Our Torah portion this week (Beha'alotekha) begins with God giving instructions about how Aaron was to service the lamps of the Menorah within the Holy Place of the Tabernacle (Num. 8:1-4). Each day Aaron was to clean each of the seven lamps and to refill them with the very purest olive oil. The wicks were then to be bent so that the six outer lamps shined toward the seventh (and central) shaft. The lamps were to be lit daily, "from evening until morning," in a specific sequence - starting from the central lamp (the shamash) and then moving right to left (Exod. 27:21). According to the Talmud (Shabbat 22b), while all the lamps received the same amount of olive oil, the central lamp miraculously never ran out of oil, even though it was kindled first in the sequence. This miracle is also reported to have occurred during the Temple period, though it abruptly ended about 40 years before the destruction of the Second Temple (c. 30 AD), after the death of Yeshua the Messiah, the true Servant and Branch of the LORD. As it is attested in the Talmud: "Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ['For the Lord'] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the centermost light shine" (Yoma 39a).
The portion next describes how the Levites were to be set apart for service at the Mishakan, or "Tabernacle" (Num. 8:5-12). In a ceremony that signified a sort of "rebirth," they were first sprinkled with mei ha'chatat (מֵי חַטָּאת), literally, "the waters of sin" (Num. 8:7), that is, the ritually sanctified water that was mixed with the ashes of the red heifer to be purified from contamination with death (Num. 19:13). Next they shaved off all their hair and were completely immersed in a mikveh (a bath containing flowing water). The steps of being sprinkled with purifying water, shaving off of all the hair, and being completely immersed in a mikveh are similar to the ritual for the cleansing of the metzora, or "leper" (Lev. 14:2-32). Rashi notes that each member of the community was required to place their hands on the Levites' heads, just as the hands were placed on the head of a sacrificial animal as it was slaughtered before the altar (Num. 8:10; Lev. 1:4, 3:2). The "waving" of the Levites by the High Priest likewise simulated the ritual of "tenufah" (תְּנוּפָה), that is, the waving of the guilt sacrifice (asham) offered by the leper after his cleansing (Lev. 14:12). Finally, the Levites themselves were to lay their hands on sin and whole burnt offerings to make atonement before the LORD (Num. 8:12).
For more on this Torah reading, see the Beha'alotekha study pages and the related links. You can download the Shabbat Table talk for this week's reading here: