Lighting the Candelabrum

8:1 After the princes of the other tribes finished their inaugural offerings, Aaron was disappointed that his tribe, Levi, had not also brought an inaugural offering. In response, God told him that (a) he had in fact inaugurated the Candelabrum by kindling its lamps throughout the 12 days the princes offered their inaugural sacrifices; (b) he kindled the lamps himself, while they had not sacrificed their offerings themselves; (c) his kindling framed each day's sacrificial rites, while their offerings were just one component of each day's events; and (d) his kindling took place in the inner chamber of the Tabernacle, while their offerings were sacrificed on the Outer Altar. True, Moses had lit the Candelabrum during the installation week, but this was not considered its inauguration, just as the offerings he sacrificed on the Altar were not considered its inauguration.1 In order to allude to this exchange, the Torah records here those details of how Aaron is to light the Candelabrum that articulate its uniqueness.2 God spoke to Moses, saying:

2 "Speak to Aaron and say to him: 'The spouts of the Candelabrum's lamps face its central shaft.3 When you ascend the stool in front of the Candelabrum in order to kindle the lamps, be sure to place the wicks in these spouts so the seven lamps shine toward the central shaft of the Candelabrum. Also, be sure to hold the fire to the wick until it burns by itself." '

3 Aaron did so; he kindled the lamps such that their wicks faced toward the central shaft of the Candelabrum, exactly as God had commanded Moses.

4 Having the lamps face the central shaft emphasized the fact that the Candelabrum was one, undivided entity. This was also reflected in the unique way the Candelabrum was made: it was a hammered work of gold; it was made out of one block of gold hammered out to form all its parts, from its base—its largest part—to its flower—its most delicate part. It was not made of separate pieces joined together.4 When God told Moses to make the Candelabrum this way, he did not understand how it could be done. God therefore showed him a visual representation of it and said, "This is how the Candelabrum is to be made." According to the form that God had shown Moses,5 so did the artisan construct the Candelabrum by throwing the block of gold into the fire, after which God caused it to be fashioned on its own.6 In fact, God showed Moses a visual representation of the Candelabrum not only because he did not understand how to make it, but also because the miraculous way the Candelabrum's light shone7 indicated that God's presence rested on the Jewish people. It was therefore appropriate that fashioning the Candelabrum required a special Divine revelation. Thus, the fact that Aaron was to kindle the Candelabrum such that all its lamps shone toward its central shaft—reflecting the unique way the candelabrum was fashioned—indicated that his inauguration of the Candelabrum was superior to the princes' inauguration of the Altar.8

Installing the Levites

5 Continuing with the account of the first day of Nisan, 2449, the Torah now describes how the Levites were installed into their office. God spoke to Moses, saying:

6 "Encourage the Levites to separate themselves from the rest of the Israelites by telling them how fortunate they are to be conscripted into God's service. Then, purify them, as follows.

7 This is what you shall do to them to purify them: sprinkle them with purification-water produced by the rite of the red cow,9 in case any of them have become defiled through contact with a corpse. Next, have them shave all their skin with a razor, the same way a metzora must when he is purified from tzara'at.10 They must do this since they are substituting for the firstborn, who became disqualified from Divine service when they worshipped the Golden Calf, and idolatry and tzara'at are related (in that both are associated with death11). Finally, have them immerse their garments in a mikveh. Thus shall they purify themselves.

8 They shall then take a young bull for an ascent-offering with its prescribed12 grain-offering of fine flour mixed with oil, since this is the offering prescribed when a group of people commit idolatry.13 And you shall take a second young bull as a sin-offering. The priests must not eat this bull, just like the first, even though they are usually required to eat sin-offerings whose blood is sprinkled on the outer Altar.

9 You shall then bring the Levites in front of the Tent of Meeting, and you shall gather as well the entire congregation of the Israelites, since the Levites are to effect atonement for them.

10 You shall bring the Levites before God, and the Israelites shall lay their hands upon the Levites, similar to the way a penitent lays his hands on his atonement offering.14

11 Then, just like a metzora must lift up and wave his purification offering,15 Aaron, on behalf of the Israelites, shall lift up the first clan of the Levites, the clan of Kehat, one Levite at a time, as a wave-offering before God, that they may perform God's service." (Since they carry the holiest objects when the people travel, the clan of Kehat are described as being "before God, performing God's service.")

12 "The Levites shall then lay their hands on the heads of the two bulls mentioned before. Bring one as a sin-offering and one as an ascent-offering to God to atone for the Levites.

13 You shall present the second clan of Levites, the clan of Gershon, before Aaron and his sons, and he will lift them as a wave-offering before God." (Since the clan of Gershon carried the objects of secondary holiness, they are described as only being "before God.")

14 "Thus shall you set apart the Levites from the rest of the Israelites, and the Levites shall become Mine.

Second Reading 15 Thereafter, the Levites shall come to serve in the Tent of Meeting. You shall purify them and Aaron will lift the third Levite clan, that of Merari, as a wave-offering." (Since they carried the least holy objects, they are not even described as being "before God" relative to the other clans.)

16 "For the Levites are given to Me from among the Israelites to carry the Tabernacle in transit and given over also to sing in the Sanctuary choir. I have taken them for Myself in place of those that open the womb—that is, all the firstbornof the Israelites.

17 For all the firstborn among the Israelites are Mine, whether man or beast; I sanctified them for Myself on the day I smote all the firstborn in Egypt and spared them.

18 But since the Israelite firstborn participated in the sin of worshipping the Golden Calf, I have taken the Levites, who did not, instead of all the firstborn of the Israelites,

19 and I have given the Levites as a gift to Aaron and his sons from among the Israelites to perform the service for the Israelites in the Tent of Meeting and to atone on behalf of the Israelites, so that the Israelites will not be inflicted with a plague when the Israelites approach the Sanctuary. For because they worshipped the Golden Calf, they cannot enter the Sanctuary without being inflicted with a plague. Nonetheless, this does not mean that I lack any affection for the Israelites. On the contrary, I hold them as dear as the five books of the Torah, as witnessed by the fact that I have repeated the word 'Israelite' five times in this very verse."

20 So Moses, Aaron, and the entire congregation of Israel did what God told them to do to the Levites: Moses assembled them, Aaron lifted them up, and the Israelites laid their hands on them. The Israelites did in accordance with all that God had instructed Moses regarding the Levites.

21 The Levites, too, did what was required of them: they purified themselves and immersed their clothes. Then Aaron lifted them as a wave-offering before God, and Aaron atoned for them, to purify them.

22 Thereafter, the Levites came to perform the service in the Tent of Meeting before Aaron and before his sons. Moses, Aaron, and the Israelites did to the Levites just as God had commanded Moses regarding them, and neither the Israelites nor the Levites demurred.

23 God spoke to Moses, saying:

24 "This is the rule concerning the Levites: Whereas the priests can be disqualified from service by bodily blemishes,16 this is not the case with the Levites. For them, only age matters: from 25 years old and upwards they shall enter the service to work in the Tent of Meeting. They shall train for five years and commence their service at age 30.17

25 When they are 50 years old, they shall retire from the work troop, and do no more work.

26 Those 50 years old and older shall serve with their brethren in the Tent of Meeting by opening and closing the Temple gates, playing in the orchestra (except for the heavier instruments18), singing in the choir, loading the lighter objects on the wagons, and to keep the charge of keeping laymen away from the Tent of Meeting and dismantling and erecting the Tabernacle before and after travel. But they shall not perform the service of carrying the sacred objects on their shoulders. Thus shall you deal with the Levites regarding their charge."

Passover in the Desert

Third Reading 9:1 The Torah now records how God gave instructions for offering the Passover sacrifice (which would take place two weeks later, on the 14th of Nisan). Although the narrative has been focused on the events of the 1st of Nisan for some time,19 this date is given only now, implying that it is due to the episode that is about to be recounted that the events of Nisan are chronicled after the events of Iyar (which are chronicled at the beginning of the book). Indeed, the Torah here describes how, in response to the request of a few individuals, God provided the people with the opportunity to offer the Passover sacrifice late if they could not offer it at its designated time. It follows that once they were sentenced to stay in the desert for 40 years,20 God would certainly have allowed the people to offer the Passover sacrifice during this period had they asked Him—even though they were technically exempt from offering it until they entered the Land of Israel.21 But they never asked this of God, and this is an embarrassment for the Jewish people. Because it is not appropriate to begin one of the Torah's books with an incident that is deprecatory to the Jewish people, the events are chronicled out of order.22 God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert, on the first day23 of Nisan, the first month of the second year of their exodus from Egypt, saying:

2 "Even though the Israelites are technically exempt from offering the Passover sacrifice until they enter the Land of Israel, they shall nonetheless offer the Passover sacrifice here, in the desert, in its appointed time. And at all times, they shall offer the Passover sacrifice in its appointed time even if this happens to fall on the Sabbath.

3 On the afternoon of the fourteenth of this month, you shall offer it in its appointed time, even if most or all of you are impure by having come in contact with a corpse; you shall offer it in accordance with all the statutes that apply to it intrinsically, i.e., that it be an unblemished, one-year-old male lamb, and in accordance with all its ordinances that apply to it extrinsically, i.e. that it be roasted, eaten with unleavened bread, and so on."

4 Moses spoke to the Israelites, instructing them to offer the Passover sacrifice. Even though Moses had already taught them the laws of the festivals, he nevertheless reviewed them with the people prior to each festival.

5 So they offered the Passover sacrifice in the afternoon of the fourteenth day of the first month, in the Sinai Desert; the Israelites did exactly according to all that God had commanded Moses.

The Second Passover

6 But there were men who had become ritually defiled because of contact with a corpse. Therefore, they could not offer the Passover sacrifice on that day. So they approached Moses and Aaron together, in the tent that served as their house of study, on that day.

7 Those men said to Moses, "We are ritually defiled because of contact with a corpse. But last year, the Passover lamb was not eaten as a sacrifice; everyone just slaughtered the lamb, put the blood on the doorposts, and ate the meat. Why should it be any different this year? Perhaps it is to be slaughtered as a sacrifice only when it assumes its full legal force, when we enter the Land of Israel. This year, it is an exceptional case, and who is to say that the laws that will apply later on also apply now? Why, then, should we be excluded from slaughtering and eating the Passover lamb now?" Moses replied, "True, last year, the Passover lamb was not slaughtered as a sacrifice. But God said that this year it is to be treated as a sacrifice, and as you know, only ritually pure people may offer sacrifices." To this, they argued, "If so, it follows that there are two aspects to the Passover sacrifice: offering it as a sacrifice and eating it. Since it is sacrificial meat, we understand that we must not eat it. But let us at least observe the sacrificial aspect of the ritual: Why should we be excluded from offering God's sacrifice in its appointed time, along with the rest of the Israelites? Let us slaughter our lambs outside the Tabernacle. The blood can then be sprinkled inside by ritually pure priests on our behalf, and other, ritually pure people can eat the flesh in our stead."24

8 Moses said to them, "Wait, and I will hear what God instructs me concerning you." Moses was such an exalted prophet that he knew that he could consult with God whenever he felt it necessary.

9 The following laws were part of the original laws of the Passover offering, but because God foresaw that these righteous individuals would yearn to perform this commandment, He did not give these laws until they asked about it, in order that it be ascribed to their merit. Thus, God spoke to Moses in response to their query, saying:

10 "Speak to the Israelites saying, 'The ritually defiled men did not reason correctly. The offering up and the eating of the Passover sacrifice are intrinsically connected, and whoever is disqualified from eating it may not offer it, either. However, there is an alternative way that they can fulfill this commandment: Any person who becomes defiled from contact with a corpse, or is outside the courtyard of the Tabernacle during the time the sacrifice may be offered—even if he is only the slightest bit distant from it and nonetheless refrains from entering it in order to offer the sacrifice—or who inadvertently has leavened bread in his possession,25 whether this person is among you or in future generations, he may still make a Passover sacrifice for God.

11 But he shall offer it in the afternoon of the fourteenth day of the second month, Iyar, rather than in the first month, Nisan. The other laws of the Passover offering, however, do apply: he shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

12 He shall not leave any of it over until morning, and he shall not break any of its bones. He shall offer it in accordance with all the statutes connected with the regular Passover sacrifice. Nonetheless, he does not have to remove leavened bread from his house, and the day is not considered a festival for him per se, in that work is permitted.

13 But if a man who is ritually pure and is not on a journey neglects to offer the Passover sacrifice, his soul shall be cut off from his people—he will die prematurely and childless26for he did not bring God's offering in its appointed time; that person shall bear his sin.

14 Although provision is made to offer the Passover sacrifice late if the proper time for doing so was missed, there are circumstances in which this provision does not apply. If a convert joins your ranks and dwells with you, and thus he becomes obligated to offer the Passover sacrifice to God, he does not offer it immediately upon his conversion. Rather, he shall offer it according to the statutes of the regular Passover sacrifice and its ordinances, i.e., on the 14th of Nisan, just as born Israelites do. Thus, one statute shall apply to all of you, to the convert and to the native-born citizen.' "

Signals to Journey

Fourth Reading 15 Before the Torah begins the chronicles of the people's travels in the desert, it describes how they broke camp and made camp. It will be recalled27 that on the day the Tabernacle was erected, the first of Nisan, 2449, the cloud covered the Tabernacle that served as a tent for the Tablets of the Testimony, and at evening, there was an appearance of fire over the Tabernacle, which remained until morning.

16 So it was always: the cloud covered it by day and there was an appearance of fire at night.

17 Whenever God decided that it was time to travel, the cloud would depart from over the Tent of Meeting by folding itself up, and then spread itself out over the camp of the tribe of Judah—since they led the people in their travels, as stated previously.28 This would be the sign that the Israelites should afterwards travel. Seeing this, the priests would blow on the trumpets, and Moses would proclaim, "Arise, O God! May Your enemies be scattered, and may those who hate You flee from You," as will be described presently.29 After this, the cloud would take the form of a pillar again, and lead the people in their travels. When God decided that it was time to camp, the cloud would arch up over the tribe of Judah in the form of a hut. This was the signal that the Israelites should encamp in the place where the cloud rested. After the Israelites had made camp, Moses would say, "Repose, O God, among the myriads and thousands of Israel,"30 and then the cloud would return to hover over the Tent of Meeting.

18 Thus, at God's bidding the Israelites traveled, and at God's bidding they encamped. As long as the cloud hovered above the Tabernacle, they remained encamped.

19 When the cloud lingered over the Tabernacle for many days, the Israelites kept the charge of God and did not travel.

20 Sometimes, the cloud remained for several days above the Tabernacle. In this case, too, at God's bidding they traveled and at God's bidding they encamped.

21 Sometimes the cloud remained over the Tabernacle from evening until morning, and when the cloud departed from over the Tabernacle and spread itself over the camp of the tribe of Judah in the morning, they traveled. At other times, the cloud remained for a day and a night, and when the cloud departed from over the Tabernacle and spread itself over the camp of the tribe of Judah, they traveled.

22 Whether it was for two days, a month, or a year that the cloud lingered, hovering over the Tabernacle, the Israelites would encamp and not travel; and when it departed from over the Tabernacle and spread itself over the camp of the tribe of Judah, they traveled.

23 At God's bidding they encamped and at God's bidding they traveled; they kept the charge of God by traveling and camping at the word of God expressed through the movements of the cloud, which moved both at God's command and through Moses' words, as we have described.

The Trumpets

10:1 As was mentioned above, the priests were to sound the trumpets when the people set out on their journeys. Sometime prior to the first journey, then, God spoke to Moses, saying:

2 "Make yourself two silver trumpets, since you are the people's king and it befits a king to summon and command the people with trumpet blasts. Nonetheless, since your kingship over the people will never be matched by any other king they will have, only you will use these trumpets. Spend your own money to make them and store them away before you die. You shall make them out of a block of silver beaten into their form. You shall make use of them to summon the congregation when you wish to speak to them and to announce the departure of the divisions.

3 When the priests blow a tekiah (a long blast) on both of them, the whole congregation shall assemble before you at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.

4 If they blow a tekiah on one of them, the princes, the leaders of Israel's thousands, shall convene before you at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting.

5 When you, i.e., the priests, blow a tekiah followed by a teruah (a series of short blasts) and another tekiah on both trumpets, the divisions encamped to the east shall set out.

6 When you, i.e., the priests, blow the same signal—a tekiah followed by a teruah and another tekiaha second time on both trumpets, the divisions encamped to the south shall travel. Thus, they shall blow a teruah framed by two tekiah-blows for beginning their traveling,

7 but when assembling the congregation, you shall blow a tekiah but not a teruah.

8 The descendants of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets. Even though only you, Moses, may use these particular two trumpets, this institution of trumpet-blowing shall be a statute for all time, for all your generations, with other trumpets. These will be blown for the following purposes:

9 If you go to war in your land against an adversary that attacks you, you shall blow a teruah with the trumpets and be remembered favorably before God, your God, and thus be saved from your enemies.

10 On the joyous days you designate to celebrate your victory over your enemies,31 as well as on your festivals, and on your new-moon celebrations, you shall blow on the trumpets over your communal ascent-offerings and your peace-offerings, and it shall be a remembrance before your God. And whenever you blow a trumpet or the shofar in order that I remember you, you must also acknowledge My sovereignty over you, for I am God, your God. Therefore, on Rosh HaShanah, when you recite verses in your prayers that mention blowing the shofar and how I remember you,32 you must also recite verses that mention My sovereignty over you."33

Leaving Mount Sinai

Fifth Reading 11 The third and final detail of how the people began to travel and made camp is Moses' proclamation, as will be explained presently.34 This detail should have logically been given here, but it is given further on instead, for reasons that will be explained there.

Having finished describing how the people traveled, the Torah begins the chronicle of their journeys. On the twentieth day of Iyar, the second month of 2449, the second year after the Exodus, the cloud rose up from over the Tabernacle of the Testimony.

12 The Israelites traveled from the Sinai desert in accordance with their journeying order that God had given them earlier,35 and the cloud settled at the end of that day in the Paran desert, at the place that would later be known as Taveirah36 and Kivrot Hata'avah (see Figure 2).37

13 This was the first journey in their military formation at God's bidding through Moses.

14 The banner of the division of Judah traveled first according to their troops. Heading its leading troop, that of the tribe of Judah, was Nachshon the son of Aminadav.

15 Heading the troop of the tribe of Issachar was Netanel the son of Tzu'ar.

16 Heading the troop of the tribe of Zebulun was Eliav the son of Chelon.

17 As the division of Judah was preparing to travel, Aaron and his sons entered the Tent of Meeting and covered the holy furnishings, in accordance with the instructions given above.38 Once they had done this, the Tabernacle was dismantled by the clans of Gershon and Merari, and the clan of Gershon and the clan of Merari—who together carried the Tabernacle itself—set out. They left the furnishings of the Tabernacle, however, standing where they were, covered.

18 After the clans of Gershon and Merari had left, the banner of the division of Reuben set out according to their troops. Heading its leading troop, that of the tribe of Reuben, was Elitzur the son of Shede'ur.

19 Heading the troop of the tribe of Simeon was Shelumiel the son of Tzurishadai.

20 Heading the troop of the tribe of Gad was Eliasaf the son of De'uel, who was also known as Re'uel.39

21 After the division of Reuben set out, the clan of Kehat—who carried the holy equipment —set out. The clans of Gershon and Merari had erected the Tabernacle by the time the clan of Kehat had arrived, so they could set up the furnishings inside it and the Outer Altar outside it. After this, the clans of Gershon and Merari set up the surrounding courtyard.40

22 After the clan of Kehat set forth, the banner of the division of Ephraim set out, according to its troops. Heading its leading troop, that of the tribe of Ephraim, was Elishama the son of Amihud.

23 Heading the troop of the tribe of Menasseh was Gamliel the son of Pedahtzur.

24 Heading the troop of the tribe of Benjamin was Avidan the son of Gidoni.

25 Then, the banner of the division of Dan set out, according to its troops. Traveling last, it acted as the collector for all the other divisions, returning to them whatever they had inadvertently dropped along the way. Heading its leading troop, that of the tribe of Dan, was Achiezer the son of Amishadai.

26 Heading the troop of the tribe of Asher was Pagiel the son of Ochran.

27 Heading the troop of the tribe of Naphtali was Achira the son of Einan.

28 This was the traveling order of the Israelites according to their troops. Having described the order in which they traveled, the Torah now resumes the narrative how they indeed traveled.

29 Just before they set out from Mount Sinai, Moses said the following to Jethro, who was also known as Chovav ("the cherisher"), for he cherished the Torah. Jethro was also known as the son of Reuel the Midianite. Even though Jethro himself became known as Reuel ("the friend of God") when he abandoned idolatry, his father apparently adopted the same name, presumably for the same reason. Or perhaps, because Jethro's love of the Torah was derived from his love of God, he is referred to here as "the cherisher" who was the offspring of "the friend of God." In any case, Moses said to Jethro, Moses's father-in-law, "We are traveling now to the Land of Israel, the place about which God said, 'I will give it to you.' This journey should take three days. When God told us, 'I will give it to you,' He meant to us, but not to others: converts like yourself do not receive a portion of the land. Nonetheless, come with us and we will be good to you in other ways. We will give you a portion of the spoils of war, for God has spoken of good military fortune for Israel."

30 Jethro said to him, "I will not go with you, for I must go back and manage my land in order to take care of my family. If I will not receive a portion of the land, how will I be able to support my family and myself?"

31 Moses said, "Please do not leave us, because then people will say that you converted not out of conviction, but because you thought you were going to receive a portion of the desirable Land of Israel, and left Judaism when it became clear that you will not. You really should stay with us no matter what, because you are familiar with our encampments in the desert and you have been an eyewitness to all the miracles that God has done for us. Furthermore, your wisdom can guide us in many ways; you can serve figuratively as our eyes. And beyond this, we value you and we will cherish you as much as we cherish our own eyes.

32 And if you go with us, then we will bestow on you, at least temporarily, part of the good land that God grants us." (Indeed, years later, when the land was divided up, part of Jericho was reserved as compensation for the tribe in whose territory the Temple would be built, and in the interim it was given to the descendants of Jethro.) These arguments convinced Jethro: he went home to convert his family,41 and rejoined the Jews later on.

33 So, the people set out. But some of them, instead of focusing on their goal, the Land of Israel, focused on the material aspects of the life they were about to leave behind, as the narrative will describe in full presently. In this sense, they traveled from the mountain of God both figuratively (by seeking to escape the Godly life) and literally. For the time being, however, God overlooked this, and with His assistance they all miraculously traveled a distance of three days' journey from the mountain of God in one day. The people carrying the Ark of God's Covenant that Moses made and that housed the broken first set of tablets42 traveled at a distance of a three-day journey ahead of the rest of them, so this Ark could prepare for them a place to settle by miraculously flattening the area where they were to camp.

34 This Ark was accompanied by the leading cloud, which leveled the path for them and killed all the dangerous snakes and scorpions on the way. The other six clouds,43 however, continued to surround the people from all sides as they traveled, and thus the cloud of God was above them by day, when they traveled from the campsite. At the end of this day, they camped in the Paran desert, as was mentioned above.44

Signals to Journey, continued

Sixth Reading 35 The Torah now backtracks to add another detail to its description of how the people set out to travel. Whenever those carrying the ark that Moses made and housed the broken tablets set out,45 Moses would say, "Arise, O God! Let Your cloud go before us, preparing the way for our journey! May Your enemies who have gathered to attack us be scattered, and may those who hate You—and are therefore always pursuing us—turn and flee from You."

36 And when the ark came to rest, Moses would say, "Repose, O God, among the myriads and thousands of Israel." He used these numbers because the Divine presence rests fully upon the Jewish people when they number at least 22,000 (two myriads and two thousands). As was mentioned above,46 these two verses logically belong earlier on in the text. They were placed here to interrupt and mitigate the negative mood produced by recounting the people's failings on the first day of their journey (as mentioned above) and at their first encampment after Mount Sinai (as will be described now).

The Incident at Taveirah

11:1 After they had camped, some people from the mixed multitude had second thoughts about submitting to God's laws, and therefore sought a pretext to avoid serving Him. They decided to complain in a way that would be evil in God's ears, i.e., that would vex Him. So they complained about how weary they were after making a three-day journey in one day.47 God heard this and became angry, for, after all, He had made them travel this fast in order to hasten their entry into the Land of Israel. A fire from God broke out among them, consuming those at the extreme moral poles of the camp: these elements of the mixed multitude, and the 70 elders,48 who should have inculcated them with proper values and who deserved to die in any case for having behaved irreverently at the giving of the Torah.49

2 The remaining people from the mixed multitude who had sinned but had not yet been reached by the fire cried out to Moses to intercede on their behalf. Moses prayed to God, and the fire subsided.

3 Moses therefore named that place Taveirah ["blaze"], for a fire from God had broken out among them there.

The Incidents at Kivrot HaTa'avah

4 Although only a few of the mixed multitude had participated in the incident at Taveirah, the mixed multitude among the Israelites in general had begun to have strong cravings for their former way of life even before this. The Israelites, too, were affected by their behavior, and began to cry with them. Even though they had taken many animals with them from Egypt50 and therefore had plenty of meat, they all said, "Who will feed us meat?" for they were seeking a pretext to avoid the challenges of their new way of life.

5 "Furthermore, we remember the fish (our main staple) that we ate so enjoyably in Egypt because we were free of Divine obligations, whereas now we cannot eat in a relaxed way because our lives are encumbered with commandments, and even in order to eat the manna we must fulfill a number of commandments.51 Moreover, we miss the taste of the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. The manna tastes like whatever we want it to except for these beneficial foods, because their flavors are considered harmful to nursing infants. But since God can do anything, He could have excluded these flavors from the manna only for nursing mothers! Clearly, He is just trying to vex us." In fact, God excluded these flavors from the manna because if the nursing mothers would see everyone else enjoying them, they would want to taste them in the manna, too. Once they would desire them, they would automatically taste them in the manna, and these tastes would then go into their milk and harm their babies.52

6 "But now," they continued, "we are bored, for there is nothing else at all; we have nothing before our eyes but manna, day and night."

7 Now, to show how unfounded these complaints were, it should be remembered53 that the manna was shaped like coriander seed and was thus easy to handle, and its color was white, like that of crystal, so it was easy to locate.

8 The people could therefore just walk about and gather it. It had any texture they wished: as if they had ground it in a mill, crushed it in a mortar, cooked it in a pot, or made it into cakes. It tasted naturally like pastry fried in honey, kneaded with the moisture of oil, but if they wanted it to taste like anything else (other than the five tastes mentioned above), it did, just as a nursling tastes every flavor he can imagine in his mother's milk.

9 When the dew descended on the camp at night, the manna would descend upon it, so it was "packaged" and protected from spoiling or getting dirty.

10 Moses heard the people weeping with their families, both about what they would eat and about the restrictions the Torah placed on whom they could marry, each one at the entrance to his tent. This was the ninth time that the people challenged God's ability to provide for them in the desert.54 God became very angry, and Moses also considered it evil.

11 Moses said to God, "Why have You treated me, Your servant, so badly? Why have I not found favor in Your regard, that You place the burden of this entire people upon me?

12 Did I conceive this entire people? Did I give birth to them, that You say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nursing woman carries a suckling,' to the land You promised their forefathers?

13 Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are crying to me, saying, 'Give us meat to eat.'

14 And now that You have killed the 70 elders, I cannot carry the responsibility of this entire people alone, for it is too hard for me."

15 God then showed Moses the punishment He was planning on giving the people for behaving this way. But Moses, feeling for his people, took this as a personal affront: "If this is the way You want to treat me, please kill me first, if I have found favor in Your regard, so that I not see my evil [a euphemism for 'this evil You intend to do to them']." So, God did not punish them as He intended to, but instead inflicted a milder form of punishment, as will be described presently.

16 But first God addressed Moses' complaint about not being able to lead the people by himself. God said to Moses, "Assemble for Me 70 other elders of Israel to replace those that just perished. Assemble individuals who you know were the people's elders in Egypt and who had been appointed by the Egyptian taskmasters as foremen to oversee their work. Since they had been beaten on account of their people,55 they earned the right to be their leaders, just like those who became the princes.56 You shall coax them into accepting this office by telling them how fortunate they are to be selected as leaders of God's children. At the same time, however, stipulate that they accept this office with the awareness that the people are sometimes difficult to deal with.57 Bring them to the Tent of Meeting, and they shall stand there, in front of everybody, and enter the tent together with you so they can be present when you hear My words. In this way, the people will understand that they must honor and respect them.

17 I will descend and speak with you there, and I will elevate them by taking some of the spirit that is upon you and bestowing it upon them. This will not diminish your Divine spirit in any way. Then they must accept your stipulation to bear the burden of the people together with you, so that you need not bear it alone. So much for your complaint about having to lead the people by yourself.

18 As for the people who complained about not having enough meat, you shall say to them, 'Prepare yourselves for punishment tomorrow, when you shall eat meat, for you have cried in God's ears, saying, "Who will feed us meat? For we had it better in this respect in Egypt." Therefore, God will indeed give you meat, and you shall eat.

19 But the most wicked among you will perish as soon as they bite into it. The more righteous among you, however, shall not perish instantly, but instead shall eat it not for one day, not for two days, not for five days, not for ten days, and not for twenty days,

20 but for a full month, until they loathe it so much that it seems as though it is coming out their nose and nauseates them so much that they will never want to see it again. From another perspective, it is the righteous among you who will perish instantly, while the wicked will suffer for a full month before perishing. In any case, God knows you are complaining not because of the meat but because you have despised God, who dwells among you now that He has given you the Torah, and have cried before Him, saying, "Why did we ever leave Egypt?" The fact that God dwells among you has made you arrogant and self-concerned, instead of humble and self-effacing.' "

21 When he heard this, Moses said back to God, "The people in whose midst I am number approximately 600,000 on foot,58 and You say, 'I will give them enough meat to eat for a full month.'

22 How can You possibly do this? If a flock and a herd were slaughtered for them, would it suffice for them? If all the fish of the sea were caught for them, would it suffice for them?"

23 Then God said to Moses, "This is blasphemy! Do you indeed think that God's power is limited? I will show you that it is not, and you will now see if what I said happens to you or not!" Nonetheless, although God felt it was necessary to show Moses that His power was unlimited, He did not punish him for doubting God's power. On a deeper level, Moses did not question God's power; rather, he was trying to convince God not to kill the offenders. He said, [22] "Shall a flock and a herd be slaughtered for them, and this be their last meal? Will You look humane if you feed them and then kill them?" [23] To this, God replied to Moses, "If I kill them without feeding them first, it will look as if I killed them because I was not able to fulfill their request. Should God's power appear limited? No, I have to satisfy them first and then kill them." Moses then tried to argue that it would be pointless to do this. He said, [22] "Do You think that if a flock and a herd were slaughtered for them, it would suffice for them? No matter what You do, they won't be satisfied; they'll keep asking for something else." God replied to Moses again in the same way: [23] "True enough, but if I do nothing, people will say that I could not fulfill their request at all. Should God's power appear limited?" So Moses said, "Let me try to appease them." God replied, "Go ahead, but they will not listen to you. You will now see if what I said—that they will not listen to you—happens to you or not."

24 Moses went out of the Tent of Meeting and told the people what God had said: He first told them that God was going to appoint a new set of 70 elders. He then said to the complainers, "Is God's power limited? Just as He provided us with water and bread, He can provide us with additional meat!" But the complainers did not believe him, and insisted that God could not provide them with this meat. So Moses told them to prepare themselves to be punished on the morrow, and that they would be punished through eating the very meat they had asked for. In order to fulfill God's first directive, Moses took 72 tickets, wrote the word for "elder" on 70 of them, and left two of them blank. He then took six elders from each tribe, a total of 72, and had them each take a ticket from the box. The 70 who selected a ticket with the word "elder" became the 70 selected to become Moses' assistants; the other two did not. In this way he avoided making any of the tribes jealous. He assembled these 70 of the people's elders and positioned them around the Tent of Meeting.

25 God descended in a cloud and spoke to him, and He elevated them by taking some of the spirit that was on Moses and bestowing it on the 70 elders. And when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did not continue afterwards to prophesy on the same level as they did on that day.

26 Now two men of the 70 chosen ones had remained in the camp and did not go to the Tent of Meeting. The name of the first was Eldad and the name of the second was Meidad. Even though they did not go to the Tent of Meeting, the spirit of prophecy rested upon them anyway. They were among those upon whose ticket the word "elder" had been written, but they did not go out to the Tent of Meeting, because they felt unworthy of the gift of prophecy. But God rewarded them for their humility and gave them the gift of prophecy anyway,59 so instead they prophesied in the camp.

27 The lad Gershom, Moses' son, ran and told Moses, saying, "Eldad and Meidad are prophesying in the camp!"

28 Joshua the son of Nun, Moses' servant from his youth, answered and said, "Moses, my master! They are prophesying that you will die and that I will be the one to lead the people into the Promised Land! Imprison them! Or appoint them to a position of public office so they will become too preoccupied and exhausted to prophesy."

29 Moses said to him, "Are you zealous for my sake? If only all God's people were prophets, that God would bestow His spirit of prophecy upon them!"

Seventh Reading 30 Then Moses, together with the elders of Israel, withdrew from the entrance of the Tent of Meeting to the camp, each man to his private tent.

31 The following morning (the 21st of Iyar), God dealt with the other issue—punishing the complainers. He waited to do this until Moses and the elders were in their tents, since it pains the righteous to see the wicked being punished. A wind went forth sent from God and swept up quails60 from the sea and spread them over the camp and beyond it to a distance of about a day's journey this way and a day's journey that way, all around the camp. They flew at a height of about two cubits above the ground, which made it easy to catch them.

32 Some of the people who had complained heeded Moses' warning and refused to touch the quails, but the recalcitrant people arose and gathered the quails all that day, all night, and all the next day. The weak and lazy ones, who gathered the least, collected 10 chomer (about 2,420 liters or 85 cubic feet). After they slaughtered them, they spread them in layers around the camp.

33 As God had said, some of the offenders died while the meat was still between their teeth, before they had a chance to finish biting it. The others, although they became sick at once, continued to eat for a whole month, but even then, the supply of meat was still in abundance, and had not yet run out. God became angry at these people since they had not repented, and God struck the people with a very mighty blow, killing them.

34 He named that place Kivrot Hata'avah ["Graves of the Craving"], for there they buried the people who craved.

35 On the 21st of Sivan, 2449, one month after they had camped at Kivrot Hata'avah, the people traveled from Kivrot Hata'avah to Chatzerot (see Figure 3), and they stayed in Chatzerot for a full week, as will be recounted now.

Miriam's Challenge

12:1 A month earlier, when God bestowed the gift of prophecy on the 70 elders, Miriam was standing next to Zipporah when Gershom ran to Moses and said, "Eldad and Meidad are prophesying in the camp." When Zipporah heard this, she said, "Woe to their wives if they have become prophets, for they will now separate from them, just as Moses has separated from me." Miriam assumed that Moses had done this because he felt it was inappropriate for a prophet to become defiled by marital relations,61 just as God had bidden the whole people to refrain from marital relations in preparation for the revelation at the Giving of the Torah.62 However, she also knew that she and her brother Aaron had also received prophetic revelations but had not been required to separate from their spouses, so she assumed that it was Moses' own idea to separate, and thought that this was unfair to Zipporah. To make matters worse, Moses at this point divorced Zipporah.63 But instead of confronting Moses privately about this, as she should have,64 Miriam told Aaron about it, and Miriam and Aaron then spoke against Moses regarding how he had divorced the woman he had married, Zipporah. There seemed to be no reason for his conduct, for there was nothing about Zipporah that should have occasioned it. Both Zipporah's physical beauty and her righteous deeds were as clearly faultless as the skin of a Cushite (Ethiopian) woman is clearly black. There was certainly no reason to divorce the "Cushite" woman he had married.

2 They said, "If he is behaving this way because he is a prophet, then, has God spoken only to Moses? Has He not spoken to us, too? We are also prophets, and have not found it necessary to separate from our spouses." And God heard this.

3 Now, this man Moses was exceedingly humble, more so than any person on earth. And although Moses did not make a point of it, the truth was that he had been privileged to attain a much higher level of prophecy than either Aaron or Miriam had. God required him to be ready for prophetic communications at any moment and had told him explicitly to separate from his wife.

4 To prove to Aaron and Miriam that they were wrong in judging Moses, God suddenly said simultaneously to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, when the latter two were indeed defiled because they had relations with their spouses, "Come out, all three of you, to the Tent of Meeting!" And all three went out, but Aaron and Miriam first had to hastily immerse themselves in a mikveh.65 Thus, God demonstrated to them that Moses was correct in separating from his wife, because he could never know when God would want to speak with him.

5 God descended in a pillar of cloud and it stood at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. He called Aaron and Miriam away from Moses, closer toward the Tent, and they both went out. He did not want Moses to hear his own praise, nor Aaron's and Miriam's rebuke.

6 He said to them, "Please listen to My words. If there be a prophet among you, I, God will make Myself known to him in a vision; I will speak to him in a dream.

7 This is not so with My servant Moses; he is faithful throughout My household.

8 With him I speak mouth to mouth; unambiguously, without riddles, so he can behold the image of God, that is, understand Divine providence.66 I told him explicitly to separate from his wife. After the giving of the Torah, I said to him,67 'Go say to [the people], "Return to your tents [and live with your wives]," but you remain here with Me, so I can speak to you [at all times].' So why were you not afraid to speak against My servant, no matter who it might be, or against such an obviously exalted person as Moses, even if he weren't My servant? You should have reasoned that I do not show him special attention for no reason! Assuming that I do is tantamount to blasphemy. And if you say that I do so because I am unaware of his deeds, that is real blasphemy!"

9 After he informed them of their offense, God became angry with them, and He—that is, His presence—left, but the cloud remained in order to inflict punishment on Miriam, who had slandered Moses to Aaron. It was as if God told the cloud, "Punish her, but wait until I leave, because I pity her."

10 Then the cloud departed from above the Tent, and behold, Miriam was afflicted with tzara'at, the punishment for slander,68 and was as white as snow. Aaron turned to Miriam and behold, she was afflicted with tzara'at. Miriam did not intend to speak disparagingly of Moses, yet she was still punished severely. It follows that someone who slanders another person intending to disparage him deserves to be punished all the more.69

11 Aaron said to Moses, "Please, my master, do not hold us accountable for our sin, for we acted foolishly and sinned.

12 Someone afflicted with tzara'at is like a corpse, which defiles anyone who enters the room it is in.70 Let her not remain like a dead person, for since she also came out of our mother's womb, she is our own flesh; leaving her in her present state is as if half of our flesh is consumed! Pray to God to heal her! She cannot undergo the prescribed procedure for purifying those afflicted with tzara'at, because the priest must examine such a person and declare him purified, but a priest who is related to the afflicted person is not allowed to pass judgment on him. And she is related to every priest alive, i.e., myself and my two sons!"

13 So Moses immediately cried out to God, "Please, God, please heal her," saying, "Tell me if You are going to heal her or not." He offered only a short, concise prayer so the people would neither accuse him of wasting time in prayer while his sister suffered nor of offering long prayers only on her behalf but not on theirs.

Maftir 14 God replied to Moses, "If her father were to be upset with her and spit in her face, would she not be humiliated for seven days? In the present case, then, where God is upset with her, she should be humiliated for at least twice as long! Nonetheless, something derived by a fortiori reasoning need only be as severe as the case it was derived from, so she shall be confined for seven days outside the camp, and afterwards she may be recalled." Moses' prayer worked because Miriam's wrongdoing had not been so severe: she had only spoken the truth and had not intended to disparage Moses.71

15 So Miriam was confined outside the camp for seven days, and the people did not travel until Miriam had returned. By remaining encamped, they allowed Miriam to complete her period of ostracism as quickly as possible, for only the days she would spend "outside the camp" would count toward the required seven. God honored her this way in recognition of how she minimized Moses' suffering when he was placed as a nursling in the Nile River.72

16 Thereafter, on the 28th of Sivan, 2449, the people departed from Chatzerot, and they camped at Ritmah, on the border of the Land of Israel, opposite Kadesh Barnea,73 which is also located in the Paran desert (see Figure 4). Thus, they lost a month at Kivrot HaTa'avah and a week at Chatzerot, but at this point they were still poised to enter the Land of Israel directly.