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Parashat B’ha-alot’cha (Numbers 8:1-12:16)

“Not so with My servant Moses;
he is trusted through My household.” (Numbers 12:7)

The first chapters of Bamidbar (Numbers) are all about organizing the Israelites to cross the desert. Every tribe has its role and its place and the “org chart” is… perfect. Parashat B’ha-a lot’cha describes the plan’s implementation and how everything falls apart almost immediately.

Three days into the trek, the Israelites lose faith in God and complain about the lack of food, meat in particular. Moses takes this personally and complains to God the burden of leading the Israelites is too great and even asks God to kill him to relieve his misery (Num. 8:11-15). God, in turn, gets angry at the Israelites and sends a plague to kill the whiners. B’ha-a lot’ch, then, is a bit of a mirror: The Israelites never trust God enough and God is never satisfied enough with the Israelites. Moses is caught in the middle of a real leadership pickle.

Erica Brown (writer, educator, and scholar-in-residence for The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington) observes Moses identifies so much with the mission he can’t separate himself from the people’s criticism. He feels he has failed as a leader, so much so he’d rather die than continue. And even though the Israelites’ demands are unrealistic in the extreme, Moses doesn’t understand the Israelites are projecting onto him their ambivalence about their own weakness in the face of their new-found freedom. So Moses doesn’t challenge the Israelites, nor does he defend himself. He merely tosses the situation to God.

B’ha-alot’cha is important because it marks the beginning of Moses’ lack of faith in the Israelites. And if you don’t trust your followers, how can you lead?

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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