This week’s parashah (Book of Numbers 8:1-12:16) is called “B’haalotechah.” The name means “when you raise yourself up” and the name teaches us a great deal about its themes.
The parashah is another long section. In this week’s section, we find a weary Moses. He has dealt with non-stop complaining and although the text is terse with its words, the reader gets the sense that Moses is experiencing leadership burnout. It must have seemed to him that whatever he did was wrong. Perhaps the pinnacle of this professional weariness is when in 12:1 the text tells us that “Vtidabber Miriam vAharon b’Mosheh al-odot ha’ishah ha’cushit asher lakach…Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married….”
Now Moses must deal with criticism from the two people in the world whom he always thought he could count on, his brother and his sister. Furthermore, it is unclear exactly what the complaints were. Were Moses’ siblings angry at him for ignoring his wife or did she do something wrong? Is this a case of racism or were Moses’ siblings standing up for Tziporah? Is such criticism part of leadership or do we still treat our leaders unfairly?
If we read the text carefully, we note that Moses reacts very gently to their criticism. It is as if he is tired, understands that they too may be tired and realizes that often we take out our frustrations and our jealousies on those we love. It must have been somewhat frustrating for Aaron and Miriam to be second to Moses. It is also part of human nature sometimes to hurt those who have helped us most.
The text shows us Moses’ greatness by the fact that instead of insisting that G-d punish his siblings, Moses’ only words are directed to G-d when he utters the Bible’s first prayer of petition asking for healing for his sister Miriam: “El na rfa na la/O G’d, please heal her now.” (12:13)
Although the text indicates that G-d punished Miriam for her disloyalty, we have to ask ourselves if Moses was also asking G-d to heal her of her envy and perhaps jealousy. Is the text teaching us that our need to bring down those whom have helped us most is a form of leprosy of the heart? Perhaps that is why this week’s portion is called “B’haalotechah /when you bring yourself up”. It teaches us that our task is to raise ourselves up by what we accomplish rather than by lowering those who seek to help us.
What does this section teach us about our own hyper-politicized world, a world filled with the politics of personal destruction? Are our leaders and media outlets acting more like Miriam or Moses? What do you think?
Youtubes of the week:
Three songs by The Macabeats
Declaration of Independence: