your parents to personally abuse me, and asked him to just be merciful and kill me there on the spot!
“In response, Hashem did two things for me. First, he had me appoint seventy elders of Israel, and designate them to work with me, so I would no longer be the sole target of all the complaints. This led to a fantastic display when Hashem put his Ruach upon them, and they prophesied as a result. It was such a sight to behold that my servant Y’hoshua became jealous for me! He thought these seventy would somehow displace me as the national leader. He begged me to make them stop. I think it shocked him when I responded by saying I wished the whole nation would be so engaged with Hashem, and so gifted! The poor boy didn’t know what to say. Isn’t that right, son? See? He agrees with me!
Meat, or Something Like It
“Once the seventy elders were in place, then Hashem promised to provide sufficient meat to feed everyone in the camp for a whole month… in one day! I was so amazed, I had to wonder if Hashem was joking with me. It seemed so unrealistic that sufficient meat for our whole nation could be provided overnight!
“But he did it. A huge flock of quail all fell to the ground just outside our encampment. They were stacked three feet high! I couldn’t believe my eyes. It took us two days just to gather up the birds and stack them in piles at selected points in the camp, so everyone had easy access to them.
“It seemed like such a blessing! But when we started to eat the meat, we found out why the flock fell to earth. They were diseased! The birds make us sick. Those with the greediest appetites ate so much of the diseased meat that they died for their greed and selfishness. What a way to learn a lesson.
Discontent in the Ranks
“At this point, even my siblings were getting pretty discontented with what was going on. They began to act as if I could do nothing right. They even criticized my wife! They questioned whether I was really Hashem’s appointed leader. I didn’t know what to say. What had I done to deserve this sort of treatment?
“That was when Adonai intervened on my behalf, and made it clear that I was his man for the job. He called the three of us out to the Mishkan, and read them the riot act. I couldn’t believe it! The Creator of the Universe was chewing out my siblings on my behalf! He even said I was his special servant, the only faithful in all of Hashem’s household. It was like having your parents take your side in an argument… but better!
“Then, Adonai really let them have it, and afflicted Miryam with tzara’at, that dreaded skin disease. She was white as snow! At that point, I could no longer bask in the affirmation given me. I had to intervene on Miryam’s behalf, asking Hashem to cure her. As a result, Adonai told her to go outside the camp for a week, and think about what had happened. Basically, she was sent to her room for a while.
“It seemed harsh at the time, but sometimes we have to trust that Hashem knows what the appropriate punishment to use when we misbehave. We are all Hashem’s children, and he knows best when he doles out blessing and punishment. He demonstrates his love for us when he disciplines us. But we have to be willing to learn the lessons and accept the correction. Afterwards, we can all be restored to proper relationship—both with him, and with each other—and move forward in our relationships.
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