Corrupting an Entire Congregation, בהעלתך פרשת, Parashat Behaalotcha, Bits of Torah Truths


In this week’s Torah portion we read the following, Bamidbar / Numbers 10:33-36, וַיִּסְעוּ֙ מֵהַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה דֶּ֖רֶךְ שְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֑ים וַאֲר֨וֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָ֜ה נֹסֵ֣עַ לִפְנֵיהֶ֗ם דֶּ֚רֶךְ שְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֔ים לָת֥וּר לָהֶ֖ם מְנוּחָֽה׃ 10:33 They marched from the mountain of the LORD a distance of three days. The Ark of the Covenant of the LORD traveled in front of them on that three days’ journey to seek out a resting place for them; וַעֲנַ֧ן יְהוָ֛ה עֲלֵיהֶ֖ם יוֹמָ֑ם בְּנָסְעָ֖ם מִן־הַֽמַּחֲנֶֽה׃ (׆) (ס) 10:34 and the LORD’s cloud kept above them by day, as they moved on from camp. וַיְהִ֛י בִּנְסֹ֥עַ הָאָרֹ֖ן וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֑ה קוּמָ֣ה ׀ יְהוָ֗ה וְיָפֻ֙צוּ֙ אֹֽיְבֶ֔יךָ וְיָנֻ֥סוּ מְשַׂנְאֶ֖יךָ מִפָּנֶֽיךָ׃ 10:35 When the Ark was to set out, Moses would say: Advance, O LORD! May Your enemies be scattered, And may Your foes flee before You! וּבְנֻחֹ֖ה יֹאמַ֑ר שׁוּבָ֣ה יְהוָ֔ה רִֽבְב֖וֹת אַלְפֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (׆) (ס) 10:36 And when it halted, he would say: Return, O LORD, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands! Based upon the record Moshe wrote for us concerning Israel’s travel in the wilderness, we are told how the Lord God of Israel went ahead of the people to seek out a place for them to camp as they are leaving the foot of the mountain of Sinai. This is an important point, as we are to seek the Lord God according to His ways, His leading, and His guidance. The Midrashic descriptions of the Lord going before the people, the rabbis say two sparks issued forth from the cherubim over the Ark of the Covenant that killed the snakes and scorpions and burned the thorns. (Midrash Tanchuma Vayakhel 7:12) The reference to snakes, scorpions, and thorns is a reference to the enemies of God. The Midrash states that smoke rose up from the burning of these things, and the nations smelled the odor of the burning and asked “Who is this that comes out of the wilderness?” (Song 3:6). The Lord God going before the people, His protection is described as destroying those things that have the capability of destroying us. The nations do not recognize these things because their gods do not go before them. The nations serve gods of their own making. It is a dangerous thing to hate Israel, Rashi says those who hate Israel, also hates “Him who spoke and the world came into existence.” (Rashi on Bamidbar / Numbers 10:35 Part 5, see also Daat Zkenim on Bamidbar / Numbers 10:35 Part 1) The idea is those who hate Israel also hates the Creator, the God of Israel, and becomes enemy of both. Remember according to Parashat Lech Lecha, the Lord God said in Bereshit / Genesis 12:1 Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; 12:2 And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; 12:3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’ (NASB, א וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָֹה אֶל-אַבְרָם לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ: ב וְאֶעֶשְֹךָ לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל וַאֲבָרֶכְךָ וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ וֶהְיֵה בְּרָכָה: ג וַאֲבָרְכָה מְבָרֲכֶיךָ וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ אָאֹר וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כֹּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה:)

The rabbis describe the departure from the Mountain of Sinai parallels the leaving of the study of Torah. There is a significance to this verse, Bamidbar / Numbers 10:33-36, וַיִּסְעוּ֙ מֵהַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה דֶּ֖רֶךְ שְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֑ים וַאֲר֨וֹן בְּרִית־יְהוָ֜ה נֹסֵ֣עַ לִפְנֵיהֶ֗ם דֶּ֚רֶךְ שְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֔ים לָת֥וּר לָהֶ֖ם מְנוּחָֽה׃ 10:33 They marched from the mountain of the LORD a distance of three days. The Ark of the Covenant of the LORD traveled in front of them on that three days’ journey to seek out a resting place for them. The Lord going ahead of the people to search out a place for Israel to camp. This suggests to us that there were certain aspects of the location that were necessary for the spiritual growth of God’s people. Notice what Moshe states following this, וַיְהִ֛י בִּנְסֹ֥עַ הָאָרֹ֖ן וַיֹּ֣אמֶר מֹשֶׁ֑ה קוּמָ֣ה ׀ יְהוָ֗ה וְיָפֻ֙צוּ֙ אֹֽיְבֶ֔יךָ וְיָנֻ֥סוּ מְשַׂנְאֶ֖יךָ מִפָּנֶֽיךָ׃ 10:35 When the Ark was to set out, Moses would say: Advance, O LORD! May Your enemies be scattered, And may Your foes flee before You! וּבְנֻחֹ֖ה יֹאמַ֑ר שׁוּבָ֣ה יְהוָ֔ה רִֽבְב֖וֹת אַלְפֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (׆) (ס) 10:36 And when it halted, he would say: Return, O LORD, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands! Then we see those who are the enemy of God and of Israel speak out with the complaint of no bread and no meat to eat. The rabbinic interpretation on the Lord going forth before Israel on a three-day journey is connected to a Kabbalistic concept, i.e. “The reason the Israelites had to trek through the desert was to locate and rescue ‘sparks’ of sanctity which were held captive by the spiritually negative forces whose domain is the desert and other inhospitable parts of the earth. We must appreciate that all these spiritually negative forces may be divided into two categories. One category is essentially a seducer who endeavors to bring his adversary to heel by luring him into immoral and unethical behavior against man and God. The other category consists of various types of destructive forces which simply attack the body of a person trying to kill or to maim him.” The way the rabbis interpret these Scriptures may seem strange at first. The idea is based upon how the Lord God is working in our lives to root out the sources of sin (spiritually negative forces), and teach us his way of consecrating our lives (living in righteousness, holiness, and truth) according to His Word. The enemy is sin, and today also our culture (through television, immoral and unethical behaviors that are taught to the masses), where these things harm us both physically and spiritually. The idea is the Torah writes וְיָנֻ֥סוּ מְשַׂנְאֶ֖יךָ מִפָּנֶֽיךָ, “let them that hate You flee before You” referring to those who display their hatred of God indirectly by seducing God’s servants into sinning before Him. This is how the Torah describes the “enemies” of God in the plural as there are those who seduce God’s people who are in the midst of the congregation of believers. These enemies are also referred to as evil urges, such as one having the desire to serve idols, another having the desire to engage in illicit sexual relations, etc. This is why the Lord God of Israel needed to address the issue of sin on an individual basis, due to the intrinsic impurity that exists in our lives as we studied back in the book of Vayikra / Leviticus. This is also why it was absolutely necessary to bring Yeshua into this world to die for our sins. This is also why the Lord God of Israel sent His Son Yeshua the Messiah to teach His people the Torah in order to lead and guide us into God’s Ways. Think about this for a moment, This is why these things are drawn in context of Chag Shavuot (Pentacost), and the importance of the giving of the Spirit of God into the hearts of men for those who would believe in Yeshua, leads to the changing of the heart, the transformation from the inside to something new so that we have the desire to do what is right as opposed to serving sin.

The Scriptures speak of two types of people in this world, along with the spiritual forces that work to seduce God’s people into being disobedient to His Word. (Or HaChaim on Numbers 10:35 Part 1) The kind of rebellion is from those who insight sedition against the Word of the Lord, to rebel, to complain, to mummer, and this is what happened when the people departed from the Mountain of Sinai. Those who were not seeking the Lord God of Israel, were causing the congregation to be discontented as we read in Bamidbar / Numbers 11:4-10. The text states ד וְהָאסַפְסֻף אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבּוֹ הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה וַיָּשֻׁבוּ וַיִּבְכּוּ גַּם בְּנֵי יִשְֹרָאֵל וַיֹּאמְרוּ מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָֹר: 11:4 The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat? (NASB) The interesting part of this verse is the translation of וְהָאסַפְסֻף as “rabble” who were among the people. The different Bible translations have chosen to render this as the following:

Bamidbar / Numbers 11:4
HEB: וְהָֽאסַפְסֻף֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּקִרְבּ֔וֹ
NAS: The rabble who were among them
KJV: And the mixed multitude that [was] among them
CSB: The riffraff among them

The text literally says וְהָאסַפְסֻף אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבּוֹ “the rabble who were in their midst.” They were among them, dispersed in the congregation. The etymology of this word, where it is derived from, asks whether it is connected to word אסף (to gather, collect) and אסם (literally a barn or storehouse meaning to heap up)? In Shemot / Exodus 23:16 (טז וְחַג הַקָּצִיר בִּכּוּרֵי מַעֲשֶֹיךָ אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע בַּשָּׂדֶה וְחַג הָאָסִף בְּצֵאת הַשָּׁנָה בְּאָסְפְּךָ אֶת-מַעֲשֶֹיךָ מִן-הַשָּׂדֶה: 23:16 Also you shall observe the Feast of the Harvest of the first fruits of your labors from what you sow in the field; also the Feast of the Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in the fruit of your labors from the field.), we find the festival called Chag Ha’asif (וְחַג הָאָסִף) the Festival of Ingatherings, Sukkot is a harvest festival and is sometimes referred to as Chag Ha-Asif. It could be these people were becoming a gathering of people taking a stand against the Lord and against Moshe. The way this word is constructed, may be a reference to an external gathering or pile of peoples. This is why we find the translation of the word to “rabble” which refers to “a disorderly crowd; a mob.” Something to note here in the word וְהָאסַפְסֻף in the Chumash (the Torah), in the Masoretic Text, this word has no vowelization under the aleph. This lack of vowelization under the aleph is similar but somewhat different from אסף as explained by Rabbi Hirsch on the verse in Bamidbar / Numbers 11:4. This is similar to the way Ibn Ezra explains the word (והאספסוף – שנאספו על ישראל ואינם מהן, והן ערב רב. והמלה כפולה כמו: סחרחר (תהלים ל״ח:י״א), חמרמרו (איכה א׳:כ׳).) The א (aleph) being quiescent gives the nuance of meaning that this was the “absorption of people” which resembles more of an excluded / external group of people in their midst, as opposed to those who were “gathered in / called to be God’s people.” This means these people did not really enter into the nation of Israel through the power of God, they were simply assimilated, absorbed, become a part of, without the spiritual influence from the Lord, basically they came along for the ride, for the benefits of God promised without having to actually have faith believing. Israel became a סף (threshold or container) as opposed to an אסף, an ingathering. To these people, Israel functioned as a סף, a container, a vessel, and a “threshold” to them, they were “contained” in Israel but never really became an integral part of her by accepting the God of Israel into their lives. These people considered themselves as separate but yet insisting they receive all of the benefits, while not being subject to the responsibilities listed in the Torah. (Does this sound familiar? Do you know anyone like that?) The idea here is as the people complained they literally said מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָֹר “who will feed us flesh?” These people were hungry for physical food as opposed to spiritual food. They were interested more in satisfying their own desires as opposed to wanting to live their lives for the Lord in contentment. Moshe speaks to the Lord about how food will be brought to these people. It is interesting what Moshe says to the Lord regarding this situation, 11:13 ‘Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat!’ 11:14 ‘I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me. 11:15 ‘So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once, if I have found favor in Your sight, and do not let me see my wretchedness.’ (NASB) The mistake Moshe seems to make is to blame the Lord for the burden of the people. He knows that the Lord God is able to move in the hearts of men to do what is right. We have may examples of this in the Torah. He asks to be put to death rather than to see his end at the hand of the people. The text gives us God’s response, 11:23 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not.’ (NASB) The text literally states, “is the arm of the Lord short?” The lengthening or shortening of the arm is related to the power of God that is present to work. The way one can cause the power of God to be limited in their lives is through unbelief, the lack of faith, and then complaining about the situations we are in. This is what this text is explaining to us, the importance of being a child of God, to having the Lord God of Israel in our lives, in our hearts, empowering us, and to have faith, to seek Him and His Messiah Yeshua. If we are not actively seeking the Lord and Yeshua, we will not see the power of God in our lives! Here the text states that because of the complaints, the fire of the Lord burned on the outskirts of the camp. This gives us a location of the peoples who were simply absorbed into the congregation without being spiritually influenced by God, they lacked faith. In the statement when God asks “is there then a limit to the Lord’s power?” the Lord God implied that just as it was within His power to provide what He had said He would provide, so it was in His power to see to it that they could be fed as well. We are told then that the people gathered and gathered the meat and ate until it came out of their noses, meaning they loathed the meat because there was so much. The Torah states in Bamidbar / Numbers 11:31, ויטש על המחנה בדרך יום כה ובדרך יום כה סביבות המחנה וכאמתים על פני כל הארץ , “and He strewed them over the camp, a distance of a day’s walk in each direction and to the height of two cubits above the face of the earth.” This is quite the distance demonstrating the power of God to bless the people. The record that the depth was 2 cubits high meant the people did not have to even bend over to pick up the birds, it level was high enough that they had to push their way through the birds. They literally had to wade through the birds pushing them with their legs to get through. That would have made quite a mess of birds to clean up.

Now Moshe commented in Bamidbar / Numbers 11:21-22 about giving meat to the people and slaughtering animals. From what we have studied in the Torah thus far, we know that at that time any meat which was not the result of having been slaughtered as a sacrifice to the Lord was forbidden for the people to eat. Also, it is the Shalamim korban (peace offering) that allows for the community’s enjoyment of the slaughtered meat. Moshe’s question on slaughtering enough cattle for all of the people to eat recognizes there were only two priests available to slaughter the animals, Aaron and his two surviving sons. So His question involved how could three people slaughtered so many animals for so many people in such a short period of time to feed all of the nation. In addition to this, there was a strict time limit on eating the slaughtered meat, two days for on the third day it was to be burned up. Moshe makes the statement about fish (Bamidbar / Numbers11:22) as an alternative to supplying meat, this was not a question but a comment, a solution to the sacrificial slaughter of animals since fish do not require this. Also, the people could never have collected enough fish in a day to last them for a month. The Lord God’s solution was to provide birds which also did not require ritual slaughter by priests, as did the cattle or flocks. Rashi states that these men, the ramble, would never be satisfied, they were complainers at the core. His interpretation of this text is “If all the cattle in the world were slaughtered for them, ומצא להם, would this suffice them, i. e., would they be satisfied with that?), in the end they will always argue against You. If You give them flesh of large cattle (oxen) they will say ‘We wanted that of small cattle (sheep)’; if You will give them flesh of sheep, they will say We wanted that of oxen’, or, ‘we wanted wild beasts (venison) and fowls’, ‘we wanted fish and locusts!’” (Rashi on Bamidbar / Numbers 11:23 Part 1) Moshe then returned to the people concerning God’s word (His answer) and asked if the hand of the Lord is short? The Lord worked miracles on behalf of the people to provide for their needs (i.e. water, bread, meat, etc).

The Torah provides us with the historical account of these things as a testimony to build our faith in the God of Israel who is able to deliver us and provide for us everything we need! Notice there parallels here in the NT text, the Lord sent His Messiah Yeshua, the bread which comes from heaven who guides us, who nourishes us, and helps us to live according to God’s Word, just as Moshe did on behalf of the people bearing up the people before God. It is interesting how the Lord God brought manna from heaven to supply food for the needs of the people. The people however desired to gratify the desires of the flesh (their bellies) by asking “Who will give us flesh to eat?” Note how the people’s complaint led to death, the Scriptures say the fire of the Lord burned at the edges of the camp. (Bamidbar / Numbers 11:1) The location indicates something on the matter of faith. Those who remained further away had less faith than those who drew near to the tabernacle of God. This is how sin functions, drawing us away from the Lord. Remember back in Vayikra / Leviticus, we discussed the concept of uncleanness that comes from within (intrinsic) and the need for Yeshua to cleans us from this impurity? How the sacrifices dealt with the extrinsic (external) impurities, while the Messiah deals with the intrinsic (internal) impurities! This is not simply an “academic” or speculative messianic approach to be considered, this is a matter of eternal life or death. How we choose to respond to the Word of God, just as the people here in the Torah text, its message determines our destiny. Everything revolves around whether we wake up to the reality of the Messiah of God laying down his life for our sins or not. Without Him we are hopeless; and Paul wrote with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Corinthians 15:14, Romans 8:37). The God of Israel loves us with “an everlasting love” (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and draws us to Himself in chesed (חֶסֶד, mercy/grace). This is what the prophet Jeremiah stated in Jeremiah 31:3 אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אֲהַבְתִּיךְ עַל־כֵּן מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ חָסֶד “I love you with an everlasting love; therefore in chesed (grace/mercy) I draw you to me.” Notice how the word translated “I draw you” comes from the Hebrew word mashakh (מָשַׁךְ), meaning to “seize” or “drag away.” (The Septuagint [Greek translation] used the verb helko (ἕλκω) to express the same idea.) Yeshua said, “No one is able to come to me unless he is ‘dragged away’ (ἑλκύσῃ) by the Father” (see John 6:44, 44 οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ὁ Πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν, κἀγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ.). God’s mercy (chesed) seizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior. Paradoxically, there are many people do not want life on God’s terms. Many people are contented to stumble along in their lives and remain in a state of rasha (wicked, criminal, guilty one) believing in the deception of the world. When someone is called by the Lord, it is usually when they are at the point of brokenness and have a need for a miracle. Here the people needed a miracle, however, they were desiring a miracle such that they may gratify the desires of the flesh and not for the sake of heaven. As we seek to do the will of God, we seek His Messiah through a personal encounter with God! It is only then that we are able to be lifted up, to experience the power of God in our lives, just as Yeshua said “Kumi” rise up, awaken from the dead, become alive in the Messiah! (Mark 5:41, John 6:40). Just as Moshe interceded on behalf of the people, Yeshua intercedes on our behalf before God. In Heaven, the Messiah embodies the Presence and Reality of our Advocate and Mediator before God. This is why we have faith in Him! This is also how the Torah and the Gospel Message go hand-in-hand!