Behaalotecha 5772 – Gilayon #752
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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.
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."
Moses and his siblings
close the circle
And Miriam and
Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for
indeed spoken only with Moses? hath He not spoken also with us? And the LORD
In Parashat Behaalotcha we find– and not the
first time in Israelite history – a power struggle between siblings. After a
long exile in
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
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 '
literally. According to the Rashbam, Aaron and Miriam are discussing the woman
Moses married as king in the
Except for the single clue in this week's
parasha, stories of Moses in
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
chapter in Moses' life is also accounted for extensively in Midrash Yalkut
According to the Midrash, Moses's
episode occurred in the gap between his escape from
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
and Moses. One leads the children of
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
The Midrash describes the path of Moses as a
mirror of Joseph's path. Both are princes of
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
whereas Moses began his career as a prince of
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
Kaplan writes the "Parasha B'hakira" weekly column for Nana 10
"And they travelled from the
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
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
(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
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
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
(RaMBaM, Hilkhot De'ot 2:3, Raymond L. Weiss
prophets looked into a dim glass, but Moses, our teacher, looked through a
clear glass. (Yevamoth 49b)
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.
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