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From the Desk of Rabbi Levitin‏

Parsha Beha’alotecha | The Jungle

“It may be grim, but some want to stay. Despite the violence, the drugs and the rats there are residents of the chaotic, complex community who say it’s where they feel the most comfortable.” – Seattle Times, Friday June 17th 2016.

“The Jungle” is what the homeless camp in Downtown Seattle is referred to. Most people driving on I-5 through our city will notice the clusters of tents and trash accumulated under the overpasses and tunnels. According to the Times, “Some people want stable housing, but some want to stay. Even two people wounded in a murderous January shooting have returned to The Jungle.” A woman is quoted as saying, “We accept each other, no matter what wrong we are doing. And that’s what this community is all about.”



This week’s Parsha, Beha’Alotecha, Chapter 11:1, “The people were like complainers.” (What else is new!) (“‘Complainers’ is strictly a term referring to a pretext. They seek a pretext in order to turn away from [following] after the Omnipresent.”-Rashi.) “It was wicked in the ears of G-d. G-d heard and his anger flared and the fire of G-d burned among them and consumed some of the outcasts of the camp.” (Rashi says, “For they intended it to reach His ears and anger Him.”)

“The people cried out to Moshe and Moshe prayed to G-d and the fire subsided.”

Immediately following another “crisis of the people” happened. “The collection of nationalities among them began to have strong cravings, and Bnei Yisroel turned and began to weep; and they said, ‘Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish which we ate in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions and garlic. Now our bodies are withered, there is nothing at all, but the manna before our eyes.”

“We ate in Egypt freely?!”

In Shemos Chapter 1:13, “The Egyptians enslaved the Children of Israel with crushing labor.” Rashi Elucidates, “This means hard work that crushes the body and breaks it.” Chapter 1:15/16, “The king of Egypt said to the midwives, ‘If it is a son, you are to kill him, and if it is a daughter she shall live.’” From the Talmud Sotah 11-b, “Pharaoh proposed a more blatant, if secret, form of destruction. If he could prevail upon the Jewish midwives to kill the male babies, there would be no next generation of males, and the females would blend into Egypt.”

In Shemos Chapter 2:23, “And it happened during those many days, that the king of Egypt died, and the Children of Israel groaned because of the work and they cried out.” Rashi explains, “‘that the king of Egypt died.’ [He didn’t die] He was stricken with leprosy and to cure himself he would slaughter the infants of Israel and bathe in their blood.”

For years they endured this state of slavery and oppression. In Shemos Chapter 5:15/21: “The guards of the Children of Israel came and cried out to Pharaoh, saying, ‘Why do you this to your servants? Stubble is not given to your servants, yet they tell us, “Make bricks!” Behold, your servants are being beaten, and it is a sin upon your people.’ [Pharaoh] said, ‘You are lax, lax! You say, “Let us go and sacrifice to Hashem.” Now go to work; stubble will not be given to you, but you must provide the total of bricks!’ The guards of the Children of Israel saw them in a bad state when they said, ‘Do not reduce your bricks, each day’s quota on that day!’ They encountered Moses and Aaron standing opposite them, as they left Pharaoh’s presence. They said to them, ‘May Hashem look upon you and judge, for you have made our very scent abhorrent in the eyes of Pharaoh and the eyes of his servants, to place a sword in their hands to murder us!’”

Moshe was so affected by the plight of the people that he turned to G-d and said, “My Lord, why have You harmed these people, why have You sent me? From the time I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name he harmed this people, but You did not rescue Your people.”

Now the people are saying, after leaving the horrible oppressive slavery they endured, “We ate in Egypt freely.” How could they say this?

Can we envision the Holocaust survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto saying, “Send us back to the Warsaw Ghetto, we enjoyed our time there!”? Even though, as Lucy Dawidowicz writes in her epic book: The War Against the Jews 1933-1945, “The stabilizing effect of the family showed up in the statistics. Divorces ceased, but all ghettos recorded a rash of marriages… Tenderness and affection supplanted passion.” “In the ghettos most Jews felt a strong sense of Jewish identity, of belonging, of readiness to share Jewish fate. The proverb, ‘What will befall all Jews, will befall each Jew’ assumed new relevance.” Even still, no one could ever say that the people would choose to relive that time.


The great Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch obm, leader of the Orthodox community in Germany in the mid-1800’s, wrote on Beha’Alotecha, Chapter 11:1 “While Moses greeted the guidance of G-d, even when it led through wilderness and deserts, now and for all future time, with complete disinterested devotion, in happily being at one with the Will of G-d, and thereby proclaimed the point of view in life and the feelings which should be the common possession of every member of the whole nation, the people were far away from such spiritual perfection. Conversely, the “people” were as if mourning over themselves. The cloud of G-d over them and the Ark of His Covenant with them only made them feel cut off from the rest of the world and its requirements for living. The whole unique connection with G-d which they received in its place, the proximity of G-d, the Sanctuary of G-d in their midst, their mission, their G-d-promised destiny, all [seemingly] offered them no compensation, remained worthless and without meaning in their eyes, had not yet become to them a higher, fuller, happier life.”

In other words, the mission, elucidated in Shemos Chapter 19:6, “You will be to Me a kingdom of ministers and a holy nation.” This was our charge as a people, as we stood at Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments and the whole of Torah. This powerful mission of the Jewish people to be “a light to the nations” made the people wary of being distinct and separate from the rest of society, wary of being an inspiration for holiness and sanctity.

We must all remember that we have the G-d given, soulful ability to realize this mission joyfully, and with passion, continue to bring humanity closer to their “perfected state.”

In closing, from Hayom Yom, “It is imperative that every Jew know that he is an emissary of the Master of all, charged with the mission -wherever he may be- of bringing into reality G-d’s will and intention in creating the universe, namely, to illuminate the world with the light of the Torah and avoda. This is done through performing practical mitzvot and implanting in oneself fine character traits.”

Have a beautiful Shabbos,

Rabbi Levitin

Here's My Story - Dr. Shechtman

Dear Friend, 

I am pleased to send you this week’s (Nasso) edition of Here’s My Story

Dr. Gedalya Shechtman is the United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs’ Chief Consultant for Primary Care Services. He was interviewed in the My Encounter studio in February of 2016.


Black and White:

Warm wishes for a good Shabbos, 
Rabbi Levitin

“As One Man, With One Heart”

He was the Manager at the Rainier Bank Branch in the University District (remember Rainier Bank?). His name was Duane. It was 1980; I remember it well as we often discussed the political situation that was going on at the time (Candidate Ronald Reagan and Candidate Howard Baker). Duane was a staunch Republican and supported Candidate Baker.

Duane helped us to facilitate a $40,000 line of credit, which was to be paid back in six months. A week before the loan was due; Duane said to me, “I hope you will have my $40,000 next week!”

I looked at him and was tempted to say, “Your $40,000? I thought it came from the bank!”

I controlled myself because I knew that 90 days after the repayment I would be again at his desk asking to renew the line of credit. (We met our obligation, and our relationship continued).


“As One Man, With One Heart”

We are entering the final week in our preparation for the giving and receiving of the Torah at Sinai. (The Chag of Shavuos, Sunday and Monday June 12th and 13th). In the Chumash, Parshas Yisro, Chapter 19-2, “They journeyed from Rephidim and arrived at the Wilderness of Sinai and encamped in the Wilderness; and Israel encamped there, opposite the Mountain (Mt. Sinai).” Rashi elucidates, “As Israel encamped there, as one man, with one heart.” In the Mechilta, which notes that in speaking of the encampments of the Israelites, the Torah normally uses the plural verb “and they encamped,” as it does earlier in the verse. But here, the singular verb is employed to indicate that at this encampment they were united. (commentary).

The hard question is how do we realize that kind of unity? One man, one heart.

In fact, Rashi continues, “But all other encampments were with complaints and argumentation.”


Shmita, the Sabbatical Year

Chumash (Exodus 23:10-11), “Six years you shall sow your land and youshall gather in its crop. And in the seventh you shall let it go, and leave it alone, and the destitute of your people shall eat, and the beast of the field shall eat their remnant.”

“The poor eat the fruits of the seventh year without tithing.” (Rashi) Commentary from Reb Shimshon Raphael Hirsch states, “The law of not tithing the produce of the seventh year applies to every Jew, not only the poor. The Torah uses the example of the poor because of the great change which comes about in their lives in the seventh year. During all other years, they must beg for their food from others, but during the seventh year they eat of the ownerless produce asequals to all others.”

In the Laws of the Sabbatical and Jubilee Years, the Rambam lists 22 Mitzvots. Among them:

  • “That the earth should rest in the seventh year from all labor performed because of it
  • not to perform agricultural work during this year
  • not to perform work with trees during this year
  • not to harvest produce that grows on its own in an ordinary manner
  • not to harvest grapes in an ordinary manner
  • to give up ownership of all the produce of the earth

Chapter 4, Halacha 24, Rambam continues, “It is a positive commandment to divest oneself from everything that the land produces in the Sabbatical year, as [Exodus 23:11] states: “In the seventh year, you shall leave it untended and unharvested.” Anyone who locks his vineyard or fences off his field in the Sabbatical year has nullified a positive commandment. This also holds true if he gathered all his produce into his home. Instead, he should leave everythingownerlessThus everyone has equal rights in every place, “And the poor of your people shall partake of it.” One may bring a small amount into one’s home, just as one brings from ownerless property.” 

Now let’s step back and analyze this a bit.

Envision, if you will, someone who has thousand of acres of land, has invested enormous resources into developing it into a fertile and lucrative property. The person’s pride of ownership and feelings of success are surely tied into the fruits of his labor. Then the Sabbatical years comes along. All of those fruits must be willingly shared with all. He must “rub shoulders” with the poor, and others with whom he is not usually acquainted socially, he is not allowed to lock his gates or refuse entry to his lands. Suddenly the inequality that permeates society is thrust into reality, shouldn’t ones empathy and humility be sharpened by this great mitzvot?

The Shmita Laws were learned in last week’s Parsha Behar, during the preparatory days before the receiving of Torah, inculcating the Shmita message in all of us. This message will assist us in becoming “one man with one heart.”

In closing, this thought: “In the days of the Alter Rebbe the Chassidim had a familiar saying: ‘The piece of bread that I have is yours just as it is mine.’ And they would say the word “yours” first, “yours just as it is mine.” (Hayom Yom 15 Iyar).

Together may we embrace the seventh year concept in our interpersonal relationships and march together in unity to receive the Torah at Sinai.

Have a good Shabbos

Rabbi Levitin

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