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Parashat Beha’alotekha 5784

June 17, 2024
by Rabbi Greg Schindler (’09)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a prophet? To know things before they happened? This week’s parashah, Parashat Beha’alotekha, represents a master class in prophecy. Through a series of vignettes, the Torah provides insight into what it means to be a prophet.

In the first episode, several men come up to Moses and Aaron saying that they were unable to bring the Passover sacrifice because they were ritually unclean. Is there any way they can still participate (Num. 9:6-7)? All that Moses had learned from G-d was that the sacrifice was to be brought on the fourteenth day of the first month (Num. 9:5); there was nothing about what to do with people who were unable to participate at that time.

What should Moses do? Would he look weak if he admitted that he did not know the answer? Should he make his own interpretation?

What does Moses do?  He consults G-d and is told that there is a possible make-up Passover sacrifice one month later (Num. 9:8).

Lesson 1: A prophet acknowledges that the answers come from G-d.

Second, Moses implores his father-in-law, Yitro – an experienced priest from Midian (and not a Hebrew) – to stay with the Israelites. “You know our encampments in the desert; you will be like eyes to us,” Moses tells him (Num. 10:29-31).  Why would Moses be in need of “eyes in the desert”? We already read about how the Israelites knew when and where to travel by virtue of a cloud over the mishkan (the portable sanctuary) that would lead them (Num. 9:17).

Lesson 2: A prophet does not rely solely on miracles.

Third, the people start complaining, and G-d’s “anger” flares; a fire from G-d burns the edge of the camp. The people cry out to Moses (Num. 11:1-2). What should Moses do? Should he side with G-d against the “complainers”?

“Moses prayed to G-d, and the fire died down” (Num. 11:2).

Lesson 3: The prophet sides with the People, sometimes even against G-d.

Fourth, the complaining continues; this time the people begin craving the good food they supposedly ate for free in Egypt. “We have nothing to look to but this manna” (Num. 11:4-6)!

Moses is exasperated, saying to G-d: “Why have You treated Your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in Your eyes that You place the burden of this entire people upon me?… Alone I cannot carry this entire people for it is too hard for me” (Num. 11:11-14). Then he ends with words that perfectly sum up his state of mind: “If this is the way You treat me, just kill me” (Num. 11:15).

Lesson 4: A prophet is utterly alone; and the job can be overwhelming.

Fifth, G-d hears Moses’ cry, and tells him. “Assemble for Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the people’s elders and officers, and you shall take them to the Tent of Meeting, and they shall stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will increase the spirit that is upon you and bestow it upon them. Then they will bear the burden of the people with you so that you need not bear it alone” (Num. 11:16-17).

Lesson 5: A prophet must know when to ask for – and accept – help.

Sixth, when Moses assembles the seventy elders at the Tent of Meeting, there are two men who remain in the camp and they prophesize there. Moses’ servant Joshua demands that Moses restrain them (Num. 11:27-28).  How should Moses react to these two men? Are they usurping his authority?

Rather than restrain them, Moses welcomes them. He says to Joshua, “Are you zealous for my sake? If only all G-d’s people were prophets, that G-d would bestow His spirit upon them!” (Num. 11:29).

Lesson 6: A prophet checks his ego at the door.

Seventh, Miriam says something to Aaron about “the Cushite woman that Moses had married” (Num. 12:1). What exactly did she say? Rashi (11th c.; France) brings the following teaching: “When Moses’ wife heard about the men who were prophesying in the camp, she said, ‘Woe to their wives if they are required to prophesy, for they will separate from their wives just as my husband separated from me.’ Miriam overheard this remark, and told Aaron.” (Rashi, citing Sifrei Bemidbar 99)

Lesson 7: A prophet’s personal life takes a backseat to the prophetic calling.

Eighth: Following this, the Torah tells us: “Now this man Moses was exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3).

Lesson 8: A prophet must have no concern for his or her personal standing.

Ninth: G-d suddenly calls to Moses, Aaron and Miriam, ordering them to the Tent of Meeting. There, G-d tells Aaron and Miriam, “Please listen to My words. If there be prophets among you, I make Myself known to them 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 G-d” (Num. 12:6-8). Even Aaron and Miriam, to whom G-d also speaks, cannot understand the life of their own sibling who has become the greatest of prophets.

Lesson 9: The relationship between G-d and the prophet and the burden of this calling are beyond our comprehension.

Tenth: As punishment for her words, G-d strikes Miriam with tzarat, a skin disease that turns her white as snow (Num. 12:10).  Aaron is distraught, and pleads with Moses, “Please, my master[1], do not put sin upon us for acting foolishly and for sinning” (Num. 12:11).

Should Moses be angry at Miriam and Aaron for these insensitive remarks? Instead, Moses utters the shortest – and most heartfelt – of prayers: “G-d, please, heal her, please” (Num. 12:13).

Lesson 10: Forgive easily.

While most of us by this point have given up on the idea of prophecy as a career, the lessons of Parashat Beha’alotekha may, in some measure, be applied in our lives.

·        Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers

·        Do not rely on miracles

·        Try to help people, even against overwhelming odds

·        Sometimes your role involves you being alone, and the job can seem overwhelming

·        Know when to ask for – and accept – help

·        Check your ego at the door

·        Balancing your work and your personal life can be very difficult

·        Have no concern for your personal standing

·        Understand that the challenges of other people’s lives are often beyond your comprehension

·        Forgive easily.

Shabbat Shalom.

[1] Despite Moses being the youngest of the three, Aaron acknowledges his brother’s unique role, and calls him “My master”.


Rabbi Greg Schindler (AJR 2009). While at AJR, he was honored to serve as President of the Student Association. He is a community rabbi in Westport, CT where he conducts classes in Talmud and Tanakh. He has led Children’s High Holiday services for over 20 years. Each year, he writes and directs a new Yom Kippur comedic play based on the Book of Jonah , including “Jonah-gan’s Island”. “Batmensch”, “SpongeJonah SquarePants”, “Horton Hears an Oy” and more.