Parashat Behaalotecha – Erev Shabbat 28 May 2021
Week of 23 -29 May 2021
Torah portion: Numbers 8:1-12:16 Haftarah: Zech 2 :14-4 :7
Theme: “O God, pray heal her!”
The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (p.844) divides this Parasha, to which it gives the title “The Journey from Sinai Begins” into three major units: I) Final Ritual Preparation (8:1-9:14); II) The Israelites’ Travel Protocol (9:15-10:36); III) Israelite Challenges to Moses and God (11:1-12:16). This Parasha begins with the LORD’s instructions concerning the lighting of the menorah, the seven-branched candle stand hammered out of gold. In Exodus 25:31-40 we read about how the LORD instructed that the lampstand was to be made: shaped as branches with flowers down to the shaping of calyxes and petals. This makes me think of the Tree of life in the Garden of Eden. So this Parasha begins with light, life, and completeness – the number seven.
Let us turn to the final section 12:1-16 and look at what is happening there. It starts with: “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married”. According to the Hebrew, Miriam is the initiator of the gossip. Interestingly, underlying that remark is sibling rivalry of who is more important as the LORD’s chosen one. We are told that Moses was very humble and did not flaunt his role in any way; he kept reminding the LORD that he couldn’t handle God’s chosen people.
In between these two narratives, the purifying and consecrating of the Levites has taken place; the Passover offering has been celebrated and a “Second Passover” added for the needs of the time; and the plan for the protocol of the journey from Sinai is described and followed, the Ark of God’s presence leading the way.
The people whom God has chosen soon start complaining about the food, craving meat in their diet. The ingratitude of human beings rears its head again: we always long for what we haven’t got and blame others instead of seeing how we can deal with the situation and provide for ourselves or accept what has been given to us.
Envy of the other whom we perceive to have more than we have and whom we judge to be less worthy than we are is displayed in Miriam and Aaron’s behavior – we recall Joseph and his brothers’ journey through sibling rivalry because of envy (Gen 37:1-50:26).
Miriam is struck with tzaraat the skin disease associated in her case with slandering Moses. (Leviticus 13 describes the different types of skin diseases associated with ritual impurity).
Miriam is shut out of the camp for seven days –to be made whole again. The people did not move until Miriam returned, a chastened person, more a model for leadership than before. Then the people moved to the wilderness of Paran.
My reason for comparing the menorah to the Tree of life in the Garden of Eden was to show how as human beings we often start on the right foot following the will of God but soon envy of others and ingratitude get in our way and we need to be chastened and return to the plan of the LORD.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1) Not only is Moses a humble man but he is willing to forgive his siblings especially Miriam by interceding for her:“O God, pray heal her!” (12:12). What does Moses teach us about forgiveness? 2) It seems as if Miriam’s envy is based on a judgment: ‘if Moses is married to a Cushite, he is not as worthy as we are!’ Let us learn to listen and see without judgment.
Bibliography: Eskenazi, Weiss: The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York: 2008).
This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Bernadette Teresa Chellew, South Africa, Bat Kol Alumna: 2008