Torah portion notes the presence of inequalities

This week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, has several key references to prophecy, noting that Moses, the greatest of all prophets, was “exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth” (Bamidbar 12:3). In addition to prophecies, the reading also touches on equality. Specifically, inequalities exist, even among the prophets.
Digging somewhat deeper, it may be a self-evident truth that “all men are created equal” when it comes to rights, such as being treated in the same way according to the same law, regardless of their circumstances. However, it is also blatantly apparent that human beings are inherently different in their capacities and talents. They are unequal in attractiveness, intellectual aptitude, business acumen, athletic prowess and more.
Support for the idea of inherent equality can be found in a more mystical concept: That people are created in the image of God, receiving a divine soul. So, despite the fact that people don’t appear equal, there is something equal within.
But even in the spiritual department, there are marked differences in capacities. A pervading principle in Judaism is that certain people can rise above the usual human level of functioning to reach a broader consciousness. As Maimonides states in his first section of his comprehensive book of laws, “Fundamentals of Torah,” “God bestows certain individuals with prophecy.”
When defining the parameters of prophecy, Maimonides (and previously, the Talmud) elucidates the specific qualities necessary to reach this higher state — wisdom, strength, self-control, broad and accurate mental capacity, and others. Such an individual realizes that he or she is gifted and privy to certain insights unavailable to the average person, even the most intelligent.
The nature of inequality in a variety of contexts sets up situations in which certain people possess things that others need. This provides opportunities to give — whether financial assistance, relationship and business advice or emotional support. The giver-and-receiver relationship, and the virtue of choosing to give, plays out in all aspects of life.
In most cases, giving entails sacrifice, relinquishing something of value for the sake of another. This is certainly true with spending one’s time and money. Spiritual transmission too comes with some loss to the giver. We find this concept in the famous exchange between Moses and Joshua, where God says: “You shall bestow some of your majesty upon him.” Here, the transfer of “majesty,” a spiritual gift, is explained with an analogy of pouring liquid from one container to another.
Moving back to the general relationship between giver and receiver, there are those who opt to give in the most convenient and least demanding manner. In Jewish ethical works, however, it is not simply the gesture or result of giving that matters, but the attitude of the giver. Emphasis is placed on finding the most dignified path for the recipients, so that they not feel embarrassed or not be put in the uncomfortable setting of needing to ask for assistance.
Another important aspect considered is the long-term impact, the ability to give with wisdom and empathy — being able to place yourself in the other’s situation and consequently, understand the big picture. In such a case, the giver not only offers a quick and immediate solution to soothe the other’s plight, but enables the recipient to eventually become self-sustaining. When it comes to giving financially, for example, Jewish laws discuss eight paths of tzedakah (charity). The greatest level is to support someone by endowing him with a gift or loan, entering into a partnership, or finding the person employment, “in order to strengthen his hand so he will no longer need to be dependent. . .”
Similarly, there are degrees of giving when it comes to counsel or spiritual guidance. Certain guides are emotionally removed from the recipient — their advice is more like a cold diagnosis — under the guise that being involved will affect their ability to remain objective or to be effective. Often, however, this lack of empathy is more related to character. The giver may have the right answer and be willing to share it, but generosity and care are kept on a tight leash. Or, their style of service often makes the recipient feel inadequate and dependent on their guide’s expertise as they come back for more answers, yet the guide falls short of building the recipient long-term. A wise giver acts naturally, keeping things low key, and empowers a person to become independent.
Returning to Bamidbar, the opening verse focuses on the concept of lighting and lifting. On the equality front, there are those who light and lift, and those who are the recipients of being lighted and lifted. “The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Speak to Aaron and say to him when you light the lamps…” The verb behaalotecha is usually translated as “kindle” the lamps. Literally, however, it means “to lift up.”
The commentaries dealing with the literal meaning are bothered by the unusual expression — describing kindling as “lifting” — and explain the instruction to mean: “light (each candle) until the flame rises up by itself.” The Torah’s language is thus an efficient way to communicate the act of holding one candle against another. But there is also a deeper layer of meaning:
In Jewish literature, a lamp or candle is often used as a metaphor for the soul (“The candle of the Lord is the soul of man” [Proverbs 20:27].) The mystical sources further explain how the seven branches of the menorah refer to the seven general “soul types.” The instruction to light the candle conveys that the responsibility of a central Jewish guide (in this case, Aaron) is to light the soul of each person they encounter.
What does it mean to “light” someone’s soul? Simply put, when a person is lost, or going through a difficult time, the flame of the soul is constricted, buried within and barely flickering — but unable to expand. At that point, the task of the giver is to kindle the flame, see how to uplift the person so that the soul can shine openly. A higher level is to “lift the flames until they can burn on their own.”
In summary, inequality isn’t necessary a poor thing. A true leader creates other capable leaders, not blind followers. A good educator means not only being a talented orator, giving a great lecture that wows the listeners, but also providing the recipient with skills — teaching how to think critically. In the context of counseling, this means giving the patient tools to help themselves, rather than the desire to run back into the office every time a crisis occurs. And, for a Jewish spiritual guide, this means inspiring someone and enabling them to gain knowledge to later pass on to future generations.

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