April 10, 2024
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The structure of Parshat Beha’alotecha appears slightly disjointed. It begins with instructions to Aharon concerning lighting the Menorah. The parsha then proceeds to the installation of the Levites and the story of Pesach Sheni. This is followed by a description of how Hashem communicated via the pillar of the cloud and fire when B’nai Yisrael were to travel. Thereafter, Moshe is told to make silver trumpets to gather the people in times of need and holy days. B’nai Yisrael’s journeying forth is then recalled, followed by Yitro electing to leave and Moshe trying to convince him to stay. Things at this point seem to deteriorate. People complain simply for the sake of complaining. We hear of the gluttons demanding meat and their punishment for it and by it. Moshe then expresses distress and Hashem provides assistance by appointing 70 elders. This is followed by Eldad and Meidad prophesying in the camp. The parasha concludes with the story of Miriam and Aharon conversing about Moshe and their punishment.

Although it appears there is a structure to the parsha. It can be divided into three groupings, with the first and last being somewhat parallel. Essentially, an A-B-A structure.

The first section is the ideal of holiness and communication with the Holy One, blessed be He. The section begins with mention of the menorah which represents Torah, the thoughts of G-d rendered in the language of Man. It continues on with the description of the Levites who are to be devoted solely to the propagation of Torah. This is followed by the story of Pesach Sheni, the story of individuals who, through no fault of their own, were denied the opportunity to take part in a holy enterprise and are not satisfied with that denial. Pesach Sheni embodies the urge and desire of all Jews to pursue holiness. Next, we read of HaShem communicating with B’nai Yisrael via the pillar of cloud and fire. This is followed by another form of communication, the use of trumpets, on various occasions including when B’nai Yisrael reaches out and communicates with HaShem. After reading of the ideal state, the state of holiness and of Hashem and man reaching out to each other, we come to the second section, where we are thrust back into reality.

Instructions come for the Jews to begin their travels towards the Holy Land. At this point Moshe’s father-in-law, Yitro, decides to depart for his homeland. Moshe requests that Yitro remain but the request falls on deaf ears. Perhaps all that follows— the complaints, the stresses, even the desire to send the spies, which appears in next week’s parsha, flow from Yitro’s departure. After all, the people might have reasoned that if Moses’ own father-in-law is apprehensive about going to the so-called Promised Land, perhaps they also should have doubts. Perhaps the Land is not as good as has been said. Maybe Yitro knows something that the nation does not but should find out. Yitro’s departure may very well have implanted a cancerous doubt in the hearts of some of the people.

The incident with Yitro is followed by the incidents of people complaining simply for the sake of complaining. They were punished along with the elders, who according to some should have been punished back in the time of matan Torah. Yet, the people failed to learn from this and make a demand for meat. Whether they were making a literal plea for consumable flesh or, as some of the midrashim state, complaining about the burdens of mitzvot or the restrictions on sexual practices, these complainers were worthy of punishment. This brings the second section to a close. This second section focuses not on an ideal of holiness but on a sad reality seemingly lacking a divine or holy component.

The third and final section invokes the spirit of the first section. This section also itself has an A-B-A structure.

(A) Moshe cries out to Hashem and Hashem responds. There is mutual communication. Moshe asks for help and receives it in the form of the appointment of a Sanhedrin, the appointment of 70 elders. This is parallel to the initiation of the Levites.

The forgoing is followed by unilateral communication. (B) An instance of Hashem reaching out and communicating with us in the form of the prophecy given to Eldad and Meidad.

Lastly, (A) we have another instance of request and response. Miriam and Aharon speak out of turn concerning Moshe and Hashem immediately calls them to account. When Moshe and Aharon see their sister stricken, Aharon cries out to Moshe and Moshe cries out to HaShem. HaShem responds favorably.

Although this third section is not the idyllic Divine-to-human or human-to-Divine communication envisioned at the outset of the parsha, it is nonetheless communication. As long as there is communication, there is hope. Our study of Torah is a form of ongoing dialogue with Hashem. That study, that dialogue, serves to brighten our often bleak reality and illuminate the path back to Hashem and the ideal envisioned at the parsha’s outset.


William S.J. Fraenkel received a Bachelors of Arts in Religion and a law degree from NYU and served as a Board member and officer of several orthodox shuls. The opinions expressed in this dvar Torah are solely his own.

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