Editor's note: The HuffTorah is an overview of the Torah reading of the week, which is found in the Book of Numbers 8:1-12:16, and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. Read the full text of Parshat Beha'alotecha in interlinear Hebrew/English.
Tell Aaron, God says to Moses, that when he sparks the fire of the candelabrum, the light of each branch should be directed toward the center.
Aaron ignites the lamps just so. It is a candelabrum made from a single piece of gold, hammered by Moses and fashioned by God in the holy fire.
God tells Moses to persuade and purify the Levites: Sprinkle them with special water made from the ashes of the Red Heifer. Shave their bodies. Inaugurate them: Take a young bull burnt-offering and a meal-offering. Take a young bull sin-offering. Bring the Levites before the Tent of Meeting. Gather all of the Children of Israel there. The Children should lay their hands upon the Levites. Aaron should wave the Kohath Levites before God, allowing them to serve God. The Levites should lay their hands on the bulls. Aaron should wave the Gershon Levites before God.
This is the way to set the Levites apart. After this process, they may perform their service.
Also, wave the Merari Levites before God.
The Levites are a God-given gift to Aaron and the priests. They are purified. They serve. They atone.
They may begin serving at 25 years old. They must cease service at 50 years old.
Questions: How do all the lights of the candelabrum point to the center? Why does God tell Moses to "persuade" the Levites? How does one wave a person before God, and how does this allow the Levite to perform his service? Why do the Merarites seem to be an afterthought?
God explains the Passover offering to Moses. Moses explains it the Children. They make the lamb offering at the proper time, in the proper way.
Some men approach Aaron and Moses: "We were impure when the offering was made, but we want to join our offering to the rest of Israel's."
"Let's hear what God thinks about this. Hang on," Moses says.
And after a while, Moses relays the message from God: Any person who is impure at the appropriate time, should bring a Passover offering one month late. The laws of the regular Passover offering apply. A person who simply neglected to bring an offering may not bring one later. Instead, his soul is cut off from the people.
When the Tabernacle is erected, the divine cloud covers it. At night, a fire covers it till morning. When the cloud departs, the Children travel. When and where the cloud descends, the Children camp. As long as the cloud remains over the Tabernacle, the Children remain.
God tells Moses to make two sliver trumpets, hammered out of single pieces of silver, and use them to summon the people and to announce the departure of the cloud and the camps. One long blast blown on both trumpets tells the Children to gather 'round. A long blast from one trumpet tells the leaders to gather. Short blasts tell the eastern camps to travel. More short blasts tell the southern camps to travel. Got it? Long blasts for gathering. Short blasts for traveling. The priests should blow the trumpets. When in the Land of Israel, long blasts should be blown for going to war. And during festivals, trumpets should be blown while bringing the communal offerings.
After one year, one month and 20 days, the Children travel. The Camp of Judah leaves first. The Tabernacle is dismantled, and the Levites who carry it (the Merarites and the Gershonites) depart. The Camp of Reuben travels next. Then the Kohathites, carrying the holy vessels of the Tabernacle. They're followed by the Camp of Ephraim, which is trailed by the Camp of Dan, whose members collect the lost property of the other camps.
Moses talks to Hobab, a Midianite, telling him to travel with Israel.
"I'm going home, Moses," Hobab says.
"But you know the secrets! Please don't leave. We will grant you part of the land..."
The Children cover three days of land in just one day. The cloud hovers above. Moses blesses God when the cloud rises and when the cloud rests.
Questions: Why is the Passover offering mentioned here? Why is the conversation between Moses and Hobab included here?
The people complain that they are moving too fast. God sends a fire that consumes the people at the edge of the camp. Moses prays. God withdraws the fire. Moses names the place Blaze.
More complaints, this time from the Egyptians who had tagged along during the Exodus. They tire of the manna from heaven. They crave meat and vegetables and fruit and garlic! They wish they were back in Egypt. They complain, despite the manna, a heavenly delicacy whose flavor knows only the bounds of the mouth's immagination.
The people shout angrily.
God is angry.
Moses is disgusted.
"What am I to do? Why do you burden me with these complainers? There are too many of them. I am one person!" And Moses is given a vision of the punishment for the people's complaining. "Kill me, if that is how it will happen. Kill me! I do no want to see."
"Gather 70 elders," God says. "They will stand with you. They will receive some of the vision. They will share the burden with you. As for the complainers, tell them to prepare for punishment. I will give them meat. And they will eat it until they are sick."
"There are a lot of people, God. How can you provide so much?"
"Do you doubt, Moses? You shall see."
Moses tells the people, but they don't listen.
Moses assembles the 70 elders and God speaks to them. The elders become temporary prophets. Even two of the elders who did not assemble, feeling themselves unworthy, receive the spirit of prophecy. Moses' son runs to tell his father, and Joshua, his servant, says, "Stop them!" But Moses does not such thing. Instead, he wishes that prophecy would descend on all the people.
Wind sends quails from the sea to the camp. Layers and layers of quails are in the camp. The people occupy themselves with gathering the birds. They eat and eat. God's anger rises. God sends a severe plague. The place is named Graves of Craving.
The people travel.
Miriam and Aaron criticize their brother, Moses, for divorcing his wife while they remain married. God appears to the three siblings, telling them to go to the Tent of Meeting. The pillar of cloud descends to the entrance and calls to Miriam and Aaron. God speaks with them privately. God explains the Moses is a prophet of crystal-clear vision -- clarity that no other prophet has. God explains that Moses was told in such a vision to separate from his wife. God asks: "Why were you not afraid to speak about my prophet?"
The cloud rises, and Miriam is afflicted with tzara'at.
"Please!" Aaron says to Moses. "We sinned foolishly! Do not let Miriam suffer. It is as if I am suffering, and you too, is it not?"
Moses cries out to God: "Heal her! Please!"
God tells Moses that she must be quarantined for seven days.
Miriam does this. And the camps do not travel until she returns from quarantine.
Questions: When did Moses get divorced? Why does God speak with Miriam and Aaron privately if God called all three of them to the Tent? Why does only Miriam have the skin lesions?
Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection:
- Curb Your Appetite -- "We need to approach the act of eating in a way far more mindful than is currently the case. In this week's biblical portion, Beha'alotcha, we have perhaps the archetypical biblical story of what consumption looks like without mindfulness." (ON Scripture - The Torah)
- Haftorah Beha'alotecha -- In the supplemental haftorah, found in Zekhariah 2:14-4:7, the prophet encourages the people to build a second Temple and describes a vision of the Heavenly Courtroom. (My Jewish Learning)
- Rashi on Parshat Beha'alotecha -- The classic commentator in all his interpretive glory. (Chabad)
- The Animated Parshat Beha'alotecha -- A bluegrass tune about the parsha. (G-dcast)
- Balancing Natural Forces -- "This week's Torah portion begins on a positive, confident note. ... Yet, by the end of the parshah, the Jewish nation has degenerated to the point that they are punished with mass destruction and burial." (Canfei Nesharim)
- Rejuvenate the Journey -- "At times we do not sense inspiration and a way forward, and yet, somehow we must move forward. In order for the flame to 'catch', for inspiration to take hold, it must be held to the wick for some time, until it once again rises on its own." (IYYUN)
- Additional sources and related texts compiled on Wikipedia.