Tag Archives: Bamidbar

Parshat Shelakh-Lekha

Parshat Shelakh-Lekha is the 4th in the Book of Numbers covering Chapters 13-15. It begins with the appointment of 12 spies, missioned to tour the promised land of Canaan. Forty days later they returned with samples of its produce and a 10-2 decision to the negative – the land couldn’t be conquered. Shocked, the people cried in despair and complained to Moshe and to G-d. Only Joshua and Caleb defended the campaign.

Their cries triggered a punishment from G-d that all men 20-years and older would die off in the Wilderness during the ensuing 40 years, and only their wives and children would merit entering Canaan. Deeply remorseful the following day, a band from Bnei Yisrael attempted to ascend without G-d’s help and were struck-down by the Amalekites and Canaanites.

The parasha continues with Laws of Sacrifices brought once the people enter Canaan, and the meal offerings & wine libations that accompanied each animal. This was followed by the laws of Taking Hallah from dough before bread was baked and giving it as Terumah to G-d; and by Laws of the Inadvertent Sin offering brought by the community or by an individual.

Shelakh-Lekha ends with the story of the man who gathered wood on Shabbat and was put to death by stoning, and with the command to put wool- and blue-dyed threads on the fringes of your four-cornered garments.

Comment: The enormous remorse which sometimes follows a sin can be as bad if not worse than the original transgression. An example can be found in Parashat Shelakh-Lekha where Bnei Yisrael slander the Land of Canaan and are punished to die in the desert.

The first reaction of Bnei Yisrael the morning after hearing G-d’s decree, was despair. The remorseful among them decided immediately to attempt ascent into Canaan, even though it was against G-d’s wishes. Ignoring Moshe’s warnings, and taking matters into their own hands, they died by their own initiative in a violent battle with Amalek and Canaan.

Some may argue that it’s better to challenge the odds than to wait for the inevitable. Perhaps they intended their remorse as a form of repentance before G-d and expected to be forgiven. For what would be the sense of living in the desert, if there was no chance to inherit the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?

Indeed, seen through this lens, the incident of Korah’s rebellion in next week’s parasha also makes sense. Relying on Moshe was no longer viable if all they could expect was to wander aimlessly in the desert ‘killing time’ until ‘their time’ would come. Choosing new leadership would seem a way to resolve their troubles.

Perhaps this is a subtle viewpoint, but there are two powerful messages that resonate with truth. First, up until now Bnei Yisrael committed a number of transgressions, including the sin of the Golden Calf, but it was only slander that undid them. How immense is the power of words to cause pain and suffering to others!

Second, Bnei Yisrael’s sin in slandering the Land of Canaan was compounded by their expressed-wish to return to Egypt, showing an all-too-familiar pattern that when a situation gets difficult, we react by looking backwards and laying blame on our leaders.

In a week when we’ve seen this country mired in regret, with a return to terrible incidents of racial hatred and verbal assault, perhaps we can remind ourselves, that our only choice is to move forward in Hope, rather than to look back, lament the past and try to scapegoat those weaker than ourselves.

A More Detailed Look at the Parasha

G-d told Moshe to send men to tour the land of Cana’an, one representing each tribe. Moshe dispatched them from the Paran Wilderness. They were:

Reuven – Sha’mu’ah ben Zakur                                             Shimon – Shafat ben Hori

Yehudah – Kaleb ben Yefuneh                                               Yisakhar – Yigal ben Yosef

Ephraim – Hoshea ben Nun (Yehoshua)                               Binyamin – Palti ben Rafu

Zevulun – Gadiel ben Sodi                                                     Menashe – Gadi ben Susi

Dan – Amiel ben Gemali                                                        Asher – Setur ben Mikhael

Naftali – Nakhbi ben Vofsi                                                      Gad – Ge’u’el ben Makhi

Moshe told them to enter from the Negev and ascend to the mountains; to spy out the land, to see whether the people were strong or weak, few or many; whether the land was good or bad, whether the cities were fortified or open; was the land fertile or not; were there trees and that they should bring back of their fruits. They went during the grape harvest season.

They ascended and toured the land from Desert Sin to Rehav and Hamat. From the Negev they reached Hebron where the giants Akhiman, Sheishai & Talmai lived. At Eshkol Valley they cut a cluster of grapes plus pomegranates and figs; returning finally after 40 days to meet Moshe, Aharon and the congregation of Bnei Yisrael who were at Kedaisha.

Showing their fruits, they reported it was a land flowing with milk and honey and these were samples of its fecundity. However, the land’s inhabitants was strong and its cities fortified. The Amalekites were in the south, the Hittites, Jabusites and Amorites dwelt in mountains and the Canaanites occupied the coast and riverbanks.

Kaleb tried to rally the people by charging them to ‘ascend and inherit the land; it was possible’. But the other spies, denied it possible to defeat the current occupants. Instead, they slandered the land saying it ‘consumed its inhabitants’; the people were strong-natured and ‘descendants of giants’ lived there.

That night, the nation lifted its voice in wailing, complaining to Moshe and Aharon, ‘it would have been better for us to die in Egypt or in the Wilderness, why did G-d bring us here so that our wives and children would waste away? It would be better to return to Egypt.’ Some decided to appoint a new head and head back to Egypt.

Moshe and Aharon fell on their faces; Joshua and Kaleb tore their clothing and rebuked the people claiming it was a good land. ‘Should G-d wish, we would take it! Rather, beware not to rebel against G-d, the inhabitants will be our bread, their shield has been removed and G-d is with us – do not despair.’ But, the nation wanted to stone them, until suddenly G-d’s presence appeared.

G-d spoke to Moshe asking ‘how long will this people vex Me; will they refuse to believe in Me after all the miracles they’ve seen? Let me destroy them with pestilence and make of you a great nation!’ Moshe replied if the Egyptians heard G-d took this people from their midst – who beheld G-d eye-to-eye, and were escorted constantly by pillars of cloud and of fire – smiting them as one, they would conclude it was G-d’s inability to bring have them inherit the land that caused them to be slaughtered in the desert.

Moshe evoked the formula for repentance (taught to him by G-d) seeking forgiveness for Bnei Yisrael. And G-d forgave them. But ‘those who witnessed the miracles of Egypt and tested Me 10-times in the wilderness’, they wouldn’t see the Promised Land. Only Kaleb would be worthy. Because the Amalekites and Canaanites were in the valley, the following day Bnei Yisrael would turn back to the wilderness and travel by way of the Reed Sea.

G-d told Moshe and Aharon that Bnei Yisrael would be punished measure-for-measure for their complaints. Other than Kaleb ben Yefuneh and Yehoshua bin Nun, all men 20-years and older would die in the Wilderness, not meriting to enter the Land of Canaan. Only their wives and children, would know the land their father’s despised. One year for each day of touring, they would wander 40-years in the desert until the last had died-off. As for the spies that brought the bad report, they would die by plague immediately.

Regretting their fate, some rose early the next morning to attempt entering the land. Moshe warned them not to transgress G-d’s decision and risk falling into the hands of their enemies since G-d would not be with them. But they persisted and were struck down by the mountain-dwelling Amalekites and Canaanites.

[Abruptly the Torah changes topics]

G-d tells Moshe that when the people eventually enter the land and offer sacrifices; a lamb should be accompanied by a meal offering of 1/10th eipha fine flour mixed with a quarter hin of oil, along with a quarter hin of wine as a libation for their Olah or Zevakh offerings. Each ram should be accompanied by 2/10th eipha fine flour mixed with a third hin of oil, along with a third hin of wine as a libation. If the offering was a bull, the meal offering would be 3/10th eipha fine flour mixed with a half hin of oil, along with a half hin of wine as a libation

These quantities were to be brought for each offering. Both the permanent resident and the long-term stranger were obliged by the same laws; for citizen and non-citizen alike.

When entering the land and baking your bread, just as you separate a portion while the grain is on the threshing floor, so too must you take from the dough and give it to the Almighty.

Should you collectively err and not perform all the mitsvot Moshe taught you, if the congregation faltered, they would bring a bull as a burnt offering and a goat for a sin offering along with their meal offerings and libations. The Kohen would affect atonement for the people and for the strangers in their midst.

If an individual were to sin, they’d bring a one-year-old goat as a sin offering. Here too, the law was the same for the resident as well as the stranger. But, if one deliberately sinned against G-d, they’d be cut off from the nation. For they despise the word of G-d, flaunting the mitsvot.

A man gathered wood on Shabbat and was brought before Moshe and Aharon by those who saw him. He was placed in prison until judgment was passed. G-d told Moshe the man should be stoned to death outside the encampment. The congregation did to him as G-d had commanded.

G-d spoke with Moshe to tell Bnei Yisrael to place fringes on the four corners of their garments in perpetuity. And, among the strings should be a blue thread. When you see them it will remind you of all G-d’s commandments, preventing you from following the passions of your heart and perversions of your eyes. In order that you remember G-d’s commands and remain holy to G-d. ‘For I am the Lord your G-d who took you from Egypt to become your G-d.

Parshat BeHa’alotekha

Parshat BeHa’alotekha is the 3rd in the Book of Numbers (Chapters 8-12). It begins with the command for Aharon to light the menorah, adding the induction of the Levites into Mishkan service, the celebration of Pesah in the Wilderness and the laws of Pesah Sheni.

Next is the directive role of the Cloud of Glory which appeared above the Mishkan; when it lifted they were to travel and where it set, they would again encamp. A pair of silver trumpets were made and given to the Kohanim to use for signalling when to gather, break camp, get ready for war or celebrate the festivals.

Bnei Yisrael’s first attempt to travel as a nation soon led to complaints for food. Moshe complained of being overwhelmed by the burden of leadership and G-d instructed deputising 70 Elders to share the task. A Divine wind then miraculously blew-in enough quail to feed the entire nation for a month.

BeHa’alotekha ends with Miriam and Aharon slandering their brother Moshe, and Miriam’s punishment of spiritual leprosy and 7-days quarantine outside the camp.


Comment: It’s hard for humans to fully entrust G-d to provide us with our daily needs.

Some would argue we shouldn’t trouble G-d with such relatively inconsequential, selfish requests but that instead it’s our duty to go out and make our way in the world through initiative and talent. For that reason we train our children ethically, send them to school to be educated, cheer their successes and offer encouragement at their set-backs.

From the beginning of time when the first man and woman were created, they were placed in an idyllic environment called the Garden of Eden. Given everything they might possibly want and restricted only to not eating the fruit of a single tree; that restriction was too much to withstand. And so, they were cast out into a world where they had to eat by the sweat of their brow and give birth in pain.

The story of the second half of Bamidbar from Chapter 11 onwards, recalls that first unsuccessful struggle. Given every positive opportunity, Bnei Yisrael simply had to remain calm and show their gratitude to G-d. Sadly, BeHa’alotekha is the turning point for the host of troubles Bnei Yisrael would experience before reaching the Land of Cana’an.

What should have been an 11-day journey, according to Ramban, instead would take 40-years and encompass the death of the entire adult generation of those freed from Egyptian slavery. It’s a tragic story of self-inflicted failure that, up until this week’s Parasha, seemed entirely avoidable.

There was manna, there was hierarchical order, families were together and G-d’s presence was resident in the respective camps. Would that Bnei Yisrael have realised their immense blessings and refrained from complaining in disgust and through distrust! They’d been at the base of Sinai for a year, why only now after they began marching did they complain for meat?

Looking at the use of the Hebrew wording, the opening verses of the Parasha refer to Aharon ‘ascending’ to light the Menorah. Equally, the lengthy section explaining their travel instructions uses the same verb form (la’alot) to ascend. Achieving trust in the Almighty can only occur when we look upward in the ascent, not when mired in a descending mind-set.

It’s hard for humans to fully entrust G-d to provide us with our daily needs. Nor are we advocating total dependence to an irrational degree, but each of us can certainly reflect on how we relate to and allocate time to meeting our physical and spiritual needs and ask ourselves the question, have we struck the correct balance? Is our vision set in an upward ascent? If not, how should we go about making a change?

A More Detailed Look at the Parasha

Aharon was commanded to light the 7 candles in the golden Menorah; an image of its base and branches was shown to Moshe at Sinai.

Moshe was commanded by G-d to purify the Leviim initiating them in place of the first-born into the service of the Mishkan. They were sprinkled with Hatat (purification) waters, their bodies fully shaven and their clothing washed. Two bullocks as sacrifices – one a burnt-offering and one a sin-offering – were prepared with a meal-offering of fine flour.

Brought to the Tent of Meeting, Bnei Yisrael pressed their hands on the Leviim. Aharon made them a wave-offering, inducting them to perform the service of G-d. The Leviim then placed their hands on the two animals designated for sacrifice. Standing before the Kohanim the Leviiim thus became segregated from among Bnei Yisrael.

‘For on the day G-d struck the Egyptian first born, the Israelite first-born belonged to the Me’. The Leviim were given to the Kohanim to serve in the Mishkan, representing Bnei Yisrael, effecting atonement for their sins. Aharon carried out this duty for them; the Leviim were charged to serve in the Mishkan from age 25-50.

G-d told Moshe to instruct the people on the 14th day of the 1st month to bring a Pesah offering. There were some who were ritually impure on that day who protested being left out. Moshe entreated their patience while consulting with G-d what should be done.

They, and anyone in future generations who was Tameh or traveling and unable to bring their sacrifice, were instructed to observe the festive requirements of bringing their Pesah offering and eating it with matsah and marror on the 14th day of the 2nd month instead; those able to participate on the original date of Pesah in Nisan who deliberately opted out would be culpable for punishment.

On the day the Mishkan was erected it was covered by a cloud during the day and at night by a fire. This became perennial. When the cloud lifted from the Mishkan it was a sign to travel and where it settled was a sign to again encamp.

There were times when the cloud remained for a longer period and there were times when it alighted after only a few days; or for only one evening to the next day or for a few days or a month. When the Cloud lifted the people travelled and when it settled they stopped.

G-d told Moshe to make two silver trumpets for signalling the congregation. They would be used for breaking camp; when blown they would call the people to the Tent of Meeting. If blown once, they would summon the Princes; if blown as an alarm, they would signal the beginning of movement from the East, a second alarm would signal movement in the South. The Kohanim were responsible for blowing them; they were used to signal war evoking G-d’s mercy and protection and, during the special sacrifices they were blown to announce festivals and new moons – causing Bnei Yisrael to be remembered before G-d.

On the 20th day of the 2nd month of the 2nd year, the first national embarkation from Sinai toward the Pa’aran wilderness began. The 3 tribes under the Flag of Judah stirred first, the Mishkan was taken down and the frame was carried by the Levite sons Gershon & Merrari. They were followed by Flag Reuben, then the sons of Kehat carrying the Mishkan vessels (leaving Gershon & Merrari enough time to reconstruct the Mishkan before they encamped again); the last two Flags of Ephraim and Dan followed.

Reu’el the Midianite, Moshe’s father-in-law, was invited to accompany them on their first journey but declined, preferring to return to his homeland. Moshe asked him to reconsider, not to abandon them but to be the eyes of the nation, promising him benefit in the new land. They travelled 3 days and the Ark travelled 3 days in front of them seeking where they would next rest.

When they carried the Ark, Moshe called G-d to scatter their enemies, and when they rested, he said, ‘Return Oh G-d unto Israel’s tens of thousands of families’. [These words are used in synagogues today when either opening and/or closing the Ark.]

The nation began murmuring – the first complaint led to a fire breaking out in their midst but Moshe prayed and it abated, and the place was named accordingly. The second complaint raised by a mixed multitude was a lust; nostalgically remembering the delicacies of Egypt, they complained for meat, fish, cucumbers, melon, leeks, onions and garlic; claiming their life force had become dehydrated by the manna. Though they gathered, ground, beat, cooked or tried baking it, the result was the same – the manna tasted like oil-cake.

Moshe heard the crying of families standing at the entrance to their tents and knew their ingratitude would anger G-d. Overwhelmed, he blamed G-d of mistreating him and begged to be killed rather than continue bearing the burden of this people.

G-d told Moshe to gather 70 elders in front of the Tent of Meeting to be empowered from the spirit that Moshe bore; to no longer be alone. Moshe told the nation to sanctify themselves for the following day G-d would provide them enough meat to last a month – until they were sick of it. In disbelief, Moshe asked G-d where so much meat could come from, and G-d replied ‘is the hand of the Lord limited?’

Moshe went out to inform the people what G-d said about the meat and to gather 70 elders. G-d descended in a Cloud and caused the spirit of prophecy to rest on the 70 briefly. There were two who didn’t go to the Tent, Eldad & Meidad, who also prophesised within the camp. Joshua reported them to Moshe asking that they be stopped. Moshe appreciated Joshua’s jealousy but replied he wouldn’t mind if the entire people became prophets.

A wind blew and quail arrived in such abundance to cover the ground for a day’s distance in either direction. The people gathered for 2 days amassing vast quantities around the camp. But those who ate the quail were struck by a plague while the meat was still between their teeth. The place was named Kivrot-HaTeavah (Grave of Lust). The nation travelled on to Hatserot.

The Parasha ends with Miriam and Aharon slandering their brother over a Kushite woman. They asked each other, ‘does G-d only speak with Moshe?’ And G-d heard, saying Moshe was the humblest of all men on the earth.

Suddenly all three were called into the Cloud in front of the Tent of Meeting, where G-d chastised Miriam and Aharon; spelling out the favoured Divine relationship with Moshe. When the Cloud left, Miriam was found stricken with Spiritual Leprosy. Aharon begged Moshe to save her; Moshe prayed for her to be healed; then she was sent out of the camp for 7 days. The nation waited for her to return, afterwards they travelled from Hatseirot to Pa’aran.

Parshat Bamidbar

Parshat Bamidbar is the 1st in the Book of Numbers (Chapters 1-4). It is made up of an exhaustive census of Bnei Yisrael and the Tribe of Levi taken on the 1st day of the 2nd month of the 2nd year after the exodus from Egypt.

Following G-d’s command to take a census, leaders were enlisted and each tribe counted according to heads of households and their families. A second description of how the tribes encamped around and marched (with the Mishkan in the centre) followed.

G-d told Moshe to exclude the Levites from the tally, for they would have a unique role. A third census counted just the tribe of Levi and a fourth totalled the number of first-born among the other tribes – the numbers were nearly identical – the surplus of first-born being redeemed for 5 Shekels per person. In Naso, a fifth census was taken to determine the working-age Levites responsible for transporting the Mishkan.

For a detailed list of the numbers by tribe, encampment and household, click here.

Comment: Shavuoth celebrates the anniversary of G-d’s revelation at Sinai. The Torah is called the ‘5 Books of Moses’. In the way the chapters are divided into books we find many interesting patterns. Genesis & Exodus describe a quasi-chronological experience. The middle book, Leviticus, concerns the pathway to achieving a sacred life. And the final two, Numbers and Deuteronomy, return to the national narrative leading to Bnei Yisrael’s arrival at the border of Cana’an.

If, like a filled-pastry, we assume the centre holds the best part – the most emphasis and importance, than the historical sections on both sides must somehow embellish this.

Further, there’s an unusual disconnect between the English and Hebrew names of Bamidbar. In Hebrew the word means ‘in the desert,’ but in English it’s known as the Book of Numbers. Our sages from the Middle Ages enjoined us that the Torah was given in the Midbar for a reason – because unless we’re able to free our minds of worldly concerns, the Torah’s principles would be indiscernible to us. Just as a wilderness is empty of materialism, so too must we avoid bringing in our own agendas.

Put differently, unless we empty ourselves of ego-involvement, there would be no room to experience G-d-centered wisdom. And yet, the physical world beckons us to count, to number and to quantify.

So how do we reconcile these competing influences – an egoless approach in a materialistic-driven world? Bnei Yisrael in the wilderness had their issues – they were a stiff-necked people whose behaviour often disappointed or angered G-d. How are we 3,300 years later going to be better?

Judaism uses the idea of ‘Generations’ to discuss the passage of time. As we’re commanded during Pesah that each generation should see itself as having been redeemed from slavery, so too must we answer the question how each generation related to receiving the Torah.

No doubt we must have our basic physical needs met. It’s when we’re ready to put our ideas and ideals above our basic creature comforts that we begin to rise above our innate selfishness. That’s the point when the spirituality and transcendent principles of Torah are uncovered – like an oasis in the desert – and start to come into focus. Please take advantage of the opportunity Shavuoth presents!