Shabbat Behalotcha 5777
Once God speaks to Moses from the Holy of Holies, Moses receives the final instructions about the menorah and its operation.
The Parashah then discusses the purification of the Levites, who are charged with building and dismantling the Tabernacle, but must be in a state of tohorah (purity) to do so. Those Levites older than age thirty were inducted into this sacred labour. An additional task given to the Levites is to serve Aaron and his sons. Finally, the Book of Bamidbar establishes an age limit of fifty for active duty, after which the Levite may still perform guard duty.
Two years after their departure from Egypt, the Israelites prepare to move on from the wilderness of Sinai. Once again, they offer the Pesach sacrifice, but some of the men were in a state of tumah (ritual impurity) and could not participate. God authorizes a second Pesach offering, one month later, for those who were tamei (impure) during the first one. Non-Israelites are explicitly permitted to offer a paschal sacrifice.
Once the Tabernacle is built, a cloud hovers over it by day, and it looks like fire by night. It moves as a sign that God wants the Israelites to proceed, so they march whenever the cloud moves forward, and they camp whenever the cloud settles down.
God then instructs Moses about the trumpets, final preparations before the Israelites march. They are to be used to mobilize the people for marching, to call out the soldiers in defence of Israel, to mark Israel’s festivals and new moons, as “a reminder of you before your God”.
The Israelites now resume their march, from Sinai toward Jordan. Moses invites his father-in-law (here referred to as Hobab) to join them as their guide through the wilderness. The ark guides them as they journey.
Unfortunately, the people begin to complain, first at Taberah, where a fire breaks out amidst the people, then at Kibroth-Hattavah, where they cry out for meat. God is furious with them, and Moses feels the full burden of his leadership, so God agrees to divide his load among seventy elders. God also agrees to provide the people with meat, although Moses expresses doubt that God will be able to feed so many. God’s spirit rests on them, even on Eldad and Medad, who aren’t physically near the other elders. Moses is delighted. God provides the people with quail until they feel sick.
The Parashah closes with Miriam and Aaron complaining about Moses because he married a Cushite woman. They claim that God also speaks through them, and God gathers them together and asserts
the uniqueness of Moses. Miriam is afflicted with white scales and Moses offers the Tanach’s shortest prayer on her behalf: “El na refa-na la, God please heal her”. After seven days Miriam is restored, and the people set out from Hazerot to the wilderness of Paran.
Questions for discussion
1- Pesach “Sheni” teaches us about second opportunities. Do we have such an example in modern Judaism?
2- What are our trumpets today to mark those special moments?
3- How can the people complain even in front of all the miracles they had witnessed? What does it mean that God actually gave them what they wanted afterwards?
4- What does marrying a Cushite woman have to do with claiming that God also speaks through them? Why are these two complaints together?
Rabbi Mijael Even-David