Haftarah: Zacharia 2:14-4:7 (Sefardi and Ashkenazi) | Zecharia 2:14-4:9 (Teimani)
[על-התורה] הפטרה: זכריה ב יד-ד ז (סרדים ואשכנזים) | זכריה ב יד-ד ז (תימנים)
- Details of the Menorah
- The Ordination of the Levites
- Pesach Sheni
- Breaking Camp
- The Silver Trumpets
- The Cloud Lifts
- The People’s Complaints
- Eldad and Medad
- The (Second) Wave of Quail
- Miriam and Aharon Speak Against Moshe
- Haftarah Summary: רני ושמחי בת ציון
Parashat Behaalotcha covers a lot of ground, both in terms of laws and events in the narrative of Bnei Yisrael in the wilderness. It includes the conclusion of the preparations for moving towards Eretz Yisrael that happen at Har Sinai, and then the actual breaking of the camp. Also in this pasha, Bnei Yisrael begin a series of complaints that would characterize the seminal period before they were consigned to dying without entering the Land, a task left to their children. There is also the story of the false prophesying of Eldad and Medad and the important events surrounding Miriam and Aharon’s criticism of Moshe.
Details of the Menorah
Moshe is told to convey to Aharon that the seven lamps (nerot) of the Menorah, the seven-armed candelabra of the Mishkan, are to be mounted at the front of the Menorah. Aharon does so. We are reminded of the detailed instructions given in Parashat Terumah and elsewhere concerning the golden menorah with its petaled features.
The Ordination of the Levites
The Levites are now ritually purified (made tahor) by sprinkling on them mei Chatat (מֵי חַטָּאת), waters of purification (literally, of the sin offering), removing the hair on their bodies with a razor, and washing their clothes. The Levites are brought before the entire community (kol edat Bnei Yisrael – כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל) in front of Ohel ha-Moed (the Tent of Meeting) along with korbanot: a bull for Olah, plus a Mincha (meal offering) of fine flour mixed with oil (solet belulah ba-shamen – סֹלֶת בְּלוּלָה בַשָּׁמֶן), and another bull for Chatat. Bnei Yisrael then lay their hands (ve-samchu…et yedeihem – וְסָמְכוּ…אֶת יְדֵיהֶם) upon the Levites, and Aharon declares them consecrated for service and formally assigned to G-d in place of firstborns; they are also assigned to service to Aharon and his sons, the kohanim. Their ages of service are to be 25 to 50. The Levites can now lay their hands upon the korbanot.
The Mikra tells us that this instruction about the korban Pesach was spoken in the wilderness of Sinai in the first full moon of the second year since the exodus from Egypt—that is, the middle of Nisan, making this earlier than the events of the census described in Parashat Bamidbar, which occur on the 1st of Iyar of the second year. In other words, the instruction about Pesach occurs at the time of Pesach, as being told here. The twilight (bein ha-arbayim – בֵּין הָעֲרְבַּיִם) of the 14th of Nisan is reiterated as the time for korban Pesach, and Bnei Yisrael perform this commandment, in the Sinai desert.
On that same day, Moshe and Aharon are approached by a number of men who could not offer korban Pesach at the appointed time due to contact with a corpse rendering them tameh (ritually impure). Moshe seeks instruction from G-d as to how to handle this situation, and the response is that they, or others likewise unable to offer the korban Pesach on the 14th of Nisan, can do so on the 14th of the second month at twilight, exactly a month later (on the 14th of Iyar). This would later become known as Pesach Sheni. Those offering Pesach Sheni eat it in the same manner as the regular korban Pesach: with matzot and bitter herbs (merorim – מְרֹרִים), breaking none of its bones, and leaving none until morning. However, if a person is eligible to offer korban Pesach at the appointed time and fails to do so, that person is subject to karet (excision).
Again, from the time that the Mishkan was completed, a cloud (anan – עָנָן) dwelt on it by day, and at night, appearing as fire (ke-mareh esh – כְּמַרְאֵה אֵשׁ). When the cloud lifted from the Mishkan, that was a signal to Bnei Yisrael to break camp and begin moving, settling where the cloud settled (ishkon – יִשְׁכֹּן, from the same root as Shechina). The text emphasizes that the cloud might dwell on the Mishkan for long or short periods, with Bnei Yisrael responding accordingly.
The Silver Trumpets
G-d tells Moshe to have two silver trumpets (chatzotzrot kesef – חֲצוֹצְרֹת כֶּסֶף) made, for use in summoning the community and indicating that the divisions (as detailed earlier in Sefer Bamidbar) are to begin moving. The blasts blown on these trumpets mean different things: when both are blown in long blasts, the entire community is to assemble in front of Ohel ha-Moed; if only one is blown, that indicates to the nesiim (tribal heads) to assemble; short blasts tell the divisions to the east to begin moving, and the next series of short blasts tell the divisions encamped to the south to begin moving. The kohanim are to blow to trumpets.
In addition, the trumpets are to be blown at wartime and at joyous occasions, including moadim (appointed times) and new moons (Rosh Chodesh).
The Cloud Lifts
The cloud lifts from the Mishkan in the second year since the exodus from Egypt, on the 20th day of the second month, i.e., on the 20th of Iyar. The people begin their journey out of Sinai; the cloud settled in the wilderness (or desert) of Paran, a distance of three days. The procedure for breaking camp (in particular the disassembly of the Mishkan) is reviewed. The divisions of Dan, Asher, and Naftali bring up the rear. The Ark travels in front of the marching people, protecting them.
Moshe asks his father-in-law, a Midianite, to accompany Bnei Yisrael and serve as their guide as they journey to Eretz Yisrael.
The People’s Complaints
The people (am – עָם) begin to complain bitterly (mitonenim ra – מִתְאֹנְנִים רַע). G-d is incensed by their complaining and sets a fire at the edge of the camp. The people call out to Moshe, and Moshe intercedes on their behalf, after which the fire dies down. As a result of this event, that place is known as Taverah (תַּבְעֵרָה), “burning.”
Immediately after this the Mikra states that the people begin complaining about a lack of meat. This is when Bnei Yisrael remember with fondness the fish they used to eat in Egypt, as well as cucumbers (kishuim – קִּשֻּׁאִים, the modern Hebrew word for squash), melons (avatichim – אֲבַטִּחִים, the modern Hebrew word for watermelon), leeks (chatzir – חָצִיר), onions (betzalim – בְּצָלִים), and garlic (shumim – הַשּׁוּמִים). All they have, the people continue to complain, is the man (manna). Here we are informed that man was like coriander seed (zera gad – זְרַע גַּד) and appeared like bedolach (bdellium, a gum resin – בְּדֹלַח). It could be ground between millstones, pounded in a mortar, or boiled in a pot, and tasted like rich cream (shad ha-shamen – שַׁד הַשָּׁמֶן).
Moshe is distressed by the people’s complaining, and asks G-d why he has been appointed to lead such a difficult people:
Why have You dealt ill with Your servant, and why have I not enjoyed Your favor, that You have laid the burden of all this people upon me?Bamidbar 11:11
In response to Moshe’s considerable distress, G-d tells him to appoint 70 elders (ziknei Yisrael – זִּקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל), to assist him and share the burdens of leadership.
G-d also tells Moshe to inform the people that they must purify themselves, as they will be eating meat tomorrow. In fact, there will be so much meat for an entire month that the people will become ill from it. Moshe is skeptical that there could be enough meat or fish to feed all the people, but G-d reminds him that there is nothing that is beyond Him.
Eldad and Medad
Moshe does as he is told, and when the 70 elders are gathered, just as Gd said earlier, the spirit that dwelt on Moshe dwelt on them also, allowing them to prophesy. However, there are two other men, named Eldad (אֶלְדָּד) and Medad (מֵידָד), upon whom the spirit rests, although not at the Ohel ha-Moed like the rest of the elders. Out in the camp, Eldad and Medad prophesy freely. Moshe is informed of this, and Yehoshua, Moshe’s assistant, asks Moshe to constrain them. Moshe does not see it as a negative, and reenters the camp along with the elders.
The (Second) Wave of Quail
A wind starts up and blows quail (slav – שְּׂלָו) from the sea to the camp of Bnei Yisrael, an entire day’s journey worth of quail on all sides of the camp, and 2 cubits deep, as well. This is the second time Bnei Yisrael receive quail, the first being in Shemot 16 in Parashat Beshalach. In Shemot, the quail, along with the man, is given in response to the people’s hunger. Here, the quail has a destructive effect: Gd is angered by the desire for meat and sends a plague out among the people, causing many to die. This event is again commemorated in the naming of the place, Kivrot ha-Taavah (קִבְרוֹת הַתַּאֲוָה), “the graves of those who desired.” The people then set out from Kivrot ha-Taavah towards Chatzerot (חֲצֵרוֹת).
Miriam and Aharon Speak Against Moshe
A major event now occurs, when Moshe’s siblings, Miriam and Aharon, speaks out against him, “on account of the Kushite woman whom he had married” (עַל אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח).1 We are told here that Moshe is a thoroughly humble person, more so than any other human being (וְהָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה ענו [עָנָיו] מְאֹד מִכֹּל הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה). All three, Moshe, Miriam, and Aharon, are summoned by G-d to Ohel ha-Moed. G-d appears as a pillar of cloud (amud anan – עַמּוּד עָנָן) and tells Miriam and Aharon to come forward. He tells them that while other prophets receive divine communication in visions or dreams, Moshe alone receives it peh el peh (פֶּה אֶל-פֶּה), mouth to mouth, plainly and not in need of interpretation.
When the cloud withdraws from the Tent, Miriam is left metzoraat ka-shaleg (מְצֹרַעַת כַּשָּׁלֶג), stricken with Tzaraat that leaves her totally white as snow. Aharon and Moshe both intercede on her behalf. Aharon asks that Miriam not be left as one who is dead, emerging from the womb with half their flesh eaten away. Moshe cries out, “G-d, please heal her!” (אֵל נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ). G-d replies to Moshe that Miriam needs to remain outside of the camp for 7 days. Bnei Yisrael pause on Miriam’s account and await her for 7 days; only after they have elapsed and she is readmitted to the camp do they march on to Chatzerot.
Haftarah Summary: רני ושמחי בת ציון
The thematic connection between the haftarah and the parsha is when Zecharia is shown the Kohen ha-Gadol (High Priest) Yehoshua’s vision of the Menorah. It begins with a grand vision (of Zecharia’s) about the messianic era, when Yehudah is restored. Before this, Yehoshua was clothed anew, having been dressed in rags. Yehoshua is approached by an angel who is opposed by the Satan (Accuser), and it is the angel who causes him to have the mysterious vision of the Menorah.