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Parshas Beha'aloscha - Vol. 10, Issue 33
Compiled by Oizer Alport
At first glance, Parshas Beha'aloscha appears to discuss a number of disparate and unrelated topics. However, Rav Yissocher Frand suggests that upon further examination, an important theme emerges. At the time of the offering of the Korban Pesach in the wilderness, there was a group of men who were unable to participate due to the fact that they had become ritually impure through contact with a dead body. Instead of passively accepting their fate, they approached Moshe and challenged him, "Why should we be deprived of the chance to offer the Korban Pesach with the rest of the nation?" Moshe consulted Hashem to receive a reply to their argument, and he was instructed to respond by teaching the mitzvah of Pesach Sheini, which is a make-up opportunity for those who were ritually impure or too far away to participate in offering the Korban Pesach.
The Sifri (Beha'aloscha 10) comments on this incident that these individuals were charedim al hamitzvos - they trembled to do the mitzvos. Rabbi Frand explains that these men were legitimately exempt from the Korban Pesach due to their impure status. As such, they were rightfully excused from the mitzvah and had absolutely no obligation to take part in it, nor was there any logical reason to be upset about it. However, the Sifri tells us that these were not ordinary Jews. They were exceedingly righteous men, who yearned to perform mitzvos and therefore challenged Moshe, "Why should be deprived?" Instead of viewing mitzvos as obligations or burdens, their saw them as opportunities, and their philosophy was that missing out on a mitzvah is a form of deprivation to be avoided at all costs.
Parshas Beha'aloscha begins with the laws governing the lighting of the Menorah in the Mishkan. Rashi explains (8:2) that this topic is juxtaposed to the offerings of the tribal leaders at the end of Parshas Naso because Aharon felt disheartened when he saw so many offerings in which neither he nor his tribe took part. Hashem responded by reassuring him with the laws of lighting the Menorah, which was performed by Kohanim and was an even greater merit. Nevertheless, we can again question: Why was Aharon upset to begin with? During the 12-day consecration of the Mishkan, each of the princes of the 12 tribes was responsible to bring an offering on each of the successive days. As Aharon was not a tribal prince, and his tribe had their own unique function in the Mishkan, why was he discouraged to be left out? The answer is that just like the impure men on Pesach, Aharon similarly felt deprived by being excluded from an opportunity to do a mitzvah and come closer to Hashem.
Unfortunately, Rabbi Frand notes that while some pious individuals become distraught when they are unable to perform a mitzvah, there are other people who become depressed over far more mundane matters, such as when their stock portfolio takes a hit, or even when their favorite sports team is mired in a losing streak. Along these lines, later in Parshas Beha'aloscha, we find another group of people who were depressed, but not about their inability to perform a mitzvah. They felt deprived because they missed the delectable cucumbers and watermelons that they used to eat in Egypt, and they were disturbed by the unchanging menu in the wilderness (11:4-6).
The message of Parshas Beha'aloscha is that we must examine what makes us upset, and what makes us happy, which will reveal to us what we have chosen as our priorities in life. Do we follow in the footsteps of Aharon and the impure men and view ourselves as unfairly deprived whenever a mitzvah opportunity does not pan out as we had hoped, or do we elect to complain about the food we are served?
Parshas Beha'aloscha ends with an unusual episode, in which Moshe's own siblings Miriam and Aharon gossiped behind his back about the Cushite woman whom he married, for which Miriam was punished with tzara'as for initiating the conversation. The Torah does not spell out the nature of their complaint, but Rashi explains that Miriam was criticizing her brother for neglecting his wife Tzipporah. Because of Moshe's unique prophetic status, Hashem could speak to him at any moment, and he therefore had to abstain from marital relations in order to remain in the state of ritual purity necessary to receive prophecy. Miriam, unaware of Moshe's distinction in this regard, told Aharon that Hashem did not only speak to Moshe; He also spoke prophetically to them, yet they were able to maintain normative marital relationships with their spouses, so why should Moshe be any different? Hashem replied by informing them that Moshe was indeed unique in his level of prophecy, and his state of being constantly "on call" required him to conduct himself in this manner.
However, the Moshav Z'keinim offers a different explanation of Miriam and Aharon's grievance, suggesting that their argument was not that Moshe should reunite with his wife, but just the opposite, that he should divorce her. They maintained that although it was reasonable for Moshe to marry such an unpedigreed woman when he was a simple shepherd, now that he had risen to become the leader of the nation, such a spouse was unbecoming for a man of his stature, and he should divorce her and marry a woman more appropriate for his position.
Why in fact didn't Moshe do so? He felt that divorcing the wife who married him when he was a plain shepherd fleeing for his life from Pharaoh would display a tremendous lack of hakaras ha'tov (gratitude). After she remained loyal to him and endured so much upheaval for so many years, it would be inappropriate to abandon her for a more distinguished wife as soon as his fortunate changed. This explanation is alluded to in Hashem's reply to Miriam and Aharon, as He informed them b'chol beisi ne'eman hu - Moshe's faithfulness is unparalleled, and his loyalty applied equally to his obligations to Hashem and to his family.
We live in a society that often promotes the ephemeral and transient nature of not only possessions, but also relationships. Although none of us will reach Moshe's level in humility or Torah scholarship, we can all strive to emulate and learn from the his devotion and dependability. On the recent festival of Shavuos, we celebrated receiving the Torah after the entire nation enthusiastically declared נעשה ונשמע - we will do, and we will listen. I recently saw it pointed out that this verse is contained in Shemos chapter 24, verse 7. Although the division of the Torah into chapters was done by non-Jewish printers, there are no coincidences, and Hashem inspired them to do so in order to hint to us that we must remain consistently and loyally committed to our Torah obligations 24/7.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (9:7) that after Moshe told the men who were impure that sacrifices may only be offered by pure people, they suggested that an offering be brought on their behalf by pure Kohanim, with the meat to be eaten by Jews who were pure. Although a Korban Pesach brought on behalf of a group consisting of both pure and impure individuals is ritually valid, what did the impure men hope to gain by their request, as they would still be unable to fulfill any of the actual mitzvos related to the Korban Pesach? (Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Darash Moshe, Ayeles HaShachar, Zichron Meir quoted in Lekach Tov)
2) Rashi writes (11:5) that the Manna tasted like whatever the person eating it desired, except for five tastes which it couldn't take on because they are unhealthy for nursing women. Was one permitted to think that the Manna should taste like a mixture of cooked milk and meat, or on Pesach that it should taste like chometz? (Chida Chullin 109b, Sha'ar Bas Rabim and Chavatzeles HaSharon Parshas Beshalach, Binas N'vonim on Medrash Pliah, Shu"t Tzafnas Paneiach 3)
3) Rashi writes (11:5) that the Manna tasted like whatever the person eating it desired,. What did it taste like if he didn't specify any taste for his Manna? (Chofetz Chaim quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha Parshas Beshalach)
4) The Gemora in Nedorim (38a) derives from Moshe that a prophet must possess four qualities: humility (12:3), wisdom, strength, and wealth. Why must a prophet be strong and rich? (Rav Chaim Volozhiner quoted in Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha, Shemonah Perakim L'Rambam 7)
5) The Torah testifies (12:3) that Moshe was more humble than any person on the face of the earth. Was this true only in relation to those in his generation, or even in reference to those from earlier generations such as the Avos? (Avos D'Rav Nosson 9:2, Sifri Beha'aloscha 43)
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