The Honorable Question
Amidst a chorus of complainers, several Israelites ask a question that pleases God greatly
This week's portion, Behalotecha, covers a fairly eclectic range of topics. The portion begins with instructions to Aaron, the high priest, regarding the lighting of the menorah in the tabernacle (Numbers 8:1-4) and then moves to the consecration of the Levite tribe for Temple service (Numbers 8:5-26). Next, we are told of the bringing of the paschal offering and the provisions made for those who cannot bring the Passover sacrifice at the appointed time (Numbers 9:1-14). This is followed by a description of the Israelites' encampment in the desert, the directions provided by a cloud [of glory] (Numbers 9:15-23), the creation and use of silver trumpets (Numbers 10:1-10), and the order and process by which the Israelites traveled through the desert (Numbers 10:11-36).
The portion concludes with a series of complaints. The people complain twice--once about an undisclosed topic and once about the lack of meat in the desert--and are punished by God for their complaints. Moses in turn complains that the burden of leadership is too great to bear on his own, in response to which God deputizes 70 elders to aid Moses (Numbers 11:10-17, 24-30). In a separate incident, Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses' relationship with a Cushite woman, for which Miriam is stricken with leprosy for seven days (Numbers 12:1-16).