Home > Divrei Torah > Parashat BeHa’alotkha

Parashat BeHa’alotkha

May 23, 2013

“Dealing With The Enemies In Our Midst”

By Rabbi Dorit Edut


As we open the Ark to remove our Torah scrolls every Shabbat, we recite these lines which come from this week’s parashah, Numbers 10:35:

“When the Ark was to set out, Moses would say:

Advance, O Lord!

May Your enemies be scattered,

And may Your foes flee before You!”

Around this verse and the next one are inverted letter nuns, something which is only seen here in the Torah and seven times in the Book of Psalms. Our Sages of the Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 115b-116a, discussed this and said that these lines are either an insertion meant to go elsewhere or actually form their own separate book of the Torah – which would mean there are really SEVEN books of the Torah, not five!

Yet I think these verses are really very integral to this portion and speak to us very personally today. First we must imagine the scene of our ancestors getting ready to leave Mt. Sinai after two years and heading out into the barren, unknown wilderness towards a land they do not know. Yes, they had a Tabernacle in their middle and had been given specific locations and marching orders. But Moses, knowing the stubborn and individualistic ways of the people, prayed to God that this system would really work on its first big test. He also tried to speak to the fears of the unknown that were in the minds of the people and tries to encourage them by calling on God for leadership and protection. Sforno, in his comments on BeHa’alotkha, explained that these words also expressed their hopes that when other enemies would see them coming and sense God’s Presence, they would either yield or flee so that no warfare would be necessary.

As for all of us who often realize the deeper meaning of our words only long after we have said them, Moses comes to realize that it is not so much the enemies outside of the camp that he must worry about – but those right next to him! Indeed, it is in the very next verse, Numbers 11:1, that the Israelites start complaining about something not mentioned; this infuriates God who causes a fire to burn on the outskirts of the camp, and Moses has to intercede through prayer to halt this. Then we have the complaints of ha-asafsuf, the riffraff, who weep about the Egyptian goodies they miss in their ‘boring’ diet of manna. Moses has a short meltdown from all this complaining, asking God to take his life because these burdensome people are just too much for him. Then Moses is faced with an apparent challenge of two of the elders who begin prophesying in the camp beyond the area where the other elders had assembled to be inspired by God. Finally, Moses’s own brother and sister speak publicly to criticize him about his personal relationship with his wife. Moses handles these “enemies” from within in ways that relate to the words he spoke previously in the prayer for all Israel.

Certainly Moses was challenged and could have reacted with anger, defensiveness and even vengeance, yet Moses is not stopped, and even if despairing, he knows that he can trust and turn to God for help and inspiration. God answers Moses in ways that are practical, too, having him appoint seventy elders to help him with the leadership of the people, or having him respond with humility that those who are truly inspired by God to prophesize are to be admired and listened to since Moses is NOT the only one God can speak to. Even with the sharp criticism of his own brother and sister, Moses does not show any anger or hurt feelings; instead he quickly responds to Aaron’s plea and offers the short and heartfelt prayer for Miriam’s life: ” O God, pray heal her!”  As Rav Avraham Kook explained (Gold from the Land of Israel, adapted from Ein Eyah vol. I, p. 163), Moses did not need to recite a long prayer here because his purpose was to put in words the holy feelings which already existed in his soul and hers, both which had already been refined and purified.

In other words, it is this trust in God that has our “enemies” scatter, that has us face adversity with the knowledge that our “foes” as we perceive them will flee if we but remain strong and purposeful, if we examine our own ways, turn to God for answers, and act authentically for the sake of peace and justice in our world.


Shabbat Shalom!


Rabbi Dorit Edut (’06) is the head of the Detroit Interfaith Outreach Network and teaches at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue.