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.