Behaalotecha 5772 – Gilayon #752


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Parshat Behaalotcha

Or two days or a month or a year, when the cloud lingered

over the Tabernacle to abide over it, the Israelites would camp and would not

journey onward, and when it lifted, they would journey onward. By the lord's

word they would camp and by the lord's word they would journey onward.

(Bemidbar 9:22-23)

 

By the Lord's word they would camp – The

purpose behind their encamping and travelling by the word of the Lord has to do

with God's testing them in the desert by distressing them en route, moving them

when they desired to rest, and extending their stay when they desired to move

on. All this was to see if they would deplore Him, and this is expressed

clearly in the Book of Devarim: "AND you shall recall the entire way on

which God led you…in order to distress you, to test you, to see…"

(Devarim 8:2) (Rabbi

Yitzchak Shmuel Reggio, Ibid. ibid)

 

And Moshe said "Arise

O Lord" but another passage reads "according to the word of the Lord

they shall journey". How to reconcile the two passages? A parable may be

drawn. A flesh and blood king was traveling, accompanied by a close companion. When

he travels he says "I do not travel until my dear friend comes with me,"

and when he camps he says "I will not camp until my dear friend comes with

me." Thus we find both passages realized – "According to Moshe's word

they camped" and also "According to the word of the Lord shall they

camp and according to the world of Moshe shall they travel" and "according

to the word of the Lord they shall travel." When they would travel, the

pillar of cloud would be moved from its place according to the work of the

Omnipresent, and he had no permission to move on until Moshe gave the command.

Thus we find implementation of both "according to the word of the Lord"

and "according to the word of Moshe'. To what may this be compared? To a

king who told his servant I will sleep until you awaken me. So said the Holy

One: I will not depart from here until you tell me "Go."

(Yalkut Shimoni

Bemidbar 10)

 

 

Moses and his siblings

close the circle

Elad kaplan

And Miriam and

Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for

he had married a Cushite woman. And they said: 'Hath the LORD

indeed spoken only with Moses? hath He not spoken also with us? And the LORD

heard it.1

In Parashat Behaalotcha we find– and not the

first time in Israelite history – a power struggle between siblings. After a

long exile in Egypt,

which began with the conflict between Joseph and his brothers and the sale of

Joseph to the Midianites, it seems as if we have returned to square one. In

Bereishit, the struggle is generated by Yaakov's preference of Joseph over his

brothers; this time, it is caused by God's preference of Moses over his

siblings.

Who is the Cushite woman? Most Biblical

commentators are of the opinion that the phrase refers to Zipporah, Moses'

wife. Rashi interprets it as meaning a beautiful woman as "everyone admits

her beauty, such as everyone admits that a Cushite is black", while Ibn

Ezra claims that it is a soubriquet for Zipporah, whose skin was so tanned as

to resemble a Cushite. Conversely, Rashbam rejects the argument that the

Cushite woman is Zipporah – "if they spoke about Zipporah, why say that he

took a Cushite woman", explaining that there is no logical reason for

saying that Aaron and Miriam were referring to a Midianite such as Zipporah –

"Cush was from the sons of Cham, while Midian was born of Keturah the wife

of Abraham". Instead, Rashbam proposes to interpret the word 'Cush'

literally. According to the Rashbam, Aaron and Miriam are discussing the woman

Moses married as king in the land of Cush, an ancient culture that probably existed where Sudan is today.

Except for the single clue in this week's

parasha, stories of Moses in Cush

are not recorded in the Torah. However, according to the apocryphal "The

Chronicles of Moses", quoted by Rashbam in his commentary, and a variety

of other sources, Moses spent four decades of his life in Cush. This

chapter in Moses' life is also accounted for extensively in Midrash Yalkut

Shimoni2.

According to the Midrash, Moses's Cush

episode occurred in the gap between his escape from Egypt and his arrival at the house

of Jethro in Midian. As we shall see, the story indicates that Moses and his

sibling rivalry concludes a long cycle that began with the earlier quarrel

between Joseph and his brothers.

Two princes of Egypt

There were two Israelite princes of Egypt – Joseph

and Moses. One leads the children of Israel

into Egypt

and the other leads them out. Joseph acquires his position by gaining the

support of Pharaoh, while Moses loses his position as a consequence of Pharaoh

seeking to kill him.

According to the Midrash, after Moses escapes

from Egypt, he comes to the camp of Koknos king of Cush, where, just like

Joseph in Potiphar's house, he is loved and adored by all: "The king and

the ministers and the entire army loved the man as he was powerful and worthy

and tall as a cedar tree and his face was like the rising sun and his bravery

like a lion, and he became advisor to the king". After nine years, the

king of Cush

dies and the Cushites seek to find a worthy replacement to help them in their

wars. Moses quickly becomes the candidate of choice: "And they made a big

stage and sat Moses upon it and blow the trumpets crying long live the king,

long live the king. And all the ministers and all the people swore to give him

the the Cushite lady, wife of Koknos, to be his wife and made him king. And

Moses was seven and twenty years reigning over the people of Cush".

Just as Joseph was made responsible for all of

Potiphar's house – "And he appointed him

overseer over his house, and all that he had he put into his hand"3

– according to the Midrash, Moses was given charge of all Cush – "and he

was seated on the throne and a royal crown placed on his head and the Cushite

lady given to him to be his wife". It should be noted that this was a

common practice in the ancient near east, that when the King died, all his

possessions, including his wife, passed on to his successor.

Like Joseph, who abstained from sexual relations

with Potiphar's wife, although given the opportunity to do otherwise, Moses,

too, avoided the Cushite woman: "And Moses feared the God of his ancestors

did not come to her, as he remembered of the oath of Eliezer to Abraham to not

take a wife from the daughters of Canaan".

In the cases of both Joseph and Moses, their

actions lead to their expulsion. While Potiphar's wife complains about Joseph

approaching her, thus leading to his being sent to prison, the Cushite lady

complains that Moses did not approach her in the forty years of his reign, thus

leading to his removal from the land of Cush: "After forty of reign, while

he sat on the throne, and the lady sat on his right, the lady spoke to the

ministers and people and said: For forty years this man has been sovereign of

Cush, and he has not come to me or worshiped the God Cush… and when they woke

in the morning they made Monham son of Koknos king of Cush, but they were

afraid to harm Moses because they remembered the oath they had sworn to him, so

they gave him great gifts, and sent him away with great respect, ending his

reign over Cush".

The banished Moses comes to Midian. The previous

Israelite encounter with the Midianites occured when they removed Joseph from

the pit.4

However, according to the Midrash, when Moses comes to Reuel (Jethro) in

Midian, the reverse occurs; Reuel lowers Moses into a pit in anticipation of a

Cushite attempt to take him back: "And he came to Reuel and told him he

had fled from Egypt and reigned over Cush who took the crown and banished him.

And when Reuel heard him he said to himself: I will put him in a prison and

keep him for Cush,

and he was taken to jail".

After ten years, Moses is removed from the pit

with the help of Zipporah, the daughter of Reuel: "And while in jail

Zipporah had mercy for him… and he was taken from the pit and shave and his

prison clothes changed and he was given bread".

Upon leaving the pit, another event occurs that

links Moses with Joseph– transfer of the staff. According to the Midrash, in

the garden of Reuel an ancient staff grew, on which

was engraved the name of God. The staff was transmitted from Adam, through

Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to Joseph. The staff went with Joseph to

Egypt and when he died it came into the possession of Reuel, who took it from

Egypt and planted it in his garden – "And after Joseph's death the

ministers of Egypt came to his home and the staff came to the hand of Reuel and

when he left Egypt, he took the staff and planted it in his garden".

According to Reuel's statement, only the person who can remove the staff from

the ground will win the hand of his daughter Zipporah. This task turns out to

be particularly formidable – "and all the mighty Kyanite men tried to tear

it from the ground to take Zipporah his daughter but they could not and it

remained in the garden until the day came for it to be taken". Triumphing

over all others, Moses easily pulls the staff from the ground and wins the hand

of Zipporah, again continuing in Joseph's path.

 

Closing

the circle

The Midrash describes the path of Moses as a

mirror of Joseph's path. Both are princes of Egypt, both refuse to approach the

master's wife and are ousted from their position of power, and both are thrown

into a pit prior to meeting Midianites. Now we return to the end of the story

in Parashat Behaalotcha.

Joseph began his path with the brothers' quarrel

and ended it as a prince of Egypt,

whereas Moses began his career as a prince of Egypt and is now faced with a

potential quarrel with his siblings. We've returned to the same point – sibling

rivalry, which has already led to a long enslavement and exile.

This time Joseph's brother's role is taken by

Miriam and Aaron, who doubt Moses's integrity regarding the Cushite woman, whom

he had not approached out of devotion to God. Will the brothers' rivalry once

again lead to destructive conflict? Whereas Jacob rebuked Joseph for his

dreams, but did not end the rivalry, in Parashat Behaalotcha, God himself

intervenes: "And the LORD came down in a

pillar of cloud, and stood at the door of the Tent, and called Aaron and

Miriam; and they both came forth.

And He said: 'Hear now My words: if

there be a prophet among you, I the LORD do make Myself known unto him in a

vision, I do speak with him in a dream.

My servant Moses is not so; he is

trusted in all My house;

with him do I speak mouth to mouth,

even manifestly, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD doth

he behold; wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against My servant,

against Moses?"5 This

is not Joseph's prophecy of visions and dreams that was challenged by his

brothers, implies God. This is the prophecy of Moses, mouth to mouth,

manifestly, not in dark speeches.

This time the circle is closed amicably; the

potential conflict is contained. Moses prays for his sister Miriam's wellbeing,

the family does not fall apart and the long exile comes to an end. The story

hidden in the Midrash, which constructs a mirror image between the stories of

Moses and Joseph, presents a picture of history correcting itself. Hatred can

tear us apart in a way that may take many generations to repair. When we repeat

the steps of the past, we must be aware not to repeat the same mistakes; we

must learn and grow from them to build a better future.

1. Numbers 12, 1-2

2. Yalkut Shimoni, Exodus 168

3. Genesis 39, 4

4. Genesis 37, 28

5. Numbers 12, 5-8

Elad

Kaplan writes the "Parasha B'hakira" weekly column for Nana 10

 

"And they travelled from the mountain of God a distance of three days": …When

Moshe intended to travel from there a distance of one day, they marched three

days and a night, like a child leaving school and running.

(Yalkut Shimoni Bemidbar 10, 729)

 

And they travelled from the mountain of God"- said Rav Hiyya bar Hanina:

They turned away from following the Lord.

(Bavli, Shabbat 116a)

 

Advance, O Lord! May Your Enemies Be Scattered,

and May Your Foes Flee Before You! Who is being referred to?

Moses recognized that this Torah from its very entry into the

world would have to expect enemies, opponents, and foes, that people would hate

it. Its demands for justice and love are so very much in opposition to the

dictates of force and selfishness, the curse of which is felt so keenly by the

weak and needy. The upkeep of these dictates against the laws of justice and

love guarantees the coalition of all the people in power who form a tacitly

united front in the world, of enemies, opponents to the Torah who form a

barrier to the entry of its influence into the world in general. And its

demands for self-control and sanctification of morals are so much in contrast

to the allures of ignoble passion that one finds in the breast of the ignoble

masses in all classes, not only enemies but foes, not only hate but

persecution…

(R. Shimshon Raphael Hirsch on Bamidbar 10:35-36, Levy translation)

 

The "External Sciences" are Necessary for

Understanding the Torah

It has already been made clear in

the beginning of parashat Tetzaveh that

the Menorah alludes to the illumination of the wisdom of the Torah through the

sharp analysis of the Torah, through investigation and study. The six braches

of the menorah together with the central lamp are the seven sciences "external"

to the Torah. The Torah needs them in order to be interpreted

through them regarding all of the details of measurements and the like that

come to be explicated in the Torah…the cups represent the giving of drink; the

Torah gives the drink of the sciences, and the sciences give the drink of

knowledge – to know and understand the details of God's word.

(The NeTziV of Volozhin's Ha'Amek Davar, quoted by Prof. Nehama Leibowitz in "Studies in the

Book of Bemidbar)

 

Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord put

His spirit upon them:

there is No Monopoly on

Spirituality

We were instructed that

it is fundamental to the highest spiritual leadership that no one was given

special privilege ("monopoly") over spirit. God-given spiritual

talent is independent of position; it is not a class privilege. The very least

one of the nation may be endowed with the Lord's spirit, just the same as one

who serves in the most elevated role of the royal court.

(Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch)

 

"And you will serve us as eyes":

The eyes are dear and they show the way.

"And you will serve us as eyes":

This may be

interpreted as in the past tense, as per the Aramaic translation. Another

interpretation places it in future tense; whatever will be hidden from our

eyes, you wil light up our eyes; another interpretation, you will be as dear to

us as the iris of our eyes, as is written (Devarim 10) "And you shall love

the stranger.

(Rashi, 10:31)

 

Not only humble – but "very humble

In the case of some character traits, a man is forbidden to

accustom himself to the mean. Rather, he shall move to the other extreme. One

such [character trait] is a haughty heart, for the good way is not that a man

be merely humble, but that he have a lowly spirit, that his spirit be very

submissive. Therefore it was said of Moses our master that he was "very

humble" and not merely "humble". And therefore the

wise men commanded: "Have a very, very lowly spirit." Moreover, they

said that everyone who makes his heart haughty denies the existence of God. As

it is said: And your heart shall swell, and you shall forget the Lord

your God.

 (RaMBaM, Hilkhot De'ot 2:3, Raymond L. Weiss

translation)

 

All the

prophets looked into a dim glass, but Moses, our teacher, looked through a

clear glass.                                                                                                                                     (Yevamoth 49b)

 

"Looked

through a dim glass". They only imagined that they saw the diety, but in reality

they did not. But Moshe looked through a clear glass, and knew that the

deity could not be seen with mortal eye.

(Rashi, ibid.,

ibid)

 

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