Departure from Sinai

The children of Israel had camped for almost an entire year near Mount Sinai, when the pillar of cloud rose for the first time, over the Tabernacle. At once, the children of Israel resumed their journey. Marching according to the order given by G‑d, the Jewish people continued their journey until they reached the Desert of Paran.

The People Ask For Meat

The weariness of the people began to tell on them. The Egyptian riff raff that had joined them upon their liberation from Egypt, again sowed the seed of discontent among their Jewish neighbors. Soon the children of Israel began to cry over the "lost paradise" of Egypt and the privations of the desert. They complained (Numbers 11:4-6): "Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now, our bodies are dried out, for there is nothing at all; we have nothing but manna to look at."

Moses heard this outcry with sorrow and grief, and he cried to G‑d and prayed for His help. The L-rd listened to his prayer. He commanded him to select seventy elders, upon whom G‑d would bestow His Divine spirit; they would share the burden of leading the people. G‑d also promised that the people should have the flesh they were yearning for, but that it should come to them as a bitter punishment (Numbers 11:19): "You shall eat it not one day, not two days, not five days, not ten days, and not twenty days. But even for a full month until it comes out your nose and nauseates you. Because you have despised the L-rd Who is among you, and you cried before Him, saying, "Why did we ever leave Egypt?"'"

Astonished at the prospect of providing meat for such a multitude, Moses asked where he was to get so many animals in the desert to give meat to a people that counted over 600,000 men, besides their wives and children?

"Shall G‑d's hand be too short?" replied G‑d.

Now a strong wind rose and blew flocks of quails into the camp. They came in such multitudes that they covered the ground two cubits high for a space of a day's journey round the camp. The people gathered eagerly, and ate to their full satisfaction. While they were still enjoying that longed-for food, they were smitten by a fearful plague, which caused death and desolation in the camp; hence the place received the name "Kivroth-hattaavah," that is, Graves of Greediness.

The Seventy Elders

The seventy elders were now selected to ease the burden upon Moses' shoulders.

At that time an episode occurred which reflects the character of Moses in all its purity and greatness. Two of the selected men who were to be candidates for leadership had remained in the camp, for G‑d had asked for only seventy, whereas there were seventy-two candidates selected from the twelve tribes, six from each. Eldad and Medad were the two that had been eliminated by drawing lots, but although they were not among those congregated before the Tabernacle, G‑d's spirit as well rested upon them, and they began to prophesy within the camp stating that Moses would die before entering the Land of Israel, and that his disciple, Joshua, would lead the children of Israel into Canaan. Joshua, Moses' close disciple and servant, complained about them to his master. But Moses told him (Numbers 11:29): "Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would bestow His spirit upon them!"

Miriam's Sin

As time went on, Miriam and Aaron, who, next to Moses, were the greatest leaders and prophets in Israel, felt somehow slighted by the extraordinary position of their brother, and they spoke unkindly of Moses. G‑d heard their unkind words, and knowing that Moses, far from being conceited, was the most modest of living people, came to Miriam and Aaron, and told them (Numbers 12:6-8): ""Please listen to My words. If there be prophets among you, [I] the L-rd will make Myself known to him in a vision; I will speak to him in a dream. Not so is My servant Moses; he is faithful throughout My house. With him I speak mouth to mouth; in a vision and not in riddles, and he beholds the image of the L-rd. So why were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?"

The next moment, Miriam discovered that she had been stricken with leprosy, and that her skin had turned as white as snow. Aaron begged Moses' forgiveness and implored him to pray to G‑d to heal their sister, and Moses did so without delay. G‑d heard his prayer, and told him that Miriam was to stay outside of the camp, like all other unclean people, for seven days; afterwards, she would be cured and permitted to return. Thus, Miriam was placed outside of the camp, and the entire people waited for her return to camp before continuing on their way.