THE PALACE IS ON FIRE -- B'HA'ALOT'CHA
By RABBI DR. RAYMOND APPLE
Aaron the kohen gadol was responsible for maintaining the Tabernacle lights. He was also the supreme diplomat who brought conflicts to a close by creating love and harmony amongst people who had ill feelings towards each other.
Pir’kei Avot praises Aaron for loving people and bringing them near to the Torah (1:12). Aaron had two options – to bring the people to the Torah or to bring the Torah to the people.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that Aaron chose the first option. He went out to the people and discovered that some had become distanced from Judaism. Having found them, he exerted himself to bring them to the Torah. He could have taken the Torah to them – but this meant compromising the Torah and adapting it to the inappropriate way of thinking and living of those who were afar.
THE PALACE IS ON FIRE
When we read Parashat B’ha’alot’cha we recall how important light is in religious thinking, beginning with the verse, "Let there be light!" (Gen. 1:3). There are several versions of a Midrash that says a traveller saw a palace on fire and wondered if anyone was in charge. The owner of the palace looked out and said, “I am the Master of the palace!”
Some versions say it was a tower, not a palace; some say it was lit up, not burning; some say that the person who spoke out was the caretaker, not the owner. What really matters is the idea that the world, even if it is in a poor state, is not "hefker", forsaken and abandoned to its fate.
On one level the story indicates that G[-]d remains in charge even if human beings try to dislodge Him from Creation and think they can manage on their own. If this is the message, it is up to the human beings who have a sense of responsibility to make the world once more worthy of its Maker.
CLEANSING THE LEADERS
Why did G[-]d tell Moses to cleanse the Levites (Num. 8:5-6)?
Because anyone who has a communal responsibility has to be physically and morally clean. In our age we see leaders who may be physically clean but at the same time morally corrupt, and we wonder if things could ever have been so bad before. Wondering like that is not a new thing. Like a neighbour who told me every year that he had never known such a cold winter, we tend to think our times are worse than anything in the past.
Yet every age cries “foul!”
Even the Bible has its times of deep depravity. Biblical-era leaders included murderers, adulterers and thieves. Samuel warned the people that this would happen but they didn’t believe him, and his warnings came true.However, having an ancient precedent doesn’t exculpate our own age or any age.Symbolic of leadership, the Levites of our era need to be cleansed. On one level this is the task of the public.
People who lack “clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:4) should not be voted into office and if they are they should be removed. If they can’t give a lead they shouldn’t be leaders. They should hear that message loud and clear from the community, and the community should have the courage to turn on them and remove them. But the problem should never go on so long. The leader should have the conscience to resign before he or she needs to be pushed.
Dr. Raymond Apple, Jerusalem, Israel
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