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 Parshat Beha'alotcha and Name Recognition

 by Rabbi Kalman Topp

One does not need to be an expert in psychology to understand that part of the human condition is to want your name recognized. One of the worst feelings in the world is to feel anonymous. When a person mentions our name in a speech, we often walk over to the person afterwards and express our appreciation for the "shout-out." How does a person live in a way that will cause his or her name to be remembered by others? The answer to this question can be found by comparing a section that appears in our Parsha with a very similar episode later in Chumash.

After the first Pesach celebration in the wilderness, several individuals come forward to Moshe to express their disappointment that they weren't able to participate. They had been ritually defiled due to their involvement in the burial of a corpse. They declare to Moshe "lamah nigara"-why should we be diminished and miss this important mitzvah of Pesach? Moshe is unsure how to respond and presents the question directly to God who accommodates their desire by allowing them to offer a "Pesach Sheini" a month later.  

A similar event occurs later in Parshat Pinchas when the daughters of Tzlophchad are concerned that they will not be receiving a portion in the Land due to the fact that there were no sons. They declare to Moshe "lamah yigara shem avinu" -why should our father be diminished and not have a share in the land? Moshe is unsure how to respond and presents the question directly to God who again accommodates the request, giving the daughters their rightful share in the new land.  

The episodes are very similar-"lamah nigara," Moshe's uncertainty, presentation of question to God etc. - with one significant difference. In the case of Pesach Sheini, the individuals who come forward are anonymous. We never learn their names. In the case of the Bnot Tzlophchad, however, the Torah goes out of its way to tell us: "These are the names of his daughters: Machlah, Noa, Choglah, Milkah and Tirzah." Why the difference?    

The answer is that while those who were ritually defiled acted admirably by wanting to fulfill the Pesach, their claim was "lamah nigara," why should we lose out? They were concerned about themselves and therefore they remain anonymous. The Bnot Tzlophchad, in contrast, not only desired to fulfill a mitzvah, but also their claim was "Lamah yigara shem avinu", why should our father lose out? They were not concerned about themselves but rather about their father and family. Since they were concerned about others, their names are memorialized for perpetuity.

How do we create a name for ourselves in this world? The paradox of human existence is that the more we dedicate ourselves selflessly to family, friends and community, the greater we become. The daughters of Tzlophchad receive the ultimate shout-out and create a lasting legacy because they understood this lesson.  

We gather together this Shabbat to express our profound appreciation to Rabbi Marc and Jackie Mandel for their extraordinary dedication to our Beth Jacob community. With great humility and charm, Rabbi Mandel has tirelessly served our community with a selfless attitude that has always been about helping, strengthening, comforting, teaching and inspiring others. The Mandels and their good deeds will indeed always be remembered and sorely missed. Personally, it has been an honor to partner with Rabbi Mandel and I have learned much from him. Our loss is Touro Synagogue and Newport's gain. We wish Rabbi Mandel, Jackie and their family much success and happiness. We look forward to visiting soon!    

Shabbat starts Friday: 5:01PM
Shabbat ends Saturday: 6:02PM
Thu, January 26 2023 4 Shevat 5783