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Parshat Behaalotcha

And miriam was shup up outside the camp seven days,

And the people did not journey onward

Until miriam was gathered back in

(Bemidbar 12:15)


And the people did not journey onward - (Sotah 9) - This is the honor which the Omniscient bestowed upon her as reward for the hour she waited when Moshe was cast into the Nile, as is written (Shemot 2) 'And his sister stationed herself from afar etc."

(Rashi, ibid., ibid)


And the people did not journey onward - The passage "And his sister stationed herself from afar" contains seven words, therefore the Holy Presence waited for her seven days.

(Baal HaTurim ibid. ibid)


And it says: "And afterward the nation journeyed from Hatzerot and camped in the Paran wilderness". To tell us that in every journey they were afflicted with trials and tribulations because of the sin of lashon hara [speaking ill], At Tav'era were the complainers - "and the fire of the Lord consumed them" (ibid, 11:1), and at Kivrot HaTaavah (the graves of desire) they were lustful and spoke against the Lord, and they buried there the lustful (Ibid, 11:34), and in Hatzerot was the incident of Aharon and Miriam and her leprosy (22:17). And in Paran they sent spies and rebelled against the Lord and the decree was issued against them (Ibid 13:3), And there, too, occurred the incident with Korach and all his assembly. So you see, in every journey they corrupted and plotted from which no good came.

(Abarbanel, Bemidbar 12:1-17)



And the man Moshe was very humble

Rami Pinchover

In honor of the Shabbat Chatan-Callah of

Daniel Ovadia and Oved Pinchover

The unusual passage we read in this week's parasha, "And the man Moshe was very humble, more than any person on the face of the earth" (Bemidbar 12:3), is found in the narrative "concerning the Cushite wife". This narrative may well be termed "the family rebellion" of Aharon and Miriam against Moshe's prophecy [along with the rebellion of the people and the tribe of Levi in the wilderness] appearing in the Book of Bemidbar, Chapter 12:

And Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moses concerning the Cushite wife whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman. And they said: Has the Lord indeed spoken only with Moses? Has He not spoken also with us?' And the Lord heard it. - Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any person on the face of the earth. - And the Lord spoke suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aharon, and unto Miriam: 'Come out you three to the tent of meeting.' And they three came out. 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 does he behold; wherefore then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?' And the anger of the Lord was kindled against them; and He departed.

The text relates that immediately following His words to Aharon and Miriam, God listens. We do not hear Moshe's reaction - we assume that he was not privy to this conversation. Instead there appears the passage regarding Moshe's humility. Then "suddenly" God calls to Moshe, Aharon and Miriam and tells them about the prophet Moshe's greatness, and at the end of the admonition appear the leprously punishment, Moshe's prayer, and Miriam's cure. Many questions have been raised regarding this strange story. One of the more intriguing regards the identity of the party describing Moshe's humility. Is it Moshe? God? The story's narrator? And why is Moshe's humility relevant to this story? Why does Moshe alone merit the two crowns: the crown of humility and the crown of trust!

In the context of this passage, our Sages wrote many midrashim praising Moshe excessively. Savor the following:

Come and see the greatness of our teacher Moshe's humility, that Scripture testifies to it (Bemidbar 12) "And the man Moshe was very humble etc" (Psikta Zuta (Lekach Tov) Bemidbar Behaalotcha).

"...more than any person on the face of the earth", but not more than the Patriarchs. R. Yosi says: Even more than the Patriarchs..." (Yalkut Shimoni, Torah, Parashat Behaalotcha 247 339).

Jewish (and also non-Jewish) tradition sees Moshe as history's greatest leader and prophet. According to many exegetes, his greatness derives from the characteristic of humility and thanks to it Moshe merited being the greatest leader and prophet.

The Bible, our Sages, Bible commentators and the literature of ethics are replete with descriptions of the qualities and praises of humility, and we present here but a few examples: "The effect of humility is fear of the Lord, wealth, honor, and life" (Proverbs 22:4), "Always be humble as Hillel, and not hot-tempered like Shammai" (Bavli, Shabbat 30b). On the other hand, one should also remember R. Yochanan's famous dictum: "The humility of R. Zacharia b. Afkilos destroyed our Temple and burned down our sanctuary, and exiled us from our land" (Bavli, Gitin 56).

In the Palestinian Talmud there appears an anonymous statement "That [fear of the Lord] which Wisdom makes a crown for her head - humility makes the imprint [heel] of her shoe" (Shabbat 3). R. Shelomo Hayyim Friedman (grandson of R. Yisroel of Ruzhin, Chassidic leader from Sadigora, a distinguished Zionist who established residence in Tel-Aviv 1887-1972), in his book "Hayyeh Shelomo, expounds this statement:

This statement presents a difficulty, for what [kind of] humility is this that takes fear of the Lord and makes it an imprint for her shoe? But the truth is that humility is a greater wisdom than wisdom itself [emphasis mine, R.P.], because wisdom, when making the fear into a crown for the head, emphasizes thereby that the work is already completed, whereas Humility says 'No, I have only begun my fear of the Lord, it is still under my heel, and have yet to perfect myself in the fear of the Lord, I still must labor until I succeed in raising it to my head and then will I be full of the fear of God" (It seems that the "Chayye Shelomo connects fear of the Lord to "The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord [Psalm 111])

Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, CEO of Nokia in its golden age, wrote: "Humility is an essential quality in a leader, just as it is essential to a company. Nokia, if it is to continue to flourish, must be focused outwards. It must adopt the humility which causes it to listen to its customers and to seek ideas from the outside. It must be humble in the face of the complexity..." Humility does not mean being silent or lacking the courage to express what is upon your heart. Courage and humility go hand in hand and do not contradict one another." (Appeared on 28/01/08 in "The Marker"). [These words were written in 2006, but it seems that the message was forgotten...]

Our national poet excelled in describing the above sentiments in his wonderful poem:

May my lot be with you, meek of the world, silent souls,

Who shape their lives in secret, modest in thought and action,

Hidden dreamers, who speak little but increase glory;

The pleasantness of your spirit ensconced within you like a pearl on the ocean floor,

And your virtues, like forest seeds, multiply midst shadows.


But your lives - your finest vision, and your glory - your very being;

You are the trustworthy guards of God's image on earth!

Bialik stresses the critical function of the trustworthy and dependable preservation of God's image in the world! It may be said that according to Bialik, without humility the world has no hope and no revival.

We have learned that the world is built upon humility and upon trust, two qualities in which Moshe excelled. There is a wonderful midrash which broadens and combines within itself all the attributes of Moshe through which he merited revelation, prophecy and leadership:

And the Name who revealed himself to Moshe in the bush out of love and out of mercy and out of modesty and out of honesty and out of humility and out of charity and out of trust. (Otzar HaMidrahsim [Eisnstein], Midrash R. Akiva p. 414)

These traits of Moshe are based upon the descriptions of his image and his actions which appear in all their power throughout his path, from the moment he steps out of Pharaoh's palace until his demise on Mt. Nevo, facing the longed-for land (and this is not the place to elaborate).

This beautiful midrash accurately charts the way and the recipe for everyone--especially a couple seeking unity beneath the marriage canopy - to a shared life, a life in which each party gives its share of love, mercy, modesty, honesty, humility, and trust.

In this spirit Zelda effectively described "the humble home" in her poem "The Old House":

The humble house is partner

To the celestial celebration;

The sun casts into it

Its flaming gold,

And the night floods it with the darkness of stars.

May it be His will that we succeed to preserve - and to be preserved - in ourselves, in our family, in our land and with our neighbors: In love, in mercy, in modesty, in honesty, in humility, in charity, in trust and in peace, and thereby may we all participate in the celestial celebration.

(These thoughts are penned in honor of the marriage of our youngest son, Oved, to his fiancée Daniel. May their home be an everlasting edifice)

Rami Pinchover is an engineer.


More on the quality of humility

The end result of every quarrel - regret; the end result of humility - peace.

(R. Shelomo Ibn Gvirol)


"And this shall be for you the sign that I have sent you" - your humility will be the sign.

(Meshech Chochma, Shemot 3:11)


All positive qualities require intent, with the exception of the quality of humility, for humility with intent can not longer be called humility.

(Simcha Raz - Menachem Mendel of Kotsk)


Reb Zushe and his brother Reb Elimelch were discussing the quality of humility. Elimelech said: "A person must first contemplate the greatness of the Creator, and then he will attain true humility." But Zushe said: "Not so, one must first begin with true humility, and then he will attain recognition of the Creator." They asked their mentor, the Maggid of Mezeritz, to decide who was right. The Rebbe ruled: "Both are the words of the Living God, but inner hessed rests upon one who begins with his soul and not with the Creator."

(M. M. Buber "The Hidden Light" P. 225)


Rabbi Moshe [of Kobrin] repeated for one of his associates a story which the Baal Shem Tov told about himself: "When I reached the stage of the great calm of mind [yishuv hadaat], I understood that I had not yet even begun serving the Name". The listener asked: "But did not our Sages say: 'If you have attained knowledge, what are you lacking?' Replied Rebbi Moshe: "From my mentor I once heard clarification of this. "If you have achieved knowledge" - if you think that you have already attained knowledge, you are lacking 'what', in the sense of humility, as is written 'And what are we?' Whereas 'you are lacking knowledge': if it is clear to you that you are lacking knowledge, then you have attained 'what'", that is to say: You have attained 'what' - in the sense of humility."

(Ibid. ibid. P. 355)


Awe and Humility

This was the argument of the convert in the chapter of "Bameh Madlikin" and the reason for Shammai's rejection of him. Shammai had reached the level of yir'ah - of awe - which is accompanied by gevura courage, and by kapdanut - strictness - which was the level of our father Yitzhak, o"h, from whom Israel evolved. Therefore, he (Shammai) rebuffed converts, as related in the chapter Bameh Madlikin... Hillel's humility brought them near, like Moshe our teacher o"h, who was very humble, and therefore he brought close the airev rav - the non-Israelites who joined the Israelites in the Exodus... And so was our father Avraham o"h humble, as is written in Tractate Berachot "Woe [upon the passing of] this humble person, disciple of our father Avraham o"h". Therefore he was the father of converts, as we learned in Bikkurim. Humility includes the appreciation of one's deficiency as compared with the greatness of The Holy One, Blessed Be He, and therefore has no place for belittling the convert who has come with his staff and pouch, for He who told oil to burn can tell vinegar to burn and it will burn, and he can put fire into vinegar, as with "God, created within me a pure heart", and creation is ex nihilo.

(Rabbi Tzadok HaCohen of LublinOr Zarua LaTzaddik)


"We remember the fish": Is it conceivable that the Egyptians gave them fish for free? Has it not already been written: "And you go and work, and you will not receive straw" (Shemot 5)?! If they would not even give you straw for free, would they give you fish for free?! But what do I mean by "for free"? Free of the mitzvoth.

(Sifri, Behaalotecha, Section 87)


For this reason people hated the Land. Being hard-hearted and uncharitable, they had no desire to exchange a place where charity is optional for a place where it is obligatory. They sincerely declared "We recall the fish that we used to eat in Egypt for free" - and our sages explained homiletically "free of the mitzvot". The meaning of this is that they would eat without giving terumot u'maaserot - heave-offerings and tithes - (for this reason they also enumerated the cucumbers and the watermelons, etc., for all these are exempt from maaser outside the Land - even as rabbinical obligations - and compulsory within the Land only as a rabbinical injunction). Their declaration "free of the mitzvot" indicated stinginess towards the priest of God; therefore, they disliked the Land with its obligation. The women of that generation, however, were righteous, and cherished charity - both the mitzvah of challah which is directed primarily at women and is obligatory in the Land, and all the other terumot and maasrotThis is what our Sages had in mind when they said, "In the merit of the righteous woman of that generation, our fathers were delivered from Egypt" - meaning that because of their merit they [our fathers] went from a place of permission - reshut - to a place of obligation for which their [the women's'] hearts yearned, and thus our Sages described the daughters of Tzlafchad as 'righteous women' because they cherished charity, and therefore they asked "Give us a holding".

(Kli Yakar, Bemidbar 26, 64)

Envy, lust, and vainglory shorten a person's life

"The Graves of Desire" - One might think that that this was its original name, but the Torah teaches that: "Because there were buried..." Because of that incident it was so called, but this was not its original name. But you do not know who were those who accustomed Israel to sin, therefore it says "The riffraff [lit. "those gathered"] in their midst" - these were the converts gathered from everywhere. Rabbi Shimon ben Menasya says: These are the elders among them, as is written "Gather me" - the elders, then, provided a kal vachomer by which to judge others [e.g., "if the leaders could behave so, then what can we expect of the masses?!"]. Similarly we say with regard to the passage "And the Sons of the Lord saw the daughters of man" - what did the sons of the judges (The term "Elohim" - a widespread appellation of God, also is a connotation for "judges".) do? They would grab women from the market place and rape them. If the judges' sons could so behave, then kal vachomerso would the ordinary people.

(Yalkut Shimoni Behaalotcha, 247: 732)


"When the Lord enlarges your territory... and you say, "I shall eat some meat" teaches us that great expansion causes man to follow his passions, "and the lion roars only over a pile of meat" (Berachot 32), There it is written "When the Lord enlarges your territory" - this leads to removal of the mask of shame from your face to the extent that you unabashedly say "I shall eat some meat". This is somewhat similar to the throwing off of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and to questioning the place of sacrifices; the reason for all this is "The place where the Lord has chosen to establish His name is too far from you" fear of the Kingdom of Heaven is proportionate to closeness to the temple, as is written, "and fear my temples", meaning that from the temple flows fear of the Kingdom of Heaven. But the fact that "The place where the Lord has chosen to establish His name is too far from you" results in the distancing of God from your thoughts, therefore you shall experience desire all the time, and you will not be ashamed to say "I will eat some meat". I therefore permit you to do so, and you shall offer up from you cattle, etc., as I have commanded you, but not at all times, but occasionally, when desire becomes overwhelming.

(Kli Yakar, Devarim 12:20)




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