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

And Moses said to them,” Stand by, and I will hear what God commands you.” (Numbers 9:8)

Parashat B’haalotecha describes the ritual of lighting the menorah, the trumpets to be blown as signals for breaking camp and moving, and the moving of the ark.  There is also the usual kvetching about food, a small plague in response, and the business of Miriam being struck by leprosy for trash talking (lashon hara) Moses, her brother.

In the midst of all this theater and high drama there is also a quiet moment of great import.  God tells Moses the Israelites shall celebrate Pesach (Passover) on the 14th day of Nisan.    This raises a question which is brought to Moses:  what if a person is impure and can’t offer the Pesach sacrifice at the appointed time?  Moses doesn’t know and refers the question to God.  God decrees that those who are impure may observe Pesach  Sheini (the second Passover) and offer their Pesach sacrifice a month later, on the 14th day of Iyar.   Sifre (a collection of midrashim (rabbinic interpretations) to Numbers and Deuteronomy) observes that the Torah usually gives commandments through Moses, but God chooses to honor the Israelites’ sincerity by responding to them directly.

Moses’ behavior here is significant.  Moses is the paradigmatic Jewish teacher not merely for what he knows, but also for his ability to recognize what he doesn’t know… and to admit it.   By modeling honesty and pursuing truth, Moses demonstrates to the Israelites that learning is never complete and that every teacher is simultaneously a student.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David

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