B'ha'alot'kha is long. Not quite as long as parashat Naso, which is the longest parashah in the Torah. And not only in B'ha'alot'kha a sizeable parasha, it is also densely packed. Much to consider within.
There are the instructions for creating the menorah, the seven-branched lampstand for the mishkan. As before, the menorah is made to the exacting specifications given to Moshe by G''d.
Then a few paragraphs on a purification ritual for and the duties of the Levites, the schleppers and setter-uppers for the Mishkan.
An instruction regarding the Pesach sacrifice, and establishment of the Pesach Sheini, the second Passover, for those unable to offer the Pesach sacrifice on the designated day. (Though the Torah speaks of a situation in which people had been defiled by a corpse, some have expanded upon the allowable reasons one could delay the Pesach sacrifice. And although the passage refers on to a second opportunity for the sacrifice, thus meaning in contemporary terms only partaking of the paschal lamb, some have explored using the occasion in more expansive ways. Some even save pieces of matzah from their Seder to consume on Pesach Sheini.) Considering that the passage ends with a strict note that one who is pure at the time of the Pesach sacrifice who fails to offer it at that time is to be cut off from the people, it's a real stretch to justify using Pesach Sheini for anything more than what it was intended - a chance for those unlucky enough to o be in an impure state at the time of the Pesach sacrifice.
Also, the rationale for the ritual of "korech," the "Hillel Sandwich" is found here (9:11) though one wonders how Hillel managed to derive this custom (which, by the way, was not accepted by his contemporaries, and technically not in accordance with the halacha) for the Seder from text referring to the Pesach Sheini. Hmmmm.
Sidebar: One can read into this rather practical, down-to-earth problem-solving by G''d (through Moshe) approval for the rather practical approaches the rabbis took over the centuries in formulating Mishna, Talmud and eventually the Halacha derived therefrom.
And there's yet one more reminder that the "ger," the stranger who resides within the community can offer a Pesach sacrifice, but they must do it according to the rules. Chukkat Echat - One law, for stranger or citizen.
Next we learn that G''d would instruct the people when to make camp and when to move on - a cloud covering the Mishkan when it was set up, also appearing as fire in the night, and that same cloud lifting when it was time to strike camp and move along. And here's an oddity. This may one of the few places in the he Torah where the people of Israel did exactly as instructed. As long as the cloud remain over the mishkan, the people remained. As soon as the cloud lifted, they broke camp and moved on. Didn't;t matter if it was just a one-night stop or several days or weeks. As chapter 9 ends, "they observed the L''rd's mandate at the L''rd's bidding through Moses." Wow. we actually do listen to G''d once in a while. There's a revelation!
Next G''d instructs that two silver trumpets be made, and gives instructions as to how they are to be used to signal the people. Long blasts for the people to gather together. Short blasts in series to instruct various sections of the camp to move forward. Verse 10:8 says "The trumpets shall be blown by Aaron's sons, the priests; they shall be for you an institution for all time throughout the ages." Seen lots of shofarot around synagogues, but never silver trumpets. (I know, I know, it's Temple apparatus, not to be used until there is a Temple again.) And if we are to be a nation of priests, does that mean we all need to learn to play the trumpet?
Remember how it took a while for the cries of the Israelites in Egypt to rise up to G''d? Seems G''d learned something from that, and instructs that when we are at war, short blasts of the trumpet shall be sounded so that "you may be remembered before the L''rd your G''d and be delivered from your enemies." Guess it's one way of getting G''d's attention.
Now finally, we've spent enough time in the wilderness of Sinai,a and the cloud lifts and the Israelites set out, finally stopping at Paran. Then there's a lengthy explanation of the order of march. You got 650,000 people, you gotta have some organization.
There's this brief reference again to Hobab, which tradition teaches was another of the names for Yitro (Jethro) the father-in-law of Moshe. Seems Hobab doesn't;t plan to come along with the Israelites. Moshe, knowing that Hobab knows his way around the wilderness pretty well (pun intended?) tries to convince Hobab to come along for the ride. At this point, the text doesn't say whether Hobab came along or not. Maybe that's the real reason they wound up wandering around the wilderness for 40 years?
And then - as Mel Brooks once said (in the Inquisition scene from "History of the World Part I) - "bring in the nuns."
Only in this case, it's the nuns (pronounced noons) - as in the letter nun - the one after mem and before samekh. There are these two upside down nuns bracketing the text of 10:35-36. Tradition tells us that there's a whole missing book of Torah here, represented by just the two verses that remain. (I have a different theory - which ignores the nuns completely. I think the whole book of Leviticus wasn't part of the Torah originally. leave out Leviticus, and you can move quite nicely from the end of Exodus to chapter 9 of Numbers (which is the second chapter in B'ha'alot'kha.) You just dispense with all the priestly stuff and you still get a good read and a good story. Not to mention more than enough mitzvot without all the ones we can't do anymore because we don't have a Temple.
Of course, if my (rather ridiculous and wholly unsubstantiated) theory holds true, then perhaps there was something else in the Torah that is now missing, and represented by the text between the two nuns.
The text between the nuns is well worn - if you attend services (though Reform has largely excised it from the siddur-though I'm not sure about the new Mishkan Tefillah.)
Vay'hi binsoa ha-aron vayomer Moshe: Kumah Ad''nai. V'yafutzu oy'vekha! V'yanusu m'san'ekha miparnekha! Uv'nukho yomeir: Shuva Ad''nai, riv'vot al'fei Yisrael!
When the Ark was to set out, Moshe would say: Advance, O L''rd! May Your enemies be scattered, and may Your foes flee before You! And when it halted, he would say: Return, O L''rd, You who are Israel's myriads of thousands. (JPS. It's an icky translation, but it's poetic enough.)
So this is the Israelite version of the theme from Rawhide. Move 'em up! Head 'em out! Move 'em on! Head 'em up! Yee-ha!! Next time you say/sing vay'hi binsoa at services, maybe thinking of that will bring a smile to your face!
And so the Israelites are movin' on. Headin' out. And while they obediently follow directions as given by the "cloud," it don't take long for them to grumble. They're hungry, and bored of the manna (how does one get bored of food that magically tastes like whatever you want it to be. Oh wait, that's just a story. In this here parasha, it says explicitly that the manna tastes like heavy cream. Well, that's not a truly accurate translation. We won't go there right now. But you can have fun trying to parse out "L'shad hashamen.") So the people kvetch, and then Moshe kvetches to G''d. He even begs for death rather than having to deal with all the whining. G''d tells Moshe that he should take seventy elders with whom to share the misery! Then G''d says, in effect: "You want meat? I'll give you meat until it's coming out your ears and you choke on it!"
Then Moshe has the unmitigated gall to say "yeah, right G''d. You're gonna feed 650,000 enough meat for a month that they'll choke on it?" (Of course, you can also interpret as saying "nothing You can do will ever satisfy them," which is a little nicer read.) And G''d's answer, as it often is when G''d gets into fits, is on the order of "You dare doubt My power! You just wait and see buster!"
We have this nice little piece about ecstatic worship. I'll simply refer you to my musing on this parasha entitled "Ecstasy." 'nuff said. Then we get quail aplenty. And then the incident with Miriam and Aharon bad-mouthing Moshe. Again,. I've written on that enough times. So now it's time for me to move out and move on. Into Shabbat.
©2006 by Adrian A. Durlester
Beha'alotekha 5762 - Redux 5759 - The Kiss of Moshe
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