17/18 June: Beha’alotecha : Shabbat comes in 9:06 pm, ends 10:27 pm
Parashat B’ha’alotecha: El Na R’fa Na Lah (Please, God, Please Heal Her)
Parashat B’ha’alotecha (‘When You Arise’) includes the story of Miriam’s illness,
which is a result of her speaking ill regarding Moses’s wife (though the text does not tell us
what Miriam’s criticism was, or indeed, if she was criticising the wife or Moses himself). As a
result of this illness, Moses turns to the Divine and utters a five-word prayer, translating
roughly to: Please, God; please heal her. It’s heartfelt and powerful, perhaps even more so
in the Hebrew, in which the monosyllabism is unusual.
This theme of falling from leadership, healing, and returning also plays out in the
Haftarah. In this section of the Book of Zechariah, the Israelites are readying themselves to
return to service in the rebuilt Temple, after returning from the Babylonian Exile. The prophet
describes a vision of a heavenly courtroom, arguing about the place of Joshua, the man in
line to be the High Priest. Standing as an accuser against Joshua is Satan. Another angel
stands at Joshua’s defence, and Joshua is clothed in filthy garments.
The argument of Satan seems to be this: Joshua is unfit to serve as High Priest,
because he is covered in sin (represented by the filthy garments). In response to this
argument, the Divine says: ‘Is this one not a brand plucked from fire?’ Joshua, the Divine
seems to be arguing, was brought here out of Babylonian exile, a place of oppression and
abuse. The angels then help Joshua to change into clean clothing, and the Holy One tells
Joshua that if he follows in God’s ways, Joshua will be able to serve in the Temple.
This is a fascinating story in the middle of a series of strange visions. Like Miriam,
Joshua is defended and argued for, and is able to move on from the wrongdoings that had
previously trapped him. It turns out that who we were in the past, the wrongdoings of our
histories, can be moved on from. We do not need to remain trapped there. But it takes work.
It takes t’shuvah. And it also takes understanding, learning, and growing.
These times have only gotten stranger as of late. We are reckoning with a history that might be akin to filthy garments that we are clothed in: a history of slavery, oppression, and prejudice, which has resulted in a modern society that is not fair and equitable for all. It’s up to us to remove those garments together. But in order to do so, we must first acknowledge that we are wearing them.
El na, r’fa na lah. Please, God, help us to heal our world.