Home Digital Content Library “Raise Up, Lift Up, Look Up” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings
Blog post

“Raise Up, Lift Up, Look Up” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

June 9, 2023 | 20 Sivan 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat.

Raise up, lift up, look up are all actions commanded upon the Israelites as the Book of Numbers moves through its initial portions. Though the Hebrew name comes from the first words of the book, B’midbar, the English focuses our attention on counting: Numbers. In the first parashah, those who would serve to protect the people are told to “raise their heads”, in order to be recognized and to take responsibility as part of a census of the whole Israelite company of potential fighters, every male, head by head of each tribe. The language is intentional. To raise one’s head is different than raising a hand. It is a form of respect and exaltation for each person to elevate oneself upward.

Last week, the name of the portion, Nasso, drives home the same point that each person matters as they account for all those (males) from the age of thirty years up to the age of fifty, all who are subject to service, to perform tasks for the Tent of Meeting. (4:1)

This week, we are in the third portion, Beha’alotcha. The language is different but the direction remains the same. Up.

Speak to Aaron and say to him, דַּבֵּר֙ אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֔ן וְאָמַרְתָּ֖ אֵלָ֑יו
“When you lift up the lamps, בְּהַעֲלֹֽתְךָ֙ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹ֔ת
let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.” אֶל־מוּל֙ פְּנֵ֣י הַמְּנוֹרָ֔ה יָאִ֖ירוּ שִׁבְעַ֥ת הַנֵּרֽוֹת׃
(Numbers 8:2)

God has commanded Moses to speak to Aaron about the way Aaron, as High Priest, will light the lights of the menorah. It is not to kindle but rather to ascend, the movement upward matters. The 11th century commentator, Rashi, explained why: Because the flame rises upwards (עולה), an expression denoting “ascending” is used of kindling them (the lights), implying that one must kindle them until the light ascends of itself.

Aaron would take a step up to light the menorah. As he raised himself, so too did the light ascend upward. As a result, anyone gazing upon the light would have to look up as well.

Through the way these three portions commence, our tradition guides us toward an upward movement. The Israelites are in the wilderness. Their survival will depend upon their ability to raise their heads, to lift the light toward the heavens, and to look up rather than cast their gaze toward the ground.

To me, there seems to be a larger message as the people move forward. There will be much to pull them down. They will be challenged. They will encounter those who seek to destroy them. Their faith will be tested and they will feel demoralized. And yet, the motion is upward, hopeful, exalted, and full of potential.

Raise Up. Lift Up. Look Up. Though it is not easy, and the challenges have taken different forms, we travel on this journey through the wilderness of the unknown together carrying with us an underlying message of the Book of Numbers. We can ascend higher toward hope and possibility.

Spoiler Alert: We will see this idea again next week.

Shabbat Shalom!

Connect with me here. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Originally shared June 17, 2022

  • Join us at 6:00 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat  or online on ZoomFacebook Live, or stream on our website. Let’s celebrate together!
  • Tot Rock Shabbat gathers online at 5:00 p.m.
  • Torah Study gathers at 9:00 a.m. onsite or online (via  Zoom or via Temple Israel’s livestream, followed by an oneg to connect with friends and community.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher