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Sources of Strength in Parashat Beha’alotcha with Dr. David Frankel

This week’s parashat Beha’alotcha holds a relevant and meaningful passage, uttered by Moses:  Rise, O Lord, and may your enemies flee and be scattered. The passage signifies military might.

Dr. David Frankel reminds us that in synagogue liturgy this verse is followed by another passage from the Book of Isaiah, in which Isaiah expressed a universalist vision for the end of days: Let us go up to the mountain of God, let us hear the word of God. For from Zion goes forth goes teaching and the world of the Lord of Jerusalem.

It is from these contrasting passages that an important message about Jerusalem emerges.

Read the article below:

In this week’s parasha, Parashat Beha’alotcha, we find the famous verse: Rise, O Lord, and may your enemies flee and and be scattered.

This verse was said by Moses as the Ark of the Covenant was lifted. This verse is also well known to synagogue goers because we say this passage every time we take the Torah out of the ark in the synagogue; and the verse is given it a new context when it is applied  to the entire synagogue liturgy.

What is striking about the way we recite this verse in the synagogue liturgy is that it is connected immediately to a second verse from a totally different passage. It is connected to the book of Isaiah. The famous prophecy of the end of days where the nations will want to come to Jerusalem and they will say: Let us go up to the mountain of God, let us hear the word of God. For from Zion goes forth teaching and the world of the Lord of Jerusalem.

So, the question is, why did the rabbis who formed the synagogue liturgy place these two totally separate passages together for us to read every time we take the Torah scroll out of the ark? They are so different.

The verse that we read in the parasha is one of a military nature: Rise, O Lord, and may your enemies flee and be scattered. And then we cite the verse from Isaiah which talks about how people from nations of the world will come to Jerusalem to hear God’s teachings.

Why the connection?

I think the message is very significant , because it teaches us something important about Jerusalem, the center of Torah in the Jewish tradition.

We had just celebrated Jerusalem Day, and what is the symbol of this day? For many people its symbolism  is summed up to a greater extent in the first passage: Rise, O Lord, and may your enemies flee and be scattered. 

Jerusalem is our strength, our citadel, our stronghold necessary for us to defeat our enemies, to be strong and centered and therefore it is a source  of national strength.

But the rabbis teach us, that is not enough. We also have to combine this with a vision of Jerusalem that is universal. Jerusalem not only as a source of national strength but also as a source of inspiration for everyone. Of international significance. One that reflects values that will attract even our enemies, ultimately one day, to want to come and join us.

And so, we have both: the national and the international. Both physical strength and spiritual strength, and together they make up what Jerusalem Day can and should be.

David Frankel is Associate Professor of Bible at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. He has been on the faculty since 1992. He earned his PhD from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the direction of Prof. Moshe Weinfeld. His publications include “The Murmuring Stories of the Priestly School,” and “The Land of Canaan and the Destiny of Israel.”  From 1991 to 1996, Frankel was rabbi of Congregation Shevet Achim in Gilo, Jerusalem.

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