Beha’alotcha: On Setbacks and Success

What wisdom does Parshat Beha’alotcha contain on how to view life’s setbacks and successes? 

The parsha describes Israel’s spiritual heights alongside displays of their faithlessness and bitterness. The language of going up appears several times. When Aaron “goes up” (beha’alotcha) to light the menorah, the midrash Tanhuma explains that this gesture signifies God’s exalting of us, Israel. Later, the lifting up of the cloud indicated it was time to “go up” to the land of Israel. And then come the inspiring words we say every Shabbat upon opening the Aron Kodesh, bracketed by two upside down letter “nuns”: 

“וַיְהִ֛י בִּנְסֹ֥עַ הָאָרֹ֖ן וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֑ה קוּמָ֣ה ה’…”

Yet, this theme is interrupted when Israel begins to complain bitterly, spreading negativity and leading to punishment. 

Why was the immediately preceding section bracketed by two upside down letter “nuns”? The Talmud teaches that these “nuns” signal that this section was placed here to pause between the calamities of Israel. The bitter complainers actually followed an earlier failing, when Israel ran away from God at Sinai. The pause provides optimism amidst a series of difficult setbacks. 

The letter “nun” reinforces this idea. The Talmud asks: Why in the acrostic Ashrei prayer is there no verse beginning with “nun”? One answer: the nun is the first letter in the word for the downfall of Israel in a verse from Amos, “She has fallen (naflah) and will rise no more.” Yet, the Sages taught that it should read: “She will fall no more,” a source of optimism. Failures and setbacks will occur, the question is how to overcome them. 

Beha’alotcha provides a healthy perspective: Recognize that life is filled with setbacks as well as successes, try to find points of optimism amidst failure and try to use disappointment as an opportunity and source of growth. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson

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