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Bend Me, Shape Me

Israel’s arduous journey from Sinai begins in Parashat Behalotcha (Num. 8:1–12:16). The long trek is prefaced with instructions for lighting the Menorah, including the detail that it was necessary for the Kohen to “step up” to light the wicks of the lamp. With all that’s facing the newly-minted nation, it is as if HaShem is warning them that things are changing and the time has come to “step up” and begin their mission in earnest.

Before Israel departs from Sinai, Moses is faced with a request from those unable to celebrate the very first Pesach in Egypt because they were ritually impure, mostly from coming in contact with the dead. After consulting with HaShem, Moses informs them they can observe Pesach Sheni, a Second Passover. Those who were defiled could now be cleansed via the water of purification made possible by the Parah Adumah(Ashes of the Red Heifer).

Next come directives positioning the tribes for their movement, as well as, breaking and setting up camp for the remainder of Israel's journey to the Promised Land. The text underscores how important it is for the nation to look to the pillar of cloud, moving as it moves and resting when it rests, always setting up the Mishkan (Tabernacle) directly beneath the cloud when it becomes stationary. The mode of travel was even a lesson to Israel on how they were to always follow G-d’s direction:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not rely on your own understanding. In all ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” - Psalms 3:5-6

Israel begins their march, beset by many new challenges, including the displeasure of those who claimed they were tired of the daily ration of Manna. They demanded meat. HaShem sent them quail on the prevailing winds resulting in a plague and the deaths of those whose perished with their mouths full.

Then there is the incident with Eldad and Medad who prophesy that Joshua--not Moses would lead the nation into the Promised Land. In Midrash Midbar Rabbah 15:27 there is a suggestion that the two men were related to Moses. Joshua was concerned by the behavior of Eldad and Medad. He believed the two had no authority because they were not among the 70 elders who received some of HaShem’s spirit and temporarily experienced the gift of prophecy. Moses takes it in stride, announcing that such a thing was up to the Creator. As far as Moses was concerned, he wished that all of God’s people were prophets.

Moses then faces a rebuke from Aaron and Miriam who question his authority. Miriam criticizes the wife of Moses, calling her, “the Cushite Woman". It sounds like a racial epithet and the Sages tell us it's inclusion underscores the anger expressed by Moses' sister. The text is vague as to whether this is a disparaging remark or not. However, sources such as MeAm Loez, report that Moses was, indeed married to a Cushite woman(Ethiopian) and had wed her decades before he eventually arrived in Midian and met Zipporah. Of course, G-d has the final word and makes it crystal clear by endorsing Moses:

"When prophets of G-d arise among you, I make Myself known to them in a vision, I speak with them in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of HaShem. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!” - Numbers 12:6-8

HaShem called out Aaron and Miriam, rebuking them for their actions. It is notable that only Miriam suffered from the visible punishment of tza-arat, which is likened to leprosy. The Talmud (Arachin 16b) reveals that Miriam was punished because she instigated the criticism against Moses while Aaron immediately repented of his involvement.

All of these challenges the newborn nation faced during their initial foray into the wilderness simply reveals why Israel’s journey was required for their growth as a people. The key to this is found within the instructions regarding the Menorah at the very opening of the parasha. The Menorah is beaten from a single mass of zahav tahor, (pure gold). To insure stability, the base of the Menorah needed to be the largest and heaviest section, supporting the most delicate top part, where the light shown forth. The design insured the Menorah could solidly stand and direct its light from the seven branches back to the center shaft. This is a physical representation of Israel's relationship with God—even our own. Pure gold is free of impurities, it can be hammered or pressed permanently into shape, retaining its beauty and strength without breaking or cracking.

Rather than be beaten down, we can acknowledge life’s trials and use our experiences to grow, build character and shape our souls into shining examples. The Menorah is symbolic of how each of us can harness our unique God-given talents and point others to the one true God. The Menorah is modern Israel's national symbol, confirming it as a Light to the Nations, a mission that requires purity of purpose and unbreakable unity of the Jewish People.

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