Lighting the Menorah… inauguration the Levites… Passover offering in the desert…Pesach Shani…Clouds’ protective and travel roles…Silver trumpets…Hovav(Yisro) declines to stay…Invoking God(“Vayehe B’nsoa Haaron…”)… Murmurings and rebellions… sharing leadership… Yehoshua’s jealousy…Aaron and Miriam malign Moshe…Moshe’s uniqueness
Sometimes there is more to a complaint than meets the eye. In this Parsha, the Jews arrive in the Paran desert from the Sinai desert on their way to the land of Canaan. Three unrelated incidents describe legitimate complaints that, upon further analysis, turn out to have deeper, unrelated roots.
• “We Demand Meat” say the Jews……reminiscing how in Egypt “…they ate fish Chenam (for free)” and how tired they are of the same old Manna (food gift from Hashem). Nechama Leibowitz in her Studies cites the Ramban’s explanation that the Jews were given small fish caught in the nets that had no value; a kind of “freebie” for the King’s workers. Ibn Ezra says fish were plentiful and cheap, not free. Either way, the Jews’ selective memory made them forget the price they paid for this “wonderful” fish and vegetable treat: slavery, suffering, persecution. The Sages explained the word Chenam not as “free of charge” but “free from God’s commandments”. The Jews’ discontent was really about their wish to avoid the yoke of civilization and self-discipline demanded of them by the Torah. They wanted to return to their Egyptian lifestyle of unrestricted behavior.The food issue was a pretext.
• Yehoshua Ben Nun exhorts Moshe to stop Eldad and Medad from continuing their prophetic pronouncements after God, in response to Moshe’s request for lightening his leadership burden, grants the gift of prophecy to 70 of the Elders including Eldad and Medad. Yehoshua seems to be trying to protect Moshe, fearing that his honor and authority would now be reduced. But Moshe’s noble response suggests that it was jealousy that drove Yehoshua not altruism “…Are you jealous for my sake?” says Moshe, “I wish all of Hashem’s people were Prophets and that Hashem would endow them with His Spirit.”
• Miriam and Aaron speak out against their brother Moshe. Their complaint is that Moshe engaged in inappropriate behavior by taking a Cushite woman for a wife (Tzipora) while they,who were also prophets of Hashem, presumably always did the correct and appropriate thing .They were defending the honor of Tzipora from whom Moshe withdrew physically once he became a Prophet. (Others maintain that the Cushite woman was not Tzipora but an Ethiopian woman he took for a second wife.) The Torah tells us “Vayeshma Hashem… Vayered Hashem” i.e., God “heard” -- understood what was really going on -- and He descended. The term Vayered Hashem is used to mean an investigation into, a delving into, deep, underlying motives and their implications. This was about sibling rivalry and jealousy. For “blackening” Moshe’s name, Miriam (presumably the main culprit) was afflicted with the whiteness of Tzaraas. The ever- noble Moshe described as “Anav M’od”( very humble, unassuming), who uniquely is granted the ability to interact with God “Pe El Pe”(face to face), responds to his maligners’ begging for intervention to God with just five poignant and elegant words: “Kayl R’fah Na LaH”—I beg of you God to heal her now.
The Torah records for us the history of our people and our unique relationship with God. We are given the opportunity to study human behavior and psychology and recognize the ways that our internal conflicts influence our behavior. Perhaps it is for us to take a mirror to ourselves and, now more cognizant of these inherent emotions, re-channel our energies towards living the Torah’s ethical and moral values.
Rabbi B.S. Jacobson offers some insights into prophecy that emerge from incidents in the Parsha.
In describing the Holy Spirit that is partly shifted from Moshe onto the 70 Elders, the Torah employs the word hisnabbu. Rabbi S.R. Hirsch interprets this form of the root-word to mean a lower degree prophetic state that emanates from the superior prophetic state of Moshe, versus one that comes directly from God.
Although the 70 Elders were instructed to go to the Tent, Eldad and Medad performed their prophetic activities in the camp, a point repeated three times in the text. This behavior prompted Yehoshua to ask Moshe to “shut them in” for their apparent offense. In reality, according to the Talmud, the two felt they were unworthy of being a part of the chosen 70. Their humility prompted God to give them an even higher level of prophecy. Ramban opines that the two committed an act of insubordination by not joining the other Elders. Moshe’s response to Yehoshua’s request is “would that all God’s people were prophets, that God would put his Spirit upon them.” His wish is that all the people receive prophecy emanating directly from God (like Eldad and Medad) instead of receiving the one-step removed variety emanating from Moshe.
Joseph Albo thinks that the prophecy that emanates from a prophet (and not directly from God) can be experienced by a person not worthy of it or by one not prepared for it. After Miriam makes her derogatory comments about Moshe, she and both her brothers are summoned to the Tent where God descends in a pillar of cloud. Though both Miriam and Aaron were worthy, they needed Moshe’s presence to be prepared for the meeting with God.
With the exception of Moshe (who experienced God “Pe El Pe”—face to face) prophets experience their prophecy in a dream state. Abrabanel asks how one who is sleeping can distinguish between dreams that reflect his imagination, wishes and worries (often unconscious) and those that are prophetic in nature. His opinion is that the intensity of the sensation experienced in a prophetic dream is more distinct and clearer than the sensation of an ordinary dream.(Note: the painful sensation that Yaakov experienced after waking from a dream in which he wrestles with a “Man” may suggest the prophetic nature of that dream.)