Parashat B'ha'alotkha

God Hears, But What We Do Matters Most

Miriam and Aaron's criticism of Moses, and Miriam's punishment of leprosy teach lessons of sibling and communal responsibility.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from Union for Reform Judaism.  

Parashah Overview

  • God speaks to Moses, describing the menorah for the Tent of Meeting. The Levites are appointed to serve as assistants under Aaron and his sons. (Numbers 8:1-26)

  • Those who are unable to celebrate Passover during Nisan are given a time in the month of Iyar to observe a "second Passover." (Numbers 9:1-14)

  • A cloud by day and fire by night show God's Presence over the Tabernacle. When the cloud lifts from the Tabernacle, the people leave Sinai, setting out on their journey, tribe by tribe. (Numbers 9:15-10:36)

  • The Israelites complain about the lack of meat, and Moses becomes frustrated. God tells him to appoint a council of elders. God provides the people with meat and then strikes them with a very severe plague. (Numbers 11:1-34)

  • Miriam and Aaron talk about the "Cushite woman" whom Moses has married. In addition, they complain that God speaks not only through Moses but also through them. Miriam is struck with leprosy, and Moses begs God to heal her. After her recovery, the people resume their journey. (Numbers 12:1-16)

Focal Point

When they were in Hazeroth, Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married: "He married a Cushite woman!" They said, "Has Adonai spoken only through Moses? Has God not spoken through us as well? . . .

God said, "Hear these My words: When a prophet of Adonai arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him 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 Adonai. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!"

Still incensed with them, Adonai departed. As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales! When Aaron turned toward Miriam, he saw that she was stricken with scales. And Aaron said to Moses, "O my lord, account not to us the sin that we committed in our folly. Let her not be as one dead, who emerges from his mother's womb with half his flesh eaten away."

So Moses cried out to Adonai, saying, "O God, pray heal her!" But Adonai said to Moses, "If her father spat in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of camp for seven days, and then let her be readmitted." So Miriam was shut out of camp for seven days; and the people did not march on until Miriam was readmitted. (Numbers 11:35-12:15)

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Rabbi Elaine Zecher

Rabbi Elaine Zecher is a rabbi at Temple Israel, Boston, MA.