Beha’alotecha – “When You Set Up”

This week’s parasha is titled, Beha-alo-t’cha, meaning “when you set up,” and covers Numbers 8:1 – 12:16.  “When you set up” refers to setting up and directing the light of the golden lampstand of the tabernacle, the construction of which was described in Exodus 25:31 – 40.

Chapter 8 also describes the cleansing of the Levites.  This included a total washing and shaving of their bodies for ritual cleansing.  This follows other instructions for the Levites, their location in the camp, chapter 2, a census of their clans, chapter 3, and tabernacle assignments by tribe, chapter 4.  After their ritual purification in chapter 8, they are ready to perform their duties in service to the Lord.

Chapter 9 discusses the celebration of the second Passover, the first Passover after leaving Egypt.  The Lord commands Moses to observe the Passover following the instructions given in Exodus 12.  However, we discover that there are those who are unclean and therefore cannot celebrate the Passover due to coming in contact with a dead body.  The celebration of the Passover is so important that God commands Moses to instruct these people to celebrate it on the 14th day of the following month.  In fact, this holiday is the only holiday in the Torah where the Lord provided instructions that it should be celebrated at later time.  None of the other holidays were given instructions to be celebrated later.

Chapter 9 also recounts the movement of the camp.  The Israelis only broke camp when the cloud of the Lord lifted from the tabernacle and moved.  As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, the people stayed where they were.

Chapter 10 discusses making the silver trumpets and the meanings behind the trumpet blasts.  When both trumpets were blown, all people were to gather at the tent of meeting.  If only one trumpet was blown, then only the leaders were to gather.  If the trumpets were blown to warn the people, there was a certain way that the people would move out to confront the danger.  In chapter 10, we see the cloud of the Lord lifts from the tabernacle and the people begin to move out.  It is interesting to note that in Deuteronomy, 24:5, we read that before going to war, a husband is allowed to spend 1 year with his new bride.  Well, in Exodus 19, we read that the Israelis arrived at Sinai in the 3rd month after leaving Egypt, and here in Numbers 10, we read the cloud lifts on the 20th day of the second month, almost 1 year after the Israelis arrived at Sinai.  During this year, the Lord has spent time instructing and developing His people in his statutes and commandments.  As they head out now, they will be facing dangers and enemies as they move to conquer the Promised Land.

In chapter 11, the people begin complaining again, this time about the lack of meat.  They start speaking about the fish and cucumbers that were available in Egypt.  Moses also complains to the Lord about having to handle the needs of the people by himself.  To take the burden of having to deal with the rest of the people by himself, the Lord tells Moses to gather 70 men from among the elders of the people to help Moses deal with the complaints and other issues of the people.

The Lord also tells Moses that He will provide meat for the people, and in a way, Moses is in disbelief because he asks how the Lord is going to be able to provide meat for 600,000 people.  The Lord is true to His Word and He sends a wind which brings quail, so much quail, that we are told quail covered all the ground a whole day’s journey on each side of the camp at a depth of 36 inches.  The people spent all day and night and the next day gathering this meat.  We are told that the least amount that was collected close to 500 pounds.  While they were about to eat the quail, when it was “still between their teeth” (v.33) the Lord strikes the people with a plague for their greediness.  We are not told how many perished, but we are told that this place was named Kivrot-haTa’avah (graves of craving).

In chapter 12, this disobedience continues with Miriam and Aaron complaining about Moses because he married a Cushite (an Ethiopian).  Not only that, but in verse 2, “and they said, “Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses?  Has He not spoken through us as well?…”  The Lord commands Miriam and Aaron to come forward.  He tells them that if there is a prophet, the Lord makes Himself known in a vision or a dream, but it is only with Moses that He speaks face-to-face.  As the cloud of the Lord withdraws, Miriam is left leprous.  Although Moses and Aaron intervene and ask the Lord to heal her, the Lord commands her to be put outside the camp for 7 days as a public humiliation, because it was as if her father spat in her face (Deuteronomy 25:9).

What are the takeaways from Parasha Beha-alo-t’cha?

  1. The overall message, as in so many instances in the Torah is that obedience brings blessings and disobedience brings discipline.  Chapters 11 and 12 with the people’s greed for quail and Aaron and Miriam’s complaints against Moses give examples to this type of discipline.
  2. We are also reminded about the terrible curse of being greedy, or wanting what we do not have. In chapter 11, 10 pounds of quail was not enough to satisfy a person, 100 pounds of quail was not enough to satisfy, even the least amount gathered was close to 500 pounds.  This is an extreme example of enough is never enough.  I pray that we will all learn this lesson and be satisfied with what the Lord provides each one of us on a daily basis.
  3. Finally, we should be reminded of Jesus words, in John, Chapter 6:35:  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  This world is always tempting us to seek more pleasures, greater wealth or fame.  Instead, we should focus on living our lives in Messiah, the only source of peace and satisfaction that are worthy of being pursued.