|First Love of the First Journey|
|Annual Reading Cycle|
Parashat B'Ha'alot'cha, Numbers 8:1-12:16
by Julia Blum, Jerusalem
As we enter Parashat B'Ha'alot'cha, in the very first verses we see Aaron the High Priest, who is arranging seven lamps (hence the name of this portion: B'Ha'alot'cha – when you light the lamps). "Aharon did this: he lit its lamps so as to give light in front of the menorah, as ADONAI had ordered Moshe" (Num. 8:3). A High Priest with seven lamps? It's almost impossible not to think of "The One ... who walks among the seven gold menorahs" in the second chapter of the book of Revelation (Rev. 2:1). Yes, there is an obvious upgrade, from seven lamps – one menorah – in Numbers, to seven lampstands – seven menorahs – in Revelation; but after all, Yeshua is also an upgrade of the High Priest, isn't He? For me, there is no doubt that this first scene from B'Ha'alot'cha is a type and symbol of the scene in the book of Revelation; therefore, the message we find in Revelation might be a key to our scene from Numbers as well. This is our blessing as Messianic believers: since we do know the sequel and the end of the book, so many episodes in the Tanach which remain vague and unclear for our brothers who don't know Yeshua, are perfectly readable and clear for us.
So let us have a close look at the message of Yeshua in Revelation, 2 – this amazing chapter where He is calling Himself, "the One walking in the midst of seven lampstands." After many good words He is saying to the believers in Ephesus, only one reproach is found here: "I have this against you, that you have left your first love." Here is the key to our portion: the one walking in the midst of the lampstands has to remind his people about their first love. Do we find this theme in this week's Torah portion?
It definitely doesn't seem so at the first glance. We find here stories about grumbling and rebellion of the people (again!); we find a description of their preparation for the journey; we find a report on how they set off again – but there is nothing about first love here. Or, is there?
The tabernacle was set up in the last chapter of Exodus; "On the first day of the first month of the second year, the tabernacle was set up" (Ex. 40:17). The book of Numbers starts, "On the first day of the second month of the second year after they had left the land of Egypt" (Num. 1:1). All the events of the whole book of Leviticus –VaYikra –happened between these two days. And what is happening in this book? I would like to quote my own commentary to Parashat Vaikra: "Yes, there will be more action and more events later, in Numbers and Deuteronomy, but for now, we have to stop, to listen silently to God and to learn from Him to sacrifice. To go through VaYikra. To go through sacrifice. In Hebrew, the root karav – the one from which the words lehakriv, to sacrifice, and korban, sacrifice, are formed – is the same very root that forms the word lehitkarev – to come near, to draw near, to come closer. Yes, it is that simple: if you want lehitkarev leElohim, to come closer to God, you must lehakriv, go through korban, sacrifice. And only when we learn to sacrifice does the real closeness, the real intimacy with God come. God stops us, because He wants us closer to Himself. He wants us lehakriv – and by doing that, lehitkarev.
An expressive and graphic picture of this new closeness with the Lord is found in the book of Numbers, precisely in our chapter. We know that from the very moment they left Egypt the Lord had been leading them, and He had been leading them by going before them: "And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night" (Ex. 13:21). But something is distinctively different in the camp now. Now, after VaYikra and sacrifices, "It came to pass on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, that the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle of the Testimony. . . . So they set out on their first journey, in keeping with ADONAI's order through Moshe" (Num.10:11, 13). Can you see the difference? For the first time, the presence and guidance of the Lord was from within: before the tabernacle, the Lord had been going before them to show the way; from now on, the Israelites had to turn inside, to the center of the camp in order to know where to go.
This difference is huge in our walk with the Lord. We all love it when God goes before us, when He opens doors that we are supposed to enter, and closes doors that we are not to enter, when by open or closed doors we recognize His will. We all love it, and for the first part of our walk with the Lord, He usually leads and guides us in this way. But then inevitably the moment comes when everything changes. God takes you through sacrifices, as in Vayikra. And then, not only you will never be the same, but your walk with the Lord will never be the same either. From now on, He will not go before you – His guidance will be from within. From within your heart. Of course, He is still the One who opens the doors, however, not by open or closed doors you will know His will, but you will first know His will in His heart, and then the doors will be open and closed according to this will.
And for me, the most amazing thing here is that this journey is called their "first journey." Can you imagine? They had been travelling for a year already – but only now, after the Lord started to guide them from within, the Word calls it "first journey." We all know that the Lord had been leading and guiding and protecting us even before we came to know Him; but it's only when He made His dwelling inside of us that our "first journey" began.
Now we can get back to the first love mentioned in Revelation 2. The Lord shows us here clearly that only if His presence is within us, only if we have to turn inside to look at Him, only if we seek His guidance within our hearts, only then it's called first love. From now on, it should always be like this with Israel. You have probably seen the pictures where the camp of Israel is depicted according to the placing of each tribe. What is the shape of the camp? A cross – and the Tent is in the middle – and His presence is there. And this is the way it should be with us – cross, and His presence is in the center, and He is guiding us from within our hearts. This is the first journey of first love, when the presence of the Lord is within us. Our portion started with the High Priest walking in the midst of seven lamps, and his message to his people was: don't leave the first love of the first journey! Don't leave your first love of your first journey – this is the message of Parashat B'Ha'alot'cha.