BehaalotchaDivrei Torah Blogs

Behaalotcha 5767 — The Torah of Motorcycles

07_2006_ranch_008 “And it came to pass on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, that the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle of the Testimony. And the people of Israel took their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai.”


This week’s Torah reading, Behaalotcha, recalls the time the Israelites wandered around the Sinai desert.

I too have spent some time wandering around a desert recently. “And it came to pass on the 28th day of the fifth month, in the 2007th year, that the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle of the recreation vehicle. And the tribe of Leff took their journeys out of the wilderness of El Paso.”

OK, maybe it’s not quite as momentous. Over the long weekend I was wandering a very different desert than the Sinai—the desert around El Paso, Texas, where I was visiting with my brother Bill and his two sons, (his two daughters are off other parts of the state). While our ancestors wandered the desert on foot and with donkeys, I was wandering the desert on a motorcycle and flying over it in a small plane.

There is a Chasidic teaching that says you can learn something from anything; for example we learn from the telegraph that every word is counted and billed; from the train that because of one minute you can be late for everything (a lesson that was also repeated for me this weekend, as I missed a connecting flight by less than one minute – they were just pulling the jetway away from the door as I arrived, and I had to spend the night in Houston); from the telephone we learn that what is said here is heard there. It occurred to me that there is a lot we can learn from riding a motorcycle in the desert as well – there’s a lot of “Torah,” instruction in life, out in the desert.

The first lesson we received when we got out into the desert is that it’s a good thing to have shelter. We arrived at Hunt’s Hole, New Mexico in my brother’s RV with 3 motorcycles in the trailer behind, and just as we pulled up a thunderstorm moved by, winds were blowing fiercely, there was dust everywhere one minute, blowing in our eyes, and rain the next. We were glad we had a comfortable RV in which to take shelter.

Life is like that too – one minute everything can seem OK, the next minute all hell breaks loose, and it’s good to have a shelter. For most of us that shelter is home, and the holiday of Sukkot reminds us that the important ingredients of home – like the RV – are portable.

Once the storm blew past and we got out riding, there were large parts of the road where the wind had blown sand across the road. And I discovered that the soft parts can be much more treacherous than the hard parts. I found it much harder to ride on sand than to ride even on moderate sized rocks. Maybe life can be like that too – maybe we can get bogged down in the soft spots. It can be hard to make progress sometimes in a place where everything is too soft and easy. We often seem to make more progress spiritually, emotionally, and even physically when things are a little “hard.” The rabbis say that God tested Abraham ten times; and not only that, God tests all of us on a pretty regular basis. Maybe the testing is really for our own good.

My nephew Joey went off exploring on his own a little bit, and rode down a very steep section that was alternately rocky and sandy – and then couldn’t get back up to the road. We learn from Joey’s experience that it is entirely possible to get yourself into a situation you cannot get yourself out of. It took three of us working together as a team, my brother on the throttle, me pulling on the front wheel, Joey pushing from the back, to get the motorcycle back up. Not only do we learn that you can get yourself into situations you can’t get yourself out of, but we learn that with help we can get out of situations that we can’t get out of ourselves. There is actually a similar message found in this week’s Torah portion. Moses successfully got the Jewish people out of Egypt and into the desert. But once there, he had trouble managing them.

The people complained about the food – they didn’t like the mannah, they longed for the “fleshpots” of Egypt – a poetic translation, meaning they really missed the beef stew – and Moses didn’t know what to do. He complained to God, “I am not able to carry all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. And if you deal thus with me, kill me, I pray you, at once, if I have found favor in your sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.” Moses was so depressed over having to lead this unruly bunch on his own he was rendered incapable of action; he was so depressed he was suicidal. God’s reply was “get some help.” God tells Moses to gather 70 men of the elders of Israel to help him out.

Similarly, there’s a story in the Talmud about Rabbi Yochanan. Rabbi Yochanan was a gifted healer. He would visit sick friends, and after visiting and talking about their physical and spiritual condition, he would extend a hand and heal them. But when he fell ill, he couldn’t heal himself – he needed a friend to give him a hand.

After our ride we got back to the RV and were ready for some dinner. We were reminded of the value of being prepared – my brother’s well stocked RV, with a tool for every possible problem on a motorcycle, did not have a corkscrew. The Torah also teaches us a lesson about being prepared – when Jacob was preparing to meet up with his brother Esau, he didn’t know what to expect. Last time he had seen Esau, Esau wanted to kill him. So he made preparations – dividing his camp in two, sending gifts, praying.

Our missing corkscrew also taught us that if you failed to prepare properly you should be ready to improvise – by pushing the cork into the bottle we were still able to enjoy wine with our kosher hot dogs (don’t ask what kind of wine goes with kosher hot dogs…). Just as Abraham had to improvise and hastily put together a meal when three unexpected visitors showed up on his doorstep.

As we were riding in the RV on the dirt road heading back out toward the highway, we received one further lesson. We were driving along this stretch of desert road and I saw a car that looked like it was parked at a weird angle to the road – I commented out loud, “what a lousy parking job!” When we got closer we discovered it was not exactly a lousy parking job, unless you consider having a Jeep stuck on top of a big pile of sand with its wheels buried to the hubs a lousy parking job. Someone had tried to drive over a big sand berm to get to a little dirt track, and he didn’t make it. No one was in sight. Joey said “I bet we see someone walking toward the road before long,” and sure enough about a mile down the road was a guy walking by himself. He was indeed the owner of the Jeep and he was hoping someone would come by who could pull him out. He sheepishly explained that he was in the Marine Corps Reserves, and the Humvees they drive would easily have gotten over the sand. There’s one little lesson right there – a Jeep Wrangler is not a Humvee.

But the real lesson is obvious – the desert can be a dangerous place to wander off alone. He had no shelter, no supplies, and no way to dig his vehicle out by himself. We learn this from the Bible as well – generally people don’t go wandering off into the desert alone, they go in teams, as when Joshua needs intelligence on the city of Jericho, he doesn’t send anyone off across the desert alone, instead he sends a pair of spies so they can help each other. Life is like this too – we can get ourselves into dangerous territory emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. It is important to have friends who can dig you out when you get stuck in the sand.

You shouldn’t count on it, but sometimes God protects people who are foolishly innocent, and sends angels to help them. Just like the angels who showed up when Hagar was in the desert despairing for her son Ishmael, Bill, Joey, and I showed up and we were the angels that helped a stranger get his Jeep back on the road. We also learned being an angel is not an easy job. The three of us were pretty tired after a long day of riding in the RV, riding motorcycles, dealing with our own situations, when we were called on to dig this guy out. And out in the desert – which we know from our earlier lessons is a dangerous place – it was inconceivable for us to drive past and ignore a fellow human who was wandering alone.

That little episode is a reminder that we are God’s angels. It’s like the story about the guy who is caught in a flood. He’s a very pious man, gives a lot to charity, prays all the time, he’s sure he’s on God’s good side. So as the waters are rising he’s praying fervently. A boat comes along and the operator says “hop in!” Our hero says, “no, it’s OK, God will save me.” The boat speeds off. The waters continue to rise. A helicopter comes along and offers to carry him to safety. He says “no, it’s OK, I’m here praying, God will take care of me.” The flood waters continue to rise, and the man is swept away to his death. When he comes before God, he complains, “God, why did you let me drown? I’ve always been a good person, I pray to You all the time, I give charity, why didn’t You save me?” And God says “you didn’t like My boat? What was wrong with My helicopter?”

Angels are real – and every day, you have an opportunity to be an angel for someone else.

The last lesson of the day was when the stranger tried to offer us some money for helping him out. Of course we turned him down. My brother said “what’s $40 going to do for me? I’d rather have the ‘karma dollars.’” Karma dollars – there’s an interesting concept – do something nice for someone else, and maybe someone will do something nice for you. Store up universal good will in a celestial bank account. But in a way, even karma dollars are a reward; better still to just do the good deed because it’s the right thing to do and remember the teaching mitzvah g’rerah mitzvah, the reward for a mitzvah is you get to do another mitzvah.

And one further lesson from my outing to the desert – when I was in the middle of receiving all of these lessons on the back of a motorcycle, riding in a RV, pushing a Jeep out of a pile of sand, I wasn’t aware of any of these lessons as such. To learn the lessons of life we need some time for reflection as well. Maybe that’s why Moses had to spend 40 days and nights at the top of the mountain to receive the Torah – he needed the time for reflection. As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” But I would say it’s also good to get out there and do a lot of things as well…after all, is an uninteresting life worth examining?

Shabbat Shalom

Reb Barry

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

One thought on “Behaalotcha 5767 — The Torah of Motorcycles

  • ahmedinajad

    READ THE FOLLOWING PASSAGES FROM THE BIBLE AS IT HAS IMPLICATIONS ON THE WAR AGAINST TERROR/ISLAM and the claim of Israel that god gave them the land. If the child is an infant than the Judeo-Christian version becomes null and void and we are wasting our time and resources i.e. we could save trillions of dollars and create a more peaceful world rather than fighting against Islam the religion of Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).

    The COVENANT with Abraham and his DESCENDANTS is central to JUDAISM/CHRISTIANITY/ISLAM.

    Please note this is not a competition between faiths but an attempt to decipher fact from fiction.

    Genesis 21:14 Contemporary English version se below link;&version=46;

    Early the next morning Abraham gave Hagar an animal skin full of water and some bread. Then he put the boy on her shoulder and sent them away.

    GENESIS 16:16
    And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ish’mael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ish’mael to Abram.

    GENESIS 21:5
    Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

    At Genesis 22 Abraham had only 2 sons others came later. The Quran mentions that it was Ishmael that was sacrificed hence the reference in genesis 22:2 your only son can only mean someone has substituted Ishmael names for Isaac!!

    NOT ROMAN NUMERALS (I, II, III,IV,V,VI,VII,VIII,IX,X) NB no concept of zero in roman numerals.

    100 years old – 86 years old = 14 ADD 3 YEARS FOR ISSAC’S WEANING


    Carefully read several times the above passage and then tell me the mental picture you get between the mother child interactions what is the age of the child. If the mental picture is that of a 17 year old child being carried on the shoulder of his mother, being physically placed in the bush, crying like a baby, mother having to give him water to drink, than the Islamic viewpoint is null and void. Why is there no verbal communications between mother and (17 YEAR OLD) child?

    GENESIS: 21:14 – 21
    So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the (17 YEAR OLD) child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the (17 YEAR OLD) child under one of the bushes. Then she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Let me not look upon the death of the (17 YEAR OLD) child.” And as she sat over against him, the (17 YEAR OLD) child lifted up his voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the (17 YEAR OLD) lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not; for God has heard the voice of the (17 YEAR OLD) lad where he is. Arise, lift up the (17 YEAR OLD) lad, and hold him fast with your hand; for I will make him a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the (17 YEAR OLD) lad a drink. And God was with the (17 YEAR OLD) lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

    The age of Ishmael at this stage is crucial to the Abrahamic faiths. If he is 17 than the JUDEO/CHRISTIAN point of view about the Abrahamic covenant is correct. This has devastating theological consequences of unimaginable proportions.

    This makes the conflict between Ishmael and Isaac and there descendants a work of fiction. I would strongly suggest it is clear cut case of racial discrimination and nothing to do with god almighty. The scribes have deliberately tried to make Isaac the only son and legitimate heir to the throne of Abraham??

    Please can you rationally explain this anomaly?

    I have asked many persons including my nephews and nieces – unbiased minds with no religious backgrounds but with reasonable command of the English language about this passage and they all agree that the child in the passage is an infant.

    For background info on the future religion of mankind see the following websites:





    HOLY QURAN CHAPTER 37 verses 101 – 122

    101. So We gave him the good news of a boy ready to suffer and forbear.

    102. Then, when (the son) reached (the age of) (serious) work with him, he said: “O my son! I see in vision that I offer thee in sacrifice: Now see what is thy view!” (The son) said: “O my father! Do as thou art commanded: thou will find me, if Allah so wills one practising Patience and Constancy!”

    103. So when they had both submitted their wills (to Allah., and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (for sacrifice),

    104. We called out to him “O Abraham!

    105. “Thou hast already fulfilled the vision!” – thus indeed do We reward those who do right.

    106. For this was obviously a trial-

    107. And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice:

    108. And We left (this blessing) for him among generations (to come) in later times:

    109. “Peace and salutation to Abraham!”

    110. Thus indeed do We reward those who do right.

    111. For he was one of our believing Servants.

    112. And We gave him the good news of Isaac – a prophet,- one of the Righteous.

    113. We blessed him and Isaac: but of their progeny are (some) that do right, and (some) that obviously do wrong, to their own souls.

    114. Again (of old) We bestowed Our favour on Moses and Aaron,

    115. And We delivered them and their people from (their) Great Calamity;

    116. And We helped them, so they overcame (their troubles);

    117. And We gave them the Book which helps to make things clear;

    118. And We guided them to the Straight Way.

    119. And We left (this blessing) for them among generations (to come) in later times:

    120. “Peace and salutation to Moses and Aaron!”

    121. Thus indeed do We reward those who do right.

    122. For they were two of our believing Servants.

    Therefore the claim that god gave the land to Israel is destroyed without the need of any WMD’s.

    Volume 4, Book 55, Number 583:

    Narrated Ibn Abbas:

    The first lady to use a girdle was the mother of Ishmael. She used a girdle so that she might hide her tracks from Sarah. Abraham brought her and her son Ishmael while she was suckling him, to a place near the Ka’ba under a tree on the spot of Zam-zam, at the highest place in the mosque. During those days there was nobody in Mecca, nor was there any water So he made them sit over there and placed near them a leather bag containing some dates, and a small water-skin containing some water, and set out homeward. Ishmael’s mother followed him saying, “O Abraham! Where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is no person whose company we may enjoy, nor is there anything (to enjoy)?” She repeated that to him many times, but he did not look back at her Then she asked him, “Has Allah ordered you to do so?” He said, “Yes.” She said, “Then He will not neglect us,” and returned while Abraham proceeded onwards, and on reaching the Thaniya where they could not see him, he faced the Ka’ba, and raising both hands, invoked Allah saying the following prayers:
    ‘O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Your Sacred House (Kaba at Mecca) in order, O our Lord, that they may offer prayer perfectly. So fill some hearts among men with love towards them, and (O Allah) provide them with fruits, so that they may give thanks.’ (14.37) Ishmael’s mother went on suckling Ishmael and drinking from the water (she had).
    When the water in the water-skin had all been used up, she became thirsty and her child also became thirsty. She started looking at him (i.e. Ishmael) tossing in agony; She left him, for she could not endure looking at him, and found that the mountain of Safa was the nearest mountain to her on that land. She stood on it and started looking at the valley keenly so that she might see somebody, but she could not see anybody. Then she descended from Safa and when she reached the valley, she tucked up her robe and ran in the valley like a person in distress and trouble, till she crossed the valley and reached the Marwa mountain where she stood and started looking, expecting to see somebody, but she could not see anybody. She repeated that (running between Safa and Marwa) seven times.”
    The Prophet said, “This is the source of the tradition of the walking of people between them (i.e. Safa and Marwa). When she reached the Marwa (for the last time) she heard a voice and she asked herself to be quiet and listened attentively. She heard the voice again and said, ‘O, (whoever you may be)! You have made me hear your voice; have you got something to help me?” And behold! She saw an angel at the place of Zam-zam, digging the earth with his heel (or his wing), till water flowed from that place. She started to make something like a basin around it, using her hand in this way, and started filling her water-skin with water with her hands, and the water was flowing out after she had scooped some of it.”
    The Prophet added, “May Allah bestow Mercy on Ishmael’s mother! Had she let the Zam-zam (flow without trying to control it) (or had she not scooped from that water) (to fill her water-skin), Zam-zam would have been a stream flowing on the surface of the earth.” The Prophet further added, “Then she drank (water) and suckled her child. The angel said to her, ‘Don’t be afraid of being neglected, for this is the House of Allah which will be built by this boy and his father, and Allah never neglects His people.’ The House (i.e. Kaba) at that time was on a high place resembling a hillock, and when torrents came, they flowed to its right and left. She lived in that way till some people from the tribe of Jurhum or a family from Jurhum passed by her and her child, as they (i.e. the Jurhum people) were coming through the way of Kada’. They landed in the lower part of Mecca where they saw a bird that had the habit of flying around water and not leaving it. They said, ‘This bird must be flying around water, though we know that there is no water in this valley.’ They sent one or two messengers who discovered the source of water, and returned to inform them of the water. So, they all came (towards the water).” The Prophet added, “Ishmael’s mother was sitting near the water. They asked her, ‘Do you allow us to stay with you?” She replied, ‘Yes, but you will have no right to possess the water.’ They agreed to that.” The Prophet further said, “Ishmael’s mother was pleased with the whole situation as she used to love to enjoy the company of the people. So, they settled there, and later on they sent for their families who came and settled with them so that some families became permanent residents there. The child (i.e. Ishmael) grew up and learnt Arabic from them and (his virtues) caused them to love and admire him as he grew up, and when he reached the age of puberty they made him marry a woman from amongst them.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *