13-19 Sivan 5779


BEHA’ALOT’CHA: The Thirty-sixth Sedra of the Torah
Numbers 8:1-12:16

The preceding Sedra Naso concludes with a notice of privileged verbal communication between God and Moses in the Tent of Meeting.  The current Sedra Beha’alot’cha opens with another form of such privileged communication, that of a visual image, in this case the Menorah.  It moves to another established theme of interest, the Levites’ unique role.  Then comes a review of the annual Pesach, which requires the universal participation of Israelites, and a solution to one of the problems that affects universal involvement.  Modes of communication with the wider community are described with the cloud over the Tabernacle and silver trumpets, followed by a full description of the order of march, which is signaled by the trumpets.  In anticipation of their departure from the Eternal’s mountain, Moses offers to share Israel’s good fortune with his supportive Midianite father-in-law.  The Sedra ends with a series of incidents that illustrate the dispiritedness of Israel at this early stage of its journey.


The Eternal charges Moses to instruct Aaron:  When you set up (Beha’alot’cha) the seven lamps, let them cast light to the front of the Menorah.  Aaron does so, as the Eternal has commanded Moses.

The Menorah was made of solid gold as far as its base and as far as its petal.  In accordance with the image that the Eternal had shown Moses, Aaron executed the menorah.


The Eternal charges Moses to take the Levites from among the Children of Israel and to purify them by sprinkling upon them water of purification from sin, passing a razor over all of their flesh, and washing their clothes.  Two bulls shall be taken from the herd, one with its meal offering of fine flour mixed with oil and the other for a sin offering.

Moses should present the Levites before the Tent of Meeting, with all of the congregation of the Children of Israel assembled.  As he presents the Levites before the Eternal, let the Children of Israel place their hands upon the Levites.  Let Aaron then wave the Levites before the Eternal on behalf of the Children of Israel to perform the service of the Eternal.  The Levites, for their part, shall place their hands upon the heads of the bulls: one for the sin offering and the other a burnt offering to the Eternal, to seek atonement for the Levites.

Place the Levites before Aaron and his sons, wave them before the Eternal—thereby do you separate the Levites from the Children of Israel and make them Mine, for service of the Tent of Meeting.  The Levites will be entirely Mine in place of all of the firstborn of the Children of Israel, whom I sanctified to be Mine, both man and beast, when I struck down every firstborn in the  land of Egypt.  I have assigned the Levites exclusively to Aaron and his sons to perform the service of the Children of Israel in the Tent of Meeting and to seek atonement for them and to avoid any attack upon them when they approach the Sanctuary.

Moses, Aaron, and all of the congregation of the Children of Israel, carry out all that the Eternal commanded Moses with respect to the Levites.  The Levites’ active service of the Tent of Meeting shall be between their ages of twenty-five and fifty years.  After that they may serve in supporting roles to assist their fellow Levites in the Tent of Meeting, but not actual service.


In the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year of their exodus from the land of Egypt, the Eternal advises Moses that the Children of Israel should perform the Pesach at its appointed time: on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight.  Moses duly advises them, and the Children of Israel observe it in accordance with all that the Eternal had commanded Moses.

But there are people who, because of their impurity from contact with a human corpse, cannot perform the Pesach on that day.  They ask Moses and Aaron why, because of their impurity, they should be prevented from bringing the offering of the Eternal along with their fellow Israelites at its appointed time.  Moses asks them to wait until he learns what the Eternal may command them.

The Eternal charges Moses to communicate to the Children of Israel His answer.  Anyone who is impure from contact with a human corpse or who is far away when the time comes to perform the Pesach, both now and in the future, should do it on the fourteenth day at twilight of the second month.  Eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, do not let any of it remain until morning, and let no bone of it be broken, in complete accordance with the law of the Pesach.

The soul of anyone ritually pure and not on a journey who fails to perform the Pesach shall be cut off from its people for neglecting to perform the offering of the Eternal at its appointed time.  Such a person shall bear his sin.

A sojourner among you who would offer the Pesach to the Eternal must offer it in accordance with every rule of the Pesach.  The law is the same for you, whether non-native or native of the country.


From the time when the Tabernacle was set up, a cloud would cover it with respect to the Tent of Testimony, and in the evening the cloud would take on the appearance of fire until the morning.  When the cloud was removed from over the Tent, the Children of Israel would journey.  Then, wherever the cloud would settle, there the Children of Israel would encamp.  Thus the disposition of the cloud signaled the command of the Eternal either to journey or to encamp.  Whether encamping for many days or a few, for only a night or even beginning their journey at night, they observed the command of the Eternal through Moses.


The Eternal speaks to Moses: Make for yourself two trumpets of solid silver and use them for assembling the congregation and for dispatching the camps.  When both of them are blown, all of the congregation shall assemble before you at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.  When only one of them is blown, then there shall assemble before you the chiefs and the heads of thousands of Israel.

Sound teruah to signal the camps to begin their journeys.  At the first teruah the camps encamped on the east shall move forward.  At the second teruah the camps encamped on the south shall move.  But do not use teruah to convoke the congregation.  The sons of Aaron the priest shall sound the trumpets—an everlasting statute throughout your generations.

When you are at war in your Land against an aggressor, sound teruah on the trumpets and you shall be remembered before the Eternal your God and saved from your enemies.

On your days of rejoicing, both on your Festivals and on your New Moons, sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over your peace sacrifices.  They shall be a reminder for you before your God.  I am the Eternal your God.


In the second year, on the twentieth day of the second month, the cloud is removed from over the Tabernacle of Testimony and the Children of Israel proceed on their journeys from the wilderness of Sinai.  The cloud comes to rest in the wilderness of Paran.  The Israelites commence their journey at the command of the Eternal through Moses.  The first to move is the standard of the camp of the children of Judah, their numbers under the command of Nachshon ben Amminadav (cf. 1:5 ff.), then the tribe of the children of Issachar under the command of Netanel ben Tsuar, and the tribe of the children of Zebulun under the command of Eliav ben Cheylon.

The Tabernacle is taken down, and the Gershonites and the Merarites, bearers of the Tabernacle, set out.

The standard of the tribe of Reuben in their numbers march under the command of Elitsur ben Shedeyur, then the tribe of the children of Simeon under the command of Shelumiel ben Tsuri Shaddai, and the tribe of the children of Gad under the command of Elyasaf ben Deuel.

Next march the Kohathites, bearers of the Sanctuary, taking up the Tabernacle for the balance of the journey.

The standard of the tribe of the children of Ephraim in their numbers march under the command of Elishamah ben Ammihud, then the tribe of the children of Manasseh under the command of Gamliel ben Pedah-tsur, and the tribe of the children of Benjamin under the command of Avidan ben Gidoni.

The standard of the tribe of the children of Dan march in their numbers as rearguard of all the other camps under the command of Achiezer ben Ammi Shaddai, then the tribe of the children of Asher under the command of Pagiel ben Ochran, and the tribe of the children of Naphtali under the command of Achirah ben Eynan.

This, then, is the order of marching of the Children of Israel, in their numbers, as they journey.


Moses invites his father-in-law, the Midianite, Chovav son of Reuel (cf. Exodus 2:18; 3:1; Judges 4:11), to join Israel in their journey to the place about which the Eternal promised, “’”I shall give it to you.”’”  “’Come with us,’’’ said Moses, “‘and we shall be good to you, as the Eternal promised good to Israel.’” (10:29)  Chovav hesitates, expressing his intention to return to his native land.  “’Please do not leave us,’” says Moses; “’since you know where to encamp in the wilderness, you can be our guide!’” (10:31)  Moses promises to share with him the good fortune that the Eternal grants to them.


They journey from the Eternal’s mountain, a journey of three days, with the Ark of the Eternal’s covenant going before them, seeking a resting-place.  The cloud of the Eternal is above them by day as they journey from the camp.

[“And when the ark journeys, Moses says, ‘Arise, O Eternal! May Your enemies be scattered! May Your adversaries flee from before You!’  And when it rests, he says, ‘Return, O Eternal! Myriads of thousands of Israel!’”] (10:35-36, surrounded by “inverted nuns”)


At Taverah

The people turn to wanton complaining in the hearing of the Eternal.  As He hears, His anger blazes, and fire of the Eternal burns against them, eating away at the extremity of the camp.  The people cries out to Moses, Moses prays to the Eternal, and the fire dies down.  The fire of the Eternal is thus memorialized in the name of that place, Taverah (“burning”).

Meat vs. Manna

Some in its midst (hasafsuf) experience hunger, whereupon the Children of Israel also bewail, “Who will feed us meat?”  They call up accompanying memories of fish which they ate freely in Egypt, of cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic, contrasting those delicacies with the manna they see currently.  The manna, like coriander seed, has the appearance of bdellium.  The people gather it and grind it or pound it, boil it in a pot, and make it into cakes.  It has a creamy taste.  The manna appears on top of the dew that descends upon the camp at night.

Moses Reaches His Limit

Moses observes the people’s weeping, family by family, each person at the entrance of his tent, the anger of the Eternal, and Moses sees that all of this cannot continue.  He, for his part, complains to the Eternal for imposing the burden of the people upon him.  Did I conceive or bear all of this people that You should tell me to carry it along as its nursemaid to the land which You promised its fathers?  Where can I find the meat that they demand?  The burden of this people is too heavy for me.  If this is how You treat me, then go ahead and kill me if You care about me, so that I don’t have to put up with my own suffering!

Seventy Elders

The Eternal responds to Moses: Select for Me seventy of the people’s Elders and Officers, and bring them with you to the Tent of Meeting.  There I shall come down and speak with you and spread the spirit which is upon you, to them.  They shall then bear with you the burden of the people, so that you do not have to bear it alone.

As for the people, instruct them to sanctify themselves for the morrow: you shall eat meat, as you have complained in the Eternal’s hearing that it was good in Egypt, where the Eternal provided you with meat to eat.  Now you shall eat meat not just for a day but for many days, until it comes out of your noses and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Eternal, who is in your midst, by crying over your departure from Egypt.

But Moses objects:  I have 600,000 men of the people, and you expect me to provide them with meat for a month?  Are there enough flocks and herds to be slaughtered to feed them?  Could all the fish in the sea be harvested to suffice them?  The Eternal responds:  If you think I lack the power, just wait and see whether or not My word is sustained.

First, Moses reports the words of the Eternal to the people.  He carries out His instructions regarding the Seventy Elders and stations them around the Tent.  The Eternal carries out His plan as related to Moses and spreads his spirit over the Seventy Elders.  They become prophets for a moment without continuing to display their status.

Eldad and Medad

But two of the men, Eldad and Medad, do not move to the Tent with the others; they remain in the camp.  The spirit rests upon them as listed among the Elders, and they become prophets in the camp.  This event is immediately communicated to Moses by a runner.  Joshua son of Nun, by the side of Moses since his youth, urges Moses to arrest them.  Moses says to him: Don’t be jealous for my sake; would that all the Eternal’s people were prophets, that the Eternal would place His spirit upon them!  Moses and the Elders of Israel return to the camp.


Then, a wind from the Eternal spreads quails over the camp, a day’s journey on each side, and a couple of cubits deep.  The people spend all of that day and night and the following day gathering the quail.  The smallest portion gathered is ten chomers, and they are spread out around the entire camp.

At Kivrot Hata’avah

While the meat is still between their teeth, as yet unchewed, the Eternal’s anger blazes against the people and He strikes them down severely.  The place is named Kivrot Hata’avah (“Graves of Hunger”) because there they buried the hungering people.

From there the people set out for Chatzerot.

Miriam and Aaron Criticize Moses

Miriam together with Aaron speaks against Moses for marrying a Cushite woman.  They also complain that the Eternal has spoken not only with Moses but also with them.  The Eternal hears,  and the man Moses is most humble, more than any other person on the face of the earth!  Immediately, the Eternal summons all three of them to the Tent of Meeting.

The Eternal descends in a pillar of cloud to the entrance of the Tent, and at His order Aaron and Miriam emerge:  If I appear to any prophet among you, I would be speaking to him through a dream.  But this is not so of My servant Moses; he is trusted through all of My household.  I speak with him mouth to mouth, clearly and not in conundrums; he sees the likeness of the Eternal.  So why do you not fear speaking against My servant Moses?  Angry at them, He departs.

Now the cloud departs from over the Tent.  Miriam is stricken with snow-white tsara’at, which Aaron sees when he looks at her.  He pleads with Moses not to hold them accountable for their sinful folly: let her not be as one who has died, who emerges from her mother’s womb with her flesh half eaten away.  Moses cries out to the Eternal: Please, God, please heal her!  (12:13)

The Eternal answers Moses with the following reasoning:  If her father spit in her face for insulting him, would she not be detained for seven days?  Let her then certainly for this [more severe crime] be isolated from the camp for seven days at the least.  Only then shall she be readmitted.

So Miriam is isolated from the camp for seven days; the people does not resume its journey until Miriam is readmitted.  The people depart from Chatzerot, and they encamp in the wilderness of Paran.



Haftarah for Shabbat Beha’alot’cha
Zechariah 2:14-4:7

Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Zion,
for I am coming  to dwell in your midst,
declares the Eternal!

Many other nations as well
shall attach themselves to the Eternal;
they shall all be My people,
as I dwell in your midst!

The Eternal shall inherit Judah
as His portion upon the holy Land,
and He shall choose Jerusalem again!
Let all be silent before the Eternal,
as He is aroused from His holy habitation.

I am shown Joshua the High Priest
standing before the angel of the Eternal,
while Satan, to the right of him,
accuses him.

The Eternal defends Joshua
from Satan’s accusation
by calling him
a brand rescued from fire.
Joshua’s garments are filthy
as he stands before the angel.

Remove from him those filthy garments:
See, I shall remove from you your iniquity
and clothe you instead with robes.
Let them place a pure mitre upon his head!

Now the angel testifies to Joshua
the declaration of the Eternal of hosts:
If you walk in My ways and keep My charge,
then you shall rule over My house
and I shall grant you access
among those who stand here.

Consider well, O Joshua High Priest,
that your restoration and your associates’
is a harbinger of My servant, the sprout!
I put before Joshua on a single stone seven eyes;
thus do I engrave it, says the Eternal of hosts,
and I shall remove the iniquity of that land
in a single day!

On that day, says the Eternal of hosts,
you shall invite, everyone his neighbor,
under the vine and under the fig tree.

Now the angel who was speaking to me
awakens me as out of a sleep
and asks me what I see.
I reply:
I see a golden Menorah
with a bowl on top of it,
connected by pipes to its seven lamps,
and an olive tree on either side of it.

As I do not understand their purpose,
the angel explains to me
that this is the word of the Eternal to Zerubbavel:
“’Not by might, and not by power, but by My spirit,’
says the Eternal of hosts!” (4:6)

Who are you, O mighty mountain,
before Zerubbavel?
You shall become a plain,
while he shall bring forth the crowning stone
to jubilations of divine favor!



Tanchuma ed. Buber Beha’alot’cha 5
Numbers Rabbah 15:5

“When you set up the lamps,
let the seven lamps cast light
to the front of the Menorah.”

Those words are what is meant by:

“Because You light my lamp;
the Eternal, my God,
lightens my darkness.”
(Psalms 18:29)

Said Israel before the Holy One, blessed be He:  Master of the universe, You say that we should cast light before You, but You are the Light of the world!  The light dwells with you, as is written: “He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, as the light dwells with Him.” (Daniel 2:22)  Yet you say: “Let the seven lamps cast light to the front of the Menorah?!”

Yes, it is “because you light my lamp…!”  Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to them: It is not that I need it; rather, you should cast light for Me just as I cast light for you.  Why?  To raise you before all the nations, that they should say, “See how Israel gives light to the One who gives light to all!”

To what may this be compared?  To two who walk together: one can see and one cannot.  The seeing one says to the non-seeing one: Come, let me guide you, and so he does.  But when they come to a city and are about to enter an unlit house, the seeing one says to the non-seeing one: Come and light a candle for me to provide me light.  The non-seeing one says: When we were on the road, you supported me and guided me and accompanied me to this house; now you ask me to light a candle to provide you with light?  The seeing one explained: So that you should not feel that I did you a favor!

The seeing one is the Holy One, blessed be He, of whom it was said: “These seven, the eyes of the Eternal (cf. Zechariah 3:9 in Haftarah), they go about over the whole earth.” (Zechariah 4:10)  The non-seeing one is Israel, as was said: “We grope for the wall like those with no vision….” (Isaiah 59:10)  The Seeing One, blessed be He, guided Israel and gave them light, as was said: “The Eternal goes before them by day…to guide them…and by night…to give them light….” (Exodus 13:21)  Then, at the end of the journey, with the erection of the Tabernacle, the Seeing One, commanded the non-seeing one (Israel) through Moses: Provide light for Me, as was said, “When you set up the lamps,” in order to set you up before all the nations!

Numbers Rabbah 15:8

The Eternal charged Moses to instruct Aaron:

 “…Set up the lamps…”

But why would the Eternal command
the setting up of lamps, considering:

“Even darkness is not too dark for You,
and the night shines as the day;
darkness is as light!”
(Psalms 139:12)

This may be compared to a king who tells his devoted subject to prepare a private meal between them.  The devoted subject arranges his humble couch and table, and his humble lampstand, for the dinner.  Then the king approaches with his great entourage encircling him with a lampstand of gold.  The devoted but humble subject is embarrassed to have put out his modest accoutrements before all of the grandeur surrounding his king, so quickly he hides away all that he put out.

The king says to him:  Did I not tell you that I would come to dine with you?  Why have you not prepared?  His devoted subject answers:  When I beheld all of this grandeur, I was embarrassed so I hid all that I had prepared for you, as my table and couch, and my lampstand, are modest in comparison.  Said the king: In that case I am removing all that I brought with me, and because of your devotion I shall use only what belongs to you.

Similarly, although the Holy One blessed be He, is all light, as was said, “The light dwells with Him” (Daniel 2:22), He said to Israel: Prepare for Me a lampstand and lights.  For when He commanded, “Let them make for Me a Sanctuary, and I shall dwell in their midst” (Exodus 25:8), He also said, “You shall make a lampstand…” (ibid. 31), and when they made it, the Shechinah (“Divine Presence”) entered, and “Moses was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting…because the Presence of the Eternal filled the Tabernacle” (ibid. 40:35).  But later, “When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he heard a voice speaking to him” (Numbers 7:89, final verse of preceding sedra).  What did the voice say?  “The Eternal charged Moses to instruct Aaron…: Set up the lamps…!” (ibid. 8:1-2, initial verses of current sedra).

Numbers Rabbah 15:20

“Gather for Me seventy men
from the Elders of Israel
whom you know to be
Elders of the people
and its Officers…”

Were there not already Elders from the past, as in Egypt: “Go and assemble the Elders of Israel…!” (Exodus 3:16)  So why did the Holy One, blessed be He, tell Moses now, “Gather for Me seventy men from the Elders of Israel…?”  To teach you the following:

When Pharaoh said, “Come, let us deal wisely with them…, and they set over them taskmasters…” (Exodus 1:10-11), he assembled Israel and spoke to them: I would like to ask of you, please, to do me a favor today.  That is how the verse, “The Egyptians oppressed the Children of Israel (befarech) with rigor” (Exodus 1:13), can be read instead: The Egyptians oppressed the Children of Israel (befeh rach) with a soft mouth (gently)!

So Pharaoh himself picked up a basket and a trowel.  Who could watch Pharaoh thus making bricks and not move himself to help?  Thus all of Israel immediately joined the task with enthusiasm and vigor, reflecting their strength and their heroic nature.  When it became dark, Pharaoh placed over them taskmasters and said to them: Calculate the number of bricks!  Immediately they counted them, and he said to them: Produce the same amount every day!

He appointed Egyptian taskmasters over Israelite Officers, and the Israelite Officers were appointed over the rest of the people.  When Pharaoh said, “Do not continue to bring straw to the people” (Exodus 5:7), the taskmasters would still expect the same quota of bricks; and when they found the number of bricks wanting, the taskmasters would beat the Officers, as was said: “The Officers of the Children of Israel were beaten…!” (Exodus 5:14)

So the Israelite Officers allowed themselves to be beaten by their taskmasters, instead of the rest of the people.  They did not throw blame upon their fellow Israelites for the deficiency in the number of bricks they produced for Pharaoh.  “Better that we should be beaten,” they believed, “than the rest of the people.”

Now when the Holy One, blessed be He, said, “Gather for Me seventy men from the Elders of Israel,” Moses asked Him: How can I tell who is worthy and who is not!  God’s answer: “…whom you know to be Elders of the people and its Officers…”, and since those “Officers of the Children of Israel” have already borne the burden of being punished to protect the community, therefore: “They shall bear with you the burden of the people, so that you will not have to bear it alone!” (11:17)  In this way the Holy One, blessed be He, compared the Officers among the Elders to Moses himself!

From this we learn that whoever denies himself and endures suffering for the sake of Israel merits honor and greatness and the Holy Spirit, as did the Elders of the people who were the “Officers of the Children of Israel who were beaten.”

Pesikta Rabbati 35

“Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Zion,
for I am coming  to dwell in your midst,
declares the Eternal!”
(Zechariah 2:14)

Such was said in the Holy Spirit by Solomon:

“If she be a wall,
we shall build upon her
a turret of silver;
and if she be a door,
we shall protect her
with boards of cedar.”
(Song of Songs 8:9)

Solomon said his words regarding the Congregation of Israel and the Shechinah (Divine Presence) which dwelled upon the First Temple.  Whereas the prophet Zechariah addressed his words to the “daughter of Zion” in anticipation of the building of the Second Temple.

When the Second Temple was built, the Shechinah did not dwell upon it as it had upon the First Temple.  The Holy One, blessed be He, had said: If all of Israel comes up, the Shechinah will take residence; if not, they will benefit only from the Bat Kol (a reflection or echo of the Divine Presence), as was said: “Many of the Priests and the Levites and the Elder Chiefs of the Fathers, who saw the First Temple when it was established, for this (Second) Temple in their eyes they weep loudly….” (Ezra 3:12a), and: “Who is left among you who saw this Temple in its former glory, and what do you see now?  Is not such a one as nothing in your eyes!” (Haggai 2:3)  Yet the verse of Ezra continues, “…but many shouted joyously at the top of their voices!” (Ezra 3:12b)

Why did some of the people weep while others rejoiced at the sight of the Second Temple?  Elders who saw the glory of the First Temple, in which the Shechinah dwelled, and then saw the Second Temple, in which the Shechinah did not dwell, were the ones who weeped.  Their children, who had not seen the glory of the First Temple, but saw the building of the Second Temple, were those who rejoiced.


Copyright © 2019 Eric H. Hoffman
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