The art of teaching
Behaalotekha: When thou
causest to go up
Bemidbar (Numbers) 8, 1-12,
The basis of the commentary
The first stage of study
Summary of the mitzvot in the parasha
Summary of themes
First principle theme: the Jewish art of education
Man, the menora and light
Second principle theme: the danger of erring and the woman
The example of Miriam
The difficult context
The moral lesson of the divine act
The three guides
The merits of Moshe, Aaron and Miriam
The art of overcoming trials
The long trial of the Jewish people
The art of creating
Femininity, the key to growth
Developing our many potentials
Seeing the nolad
The question posed by Hashem
The meaning of suffering
Questions for personal development
Review of the method of study
The basis of the commentary
Many commentaries on this parasha have been based on Rashi (Ki
Tissa), Rabbenu Behaye (Vayakel, Behukotai), the Shla (Ahare mot,
Keddoshim) or have focused on the peshat (Ki Tissa), the derekh
hayim (Pekudei), the taam (Emor), and on various interpretations
I have chosen to focus more on what is called the midrash, as
I first did in Pekudei. This is a means of interpretation that
is rich in meaning and offers moral lessons for conduct in life.
This approach will allow readers to learn the different methods
that are used for the study of the Torah.
The first stage of study
There are many themes in this parasha (listed below), all of
which are connected to the name of the parasha.
The list, by itself, does now enable students to understand
the rest of the commentary, but it is advisable to read the
parasha now (even in English) with the aid of this list. I propose
to analyze the parasha through its mitzvot, themes and the inner
meanings offered by the midrash.
Summary of the mitzvot in the parasha
There are 5 mitzvot in the parasha, which include 3 positive
commandments and 2 negative prohibitons (see Maimonides, Book
of Sacrifices, Korban Pesah).
The first mitzva (Bemidbar 9, 9-9, 11) is the commandment to
carry out the rite of Pesah Sheni on the 14th of the second
month (Iyar). This supplementary Pesah applies to people who
are prevented from participating in the Pesah sacrifice of Nisan
because of uncleanness:. a person who had an issue (nidda),
a woman who gave birth, a person who had contact with a dead
body (nevela) or forbidden reptiles (Vayikra 11). In certain
cases a ritual bath (tevila), the night before, could enable
unclean persons to participate in the sacrifice. The second
Pesah also applies to people who are more than 18 kilometers
away from the border of the city (Pesahim 93 b), and to those
converted before Pesah and did not keep the rite of Pesah individually
but with other members of the Jewish people (see Rashi on 9,
14). The Sages also apply Pesah Sheni to those who forgot the
first Pesah, i.e. those who were prevented for some reason from
keeping it or omitted to keep it (for women this was optional,
But the person who deliberately omits to keep either the first
or second Pesah is given the punishment of karet (banishment
from the community).
For the second Pesah, the Pesah Sheni, one also eats the paschal
lamb and one carries out all the passover rites, partaking of
matza and maror (the second mitzva in this parasha, 9, 11);
no lamb is allowed to be left after the morning (fourth mitzva,
9, 12) and no bones can be broken off (fifth mitzva, 9, 12).
Apart from the sacrifice, the second Pesah is not the same festival
as the first, because hametz and work are allowed and the hallel
is not recited.
The third mitzva (10, 9-10) is the summoning of the congregation
with 2 clarions of silver (a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 120)
for public sacrifices, festivals and the new month (see Shulkhan
Arukh, Orah Hayim 576, 1, 1). There were thus 21 to 48 calls
per day (Rosh Hashana 29 a and Mishna Arhin II, 3). The clarions
were also blown in times of war.
(Memorize these details as well as the following.)
Summary of the themes of the parasha
in this order:
First "joyful" part:
--- Chapter 8 of Bemidbar describes the lighting of the menora
(the candlestick of the sanctuary), the making of the menora,
the dedication of the Levites, their role as offerings to Hashem
in the place of the first-born sons, their duties and their
age of service.
--- Chapter 9 describes the second Passover (Pesah Sheni), the
alternation between the cloud that covered the tent of meeting
(ohel moed) during the day and the fire at night, and how this
symbolized the journeys and stops of the children of Israel,
and their cleaving to the commandment of Hashem as transmitted
--- Chapter 10 describes the clarions of silver used to summon
the congregation for journeys, festivals and sacrifices, the
first journey of the people on the 20th of the month of Iyar,
the order of each group, the ark preceding the people by 3 days
in order to prepare its encampment, Moshe's request to Yithro
to join them and Moshe's speech at the start of the journey.
Second "difficult" part:
--- Chapter 11 describes the recriminations of the rabble who
had attached themselves to the Israelites, the manna, the dew,
the grumblings of the people and the anger of Hashem, Moshe's
discouragement and despair at having to bear the burden alone,
Hashem's response and appointment of 70 elders who would be
endowed with part of Moshe's prophetic power, the episode of
Eldad and Medad and Joshua's reaction to their prophesying,
the gathering of the quails and the surfeit that killed the
--- Chapter 12 describes the ill-speaking by Miriam and Aaron
of the Cushite woman (thus called because of her beauty, explains
Rashi) whom Moshe had married, suspect forms of revelation through
visions and dreams, in contrast Hashem speaks "mouth to
mouth" with Moshe, the anger of Hashem towards Aaron and
Miriam and the latter's leprosy because she had slandered her
brother, Moshe's brief, exemplary prayer for Miriam to be healed
(el na refa la na), Miriam's expulsion from the camp for 7 days
and the waiting by the Israelites for her to return before continuing
their journey, their encampment in the desert of Paran.
First principle theme: the Jewish art of teaching
We recall that parasha Naso stressed the importance of joyfulness
for the Jewish people and the role of the Levites in maintaining
this. Parasha Behaalotekha develops further this role of elevation
and education, this time regarding the role of the sons of Aaron
in causing the light to go up on the menora, the 7-branched
candlestick. Many moral lessons have been drawn from this, and
they are given particular prominence in Rashi:
" the importance of including joyful and positive elements
in the education process,
" the importance of harmonizing different activities (coordination
of light and perfumes), and giving one dimension to several
elements or lights (as in the 7 branched candlestick),
" the importance of sustaining joy and light: one should
not only "kindle" the light in the person one is educating,
"in order to cause the flame to rise" (al shem she
halahav ole) Rashi writes (on Bemidbar 8, 2), refering to Tractate
Shabbat 21a of the Talmud, but moreso, one should sustain the
awakening flame till it rises, gains strength, and, especially,
till it rises on its own (she tzarikh lehadlik ad she tehe shalhevet
The symbol of the 7-branched menora (candlestick) is a very
educational tool in Jewish life (it is the symbol chosen for
the State of Israel).
The symbol of the menora is depicted in all synagogues, not
only to remind
us of the Temple, but because of what it represents and teaches
The menora is a symbol of how man should be, upright and alert,
with all his
It is said that the construction of the menora seemed difficult
to Moshe and God showed him how to construct it.
Rashi stresses this on the basis of the expression ve ze in
Bemidbar 8, 4:
"ve ze maase hamenora, lefi she nitkasha va, lekhakh neemar
"and the work of the candlestick," because it seemed
difficult to him, it is written "ve ze"
He makes the same comment on Shemot 12, 2 (refer to it):
netkasha Moshe al molad halevana be eze shiur terae vetiye reuya
Here, Moshe had difficulty determining at what stage of appearance
and visibility a new moon should be consecrated:
Thus when we find that something is difficult (developing ourselves,
our professions, our families, the education of our children),
we are told that difficulty is normal, and that we are not alone.
Like Moshe, we can also count on help: the help of others, of
science and psychology for we were given a brain in order to
develop it, and the many concrete, educational tools of our
tradition, which we can acquire if we study the writings of
the Sages on the Torah. This is one of the goals of this site
"Modia," "I inform" - to make known the
divine help which is in the Torah.
Man, the menora and light
In order to understand the relationship between man, the menora
and light, one must first read Rashi. Ner Hashem niShemat adam: the light of Hashem is the soul of man (Proverbs 20, 27):
it is important to understand that man is represented as a light,
as the Tosafot write in Tractate Shabbat, and it is important
to make sure that this man-light is always kept alight.
To stress this, the texts say that the candlestick had the form
of a human body, with a solid base, a trunk, and three lateral
branches similar to ears. Jews are always in a position of listening
because of the constant repetition of Shema Yisrael (Hear O
This is a Jew who is made in one, single, piece, cast out of
He is a complex, but totally integrated man. Rashi writes of
Aaron in Bemidbar 8, 3: "And Aaron did so" ve yaas
ken Aharon, he did as he was commanded and this is a compliment:
lehagid shivho shel Aharon she lo shina (see Sifri 60).
Aaron, writes the Shla, was thus particularly suited to his
role for he was totally integrated: his whole being was integrated
in the Torah and all the children of Israel were integrated
within him. Thus he symbolised unity, and there was total harmony
between himself and the menora: ohev shalom vedoresh shalom
(loving peace and pursuing peace, Pirkei Avot 1, 12). We should
be like him -- totally integrated beings, in unity with the
Torah and in unity with all the people.
This unity is not only in Hashem, in the nation and between
its members, it is -- in everything - with Hashem as is written
in 9, 23: "At the commandment of Hashem they encamped (al
pi Hashem yahanu), at the commandment of Hashem they journeyed
(al pi Hashem yisaou), they kept the charge of Hashem (et mishmeret
hashem shamaru), at the commandment of Hashem by the hand of
Moshe (al pi Hashem beyad Moshe)." This passage should
be read slowly. This unity is also in Moshe: Rashi stresses
that the cloud did not rest until Moshe said (10, 36): "Return,
Hashem, unto the ten thousands of the families of Israel, shuva
hashem revavot alfei Yisrael."
The same sensitivity was displayed on the part of Hashem and
on the part of Moshe. It is a lesson in sensitivity.
Second principle theme: the danger of erring and the woman savior
Following this positive phase, the second part of the parasha
depicts the recriminations of men who are unable to assume their
task, and the level of discouragement of each man matches his
1. Moshe expresses difficulty in understanding and his need
for help (from Hashem, Yithro, and the 70 elders). If this is
true for a man of Moshe's stature, how much understanding should
we show to our leaders who do not possess his qualities and
yet who have the task of leading the nation; we should wish
for them light, discernment and blessings before we criticize
or attack them.
2. The people include a fringe element (which is perhaps in
all of us) which profits from what is good but does not learn
how to follow the path of goodness, and only seeks material
advantages; this is the rabble, the erev rav. The Torah teaches
us about the rabble, and its definition of how to ensure the
common good does not restrict itself to the will of the majority
which is called democracy. It teaches us how to understand and
analyze human behavior and that the education of the people
is the most important task.
3. Moreover, even Aaron and Miriam were victims of their own
errors of analysis, understanding, behavior and words. The Torah
thereby urges extreme vigilance, particularly in regard to what
we say and the need for modesty when we make mistakes.
Moshe is so attentive to the danger of speech that he uses just
a few words to pray for the healing of his sister, and does
not even call her by name, in order to avoid accusations of
privileging his sister with a special prayer (for he is aware
of the reality of slander). Aaron also kept silent, after the
death of his two sons, and refrained from expressing suffering,
rebellion or acceptance, in order not to blemish speech which
is linked to God himself.
This is the domain of the sophisticated science of respect for
speech which found its supreme expression in the life and work
of Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaCohen, known as the Hafetz Hayim.
Having studied the method of Rabbenu Behaye in the preceding
parasha, we can now understand why he summarized the parasha
with verse 13, 9 from Proverbs:
"or-tzadikim yismah ve ner-resahim yidakh
The light of the righteous rejoiceth, but the lamp of the wicked
shall be put out."
Education should be devoted to teaching these two important
We spoke, in the preceding parashiot, of the grandeur of Moshe,
and of the purity of Aaron as the prototype of the reconstruction
and renewal of mankind. We will now also see the grandeur of
Miriam and understand that the Torah does not accuse Miriam
as an individual, but demonstrates through her that any ordinary
person such as ourselves must constantly take care not to fall
into the trap of blindness and malicious speech, and to be wary
of the power of the masses which can lead nations to catastrophe.
The example of Miriam: grandeur and defiance, in the image of
A difficult context
The people are in the desert: a place of privation, a life with
no agricultural resources, no cities, commerce or industry,
and no water, only wind, stone, sand, glacial cold and oppressive
sun. It is a place of continual suffering. The children of Israel
therefore feel they have passed from slavery to suffering, when
they were given promises of a distant, idyllic land which God
would grant them. The people are suffering. What family or nation
has not traversed difficult times, made even more difficult
because of the happiness that was promised.
The mass of people has been highly organized, both in terms
of efficiency and holiness, into tribes with their own flags
and leaders: this is essential in order to unite the people
during this time of great crisis.
Each person, who has traversed such deserts during his life,
because of health, financial, or emotional problems will understand
the despair that is described in the Torah, and how everything
can seem like a desert when the essentials of life are missing.
Midrash Rabba takes a broader view of the story and teaches
us another perspective. It does not seek to give interpretations
that morally justify the political-military organization of
this nomadic society. Nor does it deny the suffering of the
people: "yes, he made you suffer and endure hunger. Vayeanekha
vayarewekha" (Devarim 8, 3). Nor does it deny the wilderness.
It urges us to look at the inner meaning of this difficult reality,
which represents joy and relatedness.
"O generation, have-I been a wilderness unto Israel or
a land of darkness?
Ha midbar hayiti le Yisrael? Im aretz maepeleya?"(Jeremiah
The question is not about the desert as such, but about the
relationship with Hakadosh barukh Hu: was this relationship
a wilderness or darkness? Did I act towards you like a desert
towards man and merit the accusation:
"Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in
the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any
Lama eelitanu mimitzrayim lamut bamidbar" (Bemidbar 21,
God poses the question and asks for an answer. One could say
that this therapeutic approach is not apt, for it requires the
person who is suffering to show consideration for the other
person. The reality is that the view the children of Israel
have of their life in the desert, as a total wilderness, is
distorted and dangerous; it is this view that is destroying
them; it is a view that pretends to be objective and realistic,
but it is only destructive; by ignoring the interpersonal factor,
it ignores and destroys the life-thread that holds a person
together. The so-called realistic view is an anti-life view
which finds its natural expression in the cult of an idol that
is a mere object, the golden calf. The only choice that remains
is to put one's trust in leaders who have no grounding in morality
or in the Torah, and in false promises.
The moral lesson of this divine act
Midrash Rabba tries to find the answer to the question posed
by God. Certainly, God acknowledges that he led (vayesev) the
children of Israel towards the desert (Shemot 13, 18) but the
trial of the wilderness had an aim: in the face of a trial,
there are only two solutions: or one collapses or one finds
additional resources. This is the moral lesson of the divine
Life is to see the connection given by the other, the goodness
of the other, the love of the other (to hear one day someone
say: "I will never abandon you, I will never leave you,
you are for me
.). Life is therefore being able to detect
goodness and its power. And when a suffering person can no longer
do this, the one who loves him enables him to open his eyes,
This is what God is doing, says Midrash Rabba, when he asks
the people to discover his supportive presence through the figures
of the three guides he gave to His people, Moshe, Aaron, Miriam:
--- Moshe's contribution was to procure the manna. Here too,
it is the nature of suffering not to be able to perceive the
aid that one receives: "And he humbled thee, and suffered
thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest
not, vayaakhitekha et hamane" (Devarim 8, 3). Often, when
help arrives in a form one does not expect, it goes "unrecognized"
and unused. To trust in someone we love is to continue to believe
in his goodness, ability to help and understanding even when
we feel we have been abandoned or are not being helped. We must
look for these tiny signs of help in our spouses, family and
--- Aaron's contribution was to procure the protection of the
cloud: "He spread a cloud for a covering" (Psalm 105,
39). A person who is weak (a poor person or a sick person) feels
he has lost all protection, he becomes vulnerable to any aggression,
and if there is an aggression, it becomes generalized and dark
feelings of doom erupt.
God (or the person who loves) hopes that the person who is suffering
will recognize the protection that is available.
This teaches us that
--- to trust in a person we love, is to recognize the emotional
and material protection that person can give;
--- true affection is always silent and invisible, so to trust
in love means to trust in love that is hidden in silence and
--- a feature of this trust is to recognize the anticipatory
moves of the other person; thus the ark of the covenant preceded
the people by three days, aron nosea lifnehem sheloshet yamim
(Bemidbar 10, 33) in order to eliminate beforehand any obstacles
(serpents, scorpions, rocks) and it leveled the way by lowering
mountains and filling valleys, kol ge inase (Isaiah 40, 4);
--- ingratitude is another form of self-destruction: it is
often expressed by lack of attention to all the marks of kindness
and consideration we are shown by those who love us. The invisibility
of God who loves us and helps us teaches us to appreciate the
silent, invisible, distant marks of affection of those who love
us. God asks us to acknowledge and appreciate them. The Torah
teaches us how to do this and the prophets always stress the
need for such appreciation. This is one of the aims of the trials
we traverse, they are a gift that develops these qualities in
--- Miriam's contribution was to procure the well. The beginning
of the commentary on Bemidbar, Bemidbar Rabba, tells us that
"it is thanks to Miriam that our people were given the
well of water which ensured its survival in the desert."
It was "beer mayim hayim, a well of living waters"
as is written in the Song of Songs (4, 15).
It is no mere achievement for someone, simply because of who
she is, to bring life, in the form of water, to others.
Miriam was a savior of life, a woman who awakened life, with
the source of life.
Let us analyze the episodes which prove this.
When her parents despaired and sobbed because of the persecutions
inflicted on them by the Egyptians, Miriam scolded them and
urged them to hope in the future and so to renew their emotional
and sexual life, and procreate. They listened to her, and thanks
to her, Moshe was born. Then Miriam, the musician, grasped her
tambourine, sang and danced with joy (Tractate Sotah 12a).
Again, by the waters of the Nile, she did not remain passive
and, say the texts, she sought "to see what she could do"
to save her brother; she succeeded in getting him adopted by
Pharaoh's daughter and in obtaining for him a Jewish nurse,
who was his own mother; this time too she took her tambourine,
sang and danced.
And after the parting of the Red Sea, the text writes in acknowledgment:
And Miriam took up "the" timbrel ha tof (Shemot 15,
20) and it is written "Miriam, the prophetess" for
"the," "ha" nevia refers to the famous timbrel
with which she made the people sing. In fact, the Hebrew text
in the next verse "ve taan lahem Miriam, and Miriam answered
them" uses the masculine plural form (lahem), to indicates
that all the children of Israel, men and women, rejoiced.
Thus, Miriam continually gives life to the people. She incarnates
trust in life.
Based on this, we can see what is going to happen in the Torah
in the following weeks. The children of Israel will arrive at
Beer: "They arrived at Beer the well, this well for which
Hashem said to Moshe: assemble the people, I will give them
water. Then Israel sang this shira, this song: gush forth source,
acclaim it. This well, princes dug it, the greatest of the land
opened it, with their scepter." The invincible trust, represented
by Miriam in the heart of the people, is expressed in song and
in the awareness that the people are "Israel shir-el,"
the song of God.
Our tradition says: bizut nashim, Yisrael nigalu, it is thanks
to its women, that Israel was saved from generation to generation
(Sotah 11b, Bemidbar rabba 3, 4). This moral approach which
believes in the source as the waters of life, which rises and
illuminates slowly all around it, is essentially a feminine
trait, even with regard to Aaron and Moshe.
Justice towards Miriam who brought life; in her turn she receives
life after languishing in the desert. Shemot Rabba (1, 17) tells
us that she was in pain and because of this was forgotten and
forsaken (Rashi on Sotah 11b); unjust human ingratitude, thus
her name Azuva (abandoned) when Caleb marries her (I Chronicles
2, 18). The text does not say that Caleb had children with Miriam
but that he "begat her ..(vekhaleb
holid et azuva)."
Shemot Rabba (1, 17) reports the teaching of Rabbi Yohanan in
Sotah 12a according to which "he who marries a woman in
the name of heaven, is considered as though he begat her (she
ko hanose isha leshem shamayim alav hakhatuv keilu yaledah)."
Thus, Miriam herself journeyed through the wilderness but she,
who had seen life beneath apparent wilderness, was given in
turn the life that the creator wants to give to all his creatures.
It is written of her sons: do no read "the sons which Caleb
had with her" but "the sons who built her (boneha),"
for in her turn she received life from others. It is also said
that she represents the two women in I Chronicle 4, 5: Hela
and Naara, for she was sick (helah) and regained her youth (naara)
and her husband was a father (avi) to her and, through her,
his heart was linked (takua) to heaven. Similarly when one speaks
of the children of Miriam-Hela, their names mean that she was
a cause of worry (tzara) for other women because of her great
beauty, which shone like the midday sun (tzaharayim) and every
man who saw her longed to be with his wife that she should give
him happiness (Eman).
As the reward for the long gestations she created like the
flame which rises slowly, Miriam was blessed with David as her
descendant, for he inherited her art of exaltation and music
and it is of him that it is said: "va yarem keren meshiho,
he exalts the horn of his mashiah," (I Samuel 2, 10). Miriam
is also called Aharhel (I Chronicles 4, 8) for all the women
came to dance with her (Shemot 15, 20).
Together with Moshe and Aaron, Miriam reveals the paths to
life; she understood what can emerge from a desperate situation
and she heard God say to her in her heart: "I bring forth
a fire" (vaotzi esh, Ezekiel 28, 18) and she liberated
the fire. Moshe found it in the burning bush and liberated the
people, and gave it manna and the Torah. Only a woman can accomplish
this, with sustained patience and strength.
All this is due to her discovering the hidden source of life
and making it gush forth. This was not done easily but rather
through a series of trials, for from the time of Miriam's birth
(Shemot Rabba 16, 4) slavery was most oppressive in Egypt, and
one of the letters of her name stands for the bitter oppression
she experienced (mar, bitterness, Sh. Rab. 22, 12); she overcame
these necessary and alternating trials and passages from non-life
to life, as in the leprosy that befell her because of her sin
in speech and her return to purity of speech, like the hand
of Moshe which also became afflicted with leprosy, then healed
itself, and like the sea which became dry land, then sea again
(Shemot Rabba 28, 4).
The secret of overcoming trials
Miriam showed us how to overcome the trials of life: by discovering
the invisible life that lies beneath an apparently dead exterior,
persevering, showing flexibility and acceptance of the constant
and sometimes unending alternations between death and life.
Life becomes a trajectory which develops only on condition of
knowing these alternations, accepting them and confronting them
The strategy of the Jewish people
The Torah teaches us that it is the strategy of Miriam in the
wilderness which ensured the greatest victories, not only for
herself but also for the nation.
And she did this with music and song, and thus deserved to have
in her lineage David, the author of the Psalms and Shlomo, the
author of the Song of Songs.
The art of creating
She also did this with grace and so deserved to have in her
lineage Betzalel who made the ark of the covenant and the utensils
of the sanctuary. It is written that not only did she cause
his birth but that he received all his wisdom and art through
her (Sh. Rab. 48, 4). It is explicitly written that because
she knew how to "draw" good out of evil and sin (Sh.
Rab. 40, 1) that God made these great Sages descend from her
The same is said of Betzalel, that his wisdom issued from Miriam's
art of creating forces that can build houses and sanctuaries:
meekan vekho kekhol hahokhma hazot? Bizekhut Miriam she neemar
vayaas ka hem batim, ma hayu habatim beit hakehuna u veit hamalkhut.
"Whence did he acquire this distinction? From Miriam, in
reference to whom it is said, And he made for them houses. What
were these houses? The priestly and royal houses
(Sh. Rabba 48, 4).
The Torah wants to show by this the power that resides in an
individual who understands the inner forces that lie under what
is invisible and obscure, under suffering, trials, isolation
Feminity, the key to growth
By demonstrating to us the qualities of these three guides of
the nation, who all had their source in Miriam, the Torah want
to show us that we can only put it into practice through the
feminine art of listening, gestating and trusting. The masculine
approach can never cause birth or gestation unless man follows
the feminine approach and greatly values the qualities of women:
attention, listening, gestation, perseverance, encouragement,
support, true help and intervention.
Developing our many potentials
Because of our different facets, the Torah often gives the same
person different names in order to stress his inner dimensions
and potentials. Thus (Sh. Rab. 40, 4) Ely has 4 different names,
Yehoshua and Betzalel have six, Moshe has seven, Mordechai two,
Daniel 5, etc.
This shows us that continuity and success in the process of
life initiated by
--- the patience of Moshe,
--- the art of lighting the 7 branches of the menora by Aaron,
--- the trusting art of Miriam's timbrel,
depend on different dynamics, negative and positive, which form
one living whole, symbolized in the name of Hashem.
Seeing the "nolad"
The Torah teaches us the importance of always being open what
can be created. A Sage is someone who, like Moshe, Aaron and
Miriam, senses what can happen, what can be created and what
will be born, the nolad:
--- ezehu hakham, haroe et hanolad, who is a Sage? He who sees
the nolad (Tamid 32a).
--- ezehu hakham, hamevin davar mitokh davar, who is a Sage?
He who understands something within something (Zohar II 121b
and Hagiga 14 a).
But it is not enough to sense things, one must see the gestation
period through to term and one must know how to sing in order
to overcome this difficult period. Bearing and ensuring life
requires constancy, perseverance and resourcefulness.
Moshe, Aaron and Miriam are thus educators, the father and
mother of many children of Israel, and an example of people
who save others and who create - it is thanks to them that Israel
was able to develop as a nation (Ch. Rab 40, 4), because they
possessed the three qualities necessary to fructify: hokhma,
tevuna, daat, wisdom, understanding and true knowledge which
is a union of dreams and reality, masculine and feminine. It
is said that "by these three things the sanctuary was created,"
bashelosha devarim halalu naase hamishkan (Ch. Rab. 48, 4 and
I Kings 4, 14).
This moral lesson is taught to us in the midst of the wilderness,
and it is an essential teaching for all those who wish to construct
a future, and the midrash tells us that God himself uses these
three qualities of Moshe, Aaron and Miriam in the process of
creating: "Through wisdom is a house built, behokhma ybane
bayit; by understanding it is established, uvitenuna yitkonan,
and by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious
and pleasant riches, uvadaat hadarim yimaleu kol kone yakar
venaim" (Proverbs 24, 3). The next verse indicates that
a man who is wise uses his strength and a man who has knowledge
(daat) doubles his strength.
We can now understand why the last chapter of the book of Proverbs,
eshet hayil, a woman of valor (or more exactly the wife of a
strong man) also applies to Moshe, for he had learnt with his
sister. One can truly say, as in verse 7, 4 of Proverbs: "Say
unto wisdom, thou art my sister," emor lakhokhma, ahoti
The question posed by Hashem
The sad, wounded question which Hakadosh Barukh Hu poses to
man is now clearer: "O generation
Have I been a wilderness
unto Israel, hamidbar hayiti le Yisrael?" (Jeremiah 2,
31) when I gave you all the powers to fructify (asher bara Elokim
laasot), and overcome difficult trials, when I gave you My Torah,
when I made you in My likeness and able to think, seek and act
over creation, when I gave you so many examples from the lives
of the patriarchs and matriarchs, when I have been with you
during your troubles, when I am your shield and light, when
I expressed all my love in the Song of Songs, when I made you
man and woman in order not to be alone and to have a help, a
complement, when.., when
The meaning of suffering
I give you trials (nisayon, in the singular; nisiyonot, in the
plural) only in order that you will discover your powers to
create life, to strengthen yourselves and to become truly free.
This is the teaching of Rashi on the meaning of suffering and
For other peoples, a desert is a "desert." For Jews,
according to the Hebrew meaning, midbar (desert) can also be
read as medaber, "the place of he who speaks." For
through each word, one passes from wilderness to life, and speech
only comes to a person who has been a wilderness (the Tur).
Life is the art of creating slowly.
Let us do like Moshe, Aaron and Miriam; let us use words in
order to make our inner forces and the well of living waters
gush forth and to make our desert flower, for a desert is never
truly desert if one lives with Hashem. This is not my teaching,
but that of the Torah, as transmitted by our Sages.
Questions for personal development
on the interpretation of the parasha as told in the midrash.
" Are there times which you experienced as a desert or
" How did the Benei Yisrael traverse this experience?
" What were the strategies of Moshe, Aaron and Miriam?
" Do you sometimes doubt the help and affection of God
or those close to you?
" How can one develop stability and trust? What is the
role of music?
" Describe the feminine qualities and strengths of Moshe,
Aaron and Miriam.
" How can you develop these in yourself, towards others
and towards yourself?
" Describe examples from your own experience of constructive
maturation, as shown by Miriam during difficult periods.
" Describe some of the principle qualities you feel you
have, which could be symbolized in different names for yourself.
" assess your personal capacities regarding the three qualities
needed in order to fructify and succeed: wisdom (hokhma), understanding
(tevuna) and knowledge (daat).
" What is your reaction to the question: "How can
you say I have been a wilderness unto you?"
Main moral lesson
Let us develop some of the concepts stressed by the Shla.
From the parallel drawn by Rashi between the fact that Aaron
was appointed in the Torah (Shemot 28, 1) before his explicit
nomination and consecration (chapter 24), with a similar procedure
for the Levites, we can conclude that every Jew must prepare,
sanctify and purify himself in order to receive later the holiness
which Hashem has reserved for the Jewish people. Indeed, on
the verse "And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, veata
hakrev et Aharon ahikha
(Shemot 28,1), Rashi wrote: after
you have finished the work of the sanctuary, keahar shetigmar
Developing this, the Shla stresses the importance of careful
preparation, as is symbolized in the name of the parasha:
--- just as in the first verse, Aaron and his sons are charged
with making the light of the menora rise every morning,
--- just as Miriam waited and watched over Moshe after having
placed him in the Nile, which merited the people in their turn
waiting for her when she had to be isolated because of her illness,
--- just like the children of Israel advanced slowly from encampment
--- just like the cloud and the fire which accompanied them,
--- just like the ark of the covenant preceded the people by
three days to prepare their encampment,
--- just as Moshe slowly took up his duties as leader and slowly
developed into a great prophet.
Thus, in chapter 24, 1 of Vayikra (Leviticus), Hashem said
to Moshe: "Command the children of Israel, that they bring
unto thee pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause a lamp
to burn continually, tzav et Benei Israel veyikehu eleikha shemen
zait zakh lemaor leaalot ner tamid." Rashi adds: this is
a commandment and an explanation which you will carry out later,
veata sofekha letzavot et Benei Israel al kakh.
Review of the method of study
" after the initial reading, re-read the parasha carefully,
" study the references cited in this commentary,
" improve your Hebrew,
" memorize the plan,
" until you can teach it by heart,
" identify the teachings you can apply to the Jewish people
and to your personal life.
These commentaries must not be studied simply from an intellectual
perspective, but must be understood at every level of life.
--- individual in-depth study,
---discussion of ideas with those close to you,
--- continued work on and assessment of your ideas, thoughts