The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
Yeshivat Har Etzion
series is dedicated
in memory of Michael Jotkowitz, z"l.
In loving memory of Jamie Lehmann,z'l,
whose yahrzeit is 14 of Sivan, by his loving family Yitzchok and Barbie Lehmann Siegel, Russie,
Jackie and Bruria
Rav Chanoch Waxman
By about midway through Parashat Beha'alotekha,
Moshe had seen and heard enough. In
response to the people's pining for the delicacies they enjoyed as Egyptian
slaves (11:4-5) and upon hearing their crying at the doors of their tents
(11:10), Moshe attempts to resign his commission. Turning to God, Moshe laments his unjust
you done evil (hareiota) unto your servant?
And Why have I not found favor in your eyes (lo matzati chein be-einekha) that you place the burden (masa) of this people upon me?
conceived this people? Have I birthed them, so that you may say to me carry
them in your bosom, as a nurse carries the suckling child, to the land which
you have sworn to their fathers?
where should I get meat for this people? For they cry to me saying: Give us
meat so that we may eat.
I am not
able to bear (laseit) this people
alone, for it is too heavy for me. If so
you deal with me: kill me, I beg you, if I have found favor
in your eyes (im matzati
chein be-einekha), and
let me not see my evil fate (be-ra'ati).
Moshe's poetry is
almost perfectly formed. He begins by
asking (a) why God HAS done him evil (hare'iota). Following this question, Moshe queries as to
(b) why he HAS NOT found favor in God's eyes, and (c)
why God HAS placed the burden (masa) of this
people upon him. We may think of this as
an a-b-c structure. In his conclusion,
Moshe utilizes the exact same three terms and concepts, (a) evil, (b) favor in God's eyes, and (c) bearing or carrying. Yet this time he reverses their order and
logical orientation. He in fact pleads
for their conceptual opposites, reversing the negative-affirmative modifiers of
each term. Moshe states that (c) he
CANNOT bear (laseit) the burden alone. He then begs for death, if (b) he HAS found favor in God's eyes.
Finally, Moshe returns to the stem and symbol of (a) ra,
asking God that he NOT SEE any more of his wretched and evil fate. This chiastic frame and the overall structure
of Moshe's soliloquy can be diagrammed as follows:
God has done evil to (hareiota)
Moshe has not found favor in
Burden of the people (masa)
Birth metaphor, Accusation of
injustice, Reference to people's complaint for meat
CANNOT bear burden (laseit)
HAVE found favor – request for
NOT see evil fate (bera'ati)
In contrast to this
well balanced structure, the tone of Moshe's speech is near frantic. In staccato bursts, he piles
question-upon-question upon God: Why
have you done me wrong? Have I conceived them? Have I birthed them? Without pausing for response he concludes
there is only one way out. In the latter
part of his speech, in the close of the chiastic frame, where Moshe seeks
reversal and presents his plea, he requests his own death. He would rather die then deal with the people
of Israel and their complaints.
While we may sympathize with Moshe,
Moshe's lament requires some explanation.
After all, the people have complained before. In point of fact, they have even complained
for meat before. Shortly after crossing Yam
Suf, on the way to Sinai, the people became
discontent. They claimed that they would
have been better off dying by the hand of God adjacent to the
"fleshpots" of Egypt, their stomachs full, rather than starving to
death in the desert. They claim that
Moshe and Aharon have brought them to the desert to
kill them (Shemot 16:2-3). Yet in this instance, Moshe does not turn to
God in despair. He does not attempt to
resign nor plead for his own death.
Instead, he deals with their request, and in a reproof of the people, he
informs them that in point of fact, their grumbling has been against God
himself (16:7). Similarly, at Refidim, when the people subsequently complain to Moshe
regarding their thirst (17: 1-3), Moshe rebukes the people, critiquing them for
"striving" with him and "testing" God (17:2). This of course is the Moshe we are familiar
with, loyal servant of God, steadfast leader and when occasion necessitates,
critic of the people. He is a leader
engaged with his flock.
Moshe manifests another dimension of
his character and leadership during the aftermath of the sin of the Golden Calf
(32:30-32). After offering a stringent
reprove to the people, that they have sinned a great sin, he returns to his
conversation with God. At that point,
Moshe demands forgiveness for the Jewish people, and puts his relationship with
God, and perhaps his very existence, on the line. If God will not forgive the Children of
Israel, Moshe demands that God "erase" him from his "book"
(mecheini na mi-sifrekha). While
the "book" referred to by Moshe may be just the Torah, the phrase
also packs overtones of self negation and perhaps even death. Moshe places his very self on the line for
In contrast to the Moshe of Shemot, Parashat
Beha'alotekha paints an all together different
picture. In Beha'alotekha,
Moshe never speaks to the people, nor reproves them, rather he stands and
watches. As the Torah pithily comments
after reporting the people's crying at the doors of their tents: "u-be'einei Moshe ra" – and
it was bad in the eye of Moshe (11:10).
Rather than confront the people, Moshe turns to God and laments his
fate. Similarly, once again in radical
contrast to Shemot, in Beha'alotekha,
Moshe invites death not on behalf of the Jewish people but to escape having
anything to do with them(11:15).
As if this were not enough, the
continuation of the narrative contains yet another surprise. Following, Moshe's lament (11:11-15), God
presents Moshe with a plan. He will
provide the people with a month's worth of meat, more meat than they have ever
imagined, until it "comes out of their nostrils (11:20). Moshe's counter is shocking. He refers to the fact that the Children of
Israel number over 6000,000 (11:21), and once again queries God: "Will
you/Can you slaughter flocks and herds to suffice them? Or shall/can all of the
fish of the sea be gathered to suffice them?" (11:22) While Moshe's
comment can be read as "will you," an expression of amazement at
God's plan (Rashbam, Ibn
Ezra, Ramban), it can also be translated and
interpreted otherwise, as "can you."
In line with this approach, Rashi cites the
position of Rabbi Akiva, who interprets the verse in
this fashion, as an expression of disbelief on Moshe's part and a querying of
God's abilities. Moshe is clearly in
In sum, Moshe's lament, along with
its frustration and despair and even its overtones of anger at the divine,
present a different Moshe than the one we are accustomed to encountering. His disconnect from the people, his desire
for death and his subsequent slide into questioning God's intentions and/or
abilities seem wholly other than the Moshe of the latter part of Sefer Shemot, the
paradigmatic steadfast leader and faithful divine servant. Something has happened and something has
changed. But what is it? What has
triggered Moshe's uncharacteristic response?
At the center
of Moshe's plea for release from his burden lies the metaphor of the nursing
mother (11:12). Moshe contrasts himself
with a mother who has conceived, borne and nurses a small infant. While she may be justly expected to carry her
infant along on a journey, Moshe has not conceived or borne the people of
Israel. It is unjust for God to expect
him to act the role of nursemaid or mother.
In closing his metaphor with a reference to "the land you promised
to the forefathers," Moshe hints that this job may belong to the
forefathers, to whom God promised the land, or perhaps to God himself. It certainly does not belong to Moshe. He is neither the founder of the people or
formulator of the divine plan.
While the image functions on this
level, it also emphasizes the problem of carrying and burden. Picking up on the term masa,
meaning burden, in his opening sentence (11:11), Moshe twice utilizes a
variation on the same root in the main body of his lament. God has told him to "carry" (laseit) the people in his bosom, as one carries (yisa) a nursing infant (11:12). Carrying a nursing infant on a long journey
is undoubtedly a difficult task.
Carrying a whole people as burdensome as a nursing infant is undoubtedly
an impossible task.
However, the metaphor also functions
on a third level, picking up on previous terminology in the text. In describing the people's demand for meat,
the Torah twice utilizes the term bocheh,
meaning crying. After the instigation by
the asafsuf, the mixed multitude, the Children
of Israel "also cried" (11:4).
Moshe hears the people "crying" at the doors of their tents
(11:10). No wonder that Moshe compares
the crying people, in full throated whine for meat and the other watery
delicacies of Egypt (11:4-6), to a nursing infant, whining for its mother's
breast. In point of fact, this
terminology is unusual. The term most
often used to describe the complaints of the Children of Israel is va-yilonu, meaning complain, murmur or grumble (Shemot 15:24, 16:2, 17:3, Bamidbar
16:11, 17:6). Apparently, there is
something uniquely unjustified and immature about this particular
This point is further bolstered by a
comparing the respective contexts of the complaints for meat in Sefer Shemot and Sefer Bamidbar. The Children of Israel first demand meat
shortly after crossing Yam Suf and entering the
wilderness (Shemot 15:22-16:3). While the people do refer to the
"fleshpots" of Egypt, lament that they would have been better off
dying back in Egypt with their bellies full (16:2-3), and accuse Moshe of
bringing them to the desert to die, they do in fact face the hard facts of
starvation. They are in the desert
without food. In response, God provides
the people manna in place of bread and provides the slav,
to satiate their desire for meat (16:4-15).
In contrast, the complaint of Beha'alotekha, occurs more than a year later, when
the Children of Israel depart from the locale of Sinai (10:11-12). God has provided for their needs for over a
year and they are sustained by the daily ration of manna. In fact, the people's complaint seems to be
about the quality of their sustenance.
In pining for meat, the people deride the manna, claiming that
their "souls are dry" (11:6), and contrast their current sustenance
with the fish, cucumbers, melons and other "wet" or water associated
foods of Egypt. By no accident, the
Torah follows their complaint with a two verse description glorifying the
taste, versatility and availability of manna (11:7-9) and terms the
complaint as ta'ava, unjustified desire or
lust (11:4). The lust for meat ends in
death (11:33), and the place where this all occurred is named Kivrot Ha-ta'ava, literally, the
graves of lust (11:34). Finally, God
himself, in instructing Moshe as to his planned response accuses the people of
having "despised" the divine presence amongst them and crying about
having ever left Egypt at all (11:20).
To put this all together, the
people's complaint for meat at Kivrot Ha-ta'ava seems uniquely problematic. It is the cry of a baby, unjustified by
circumstances. It is the wail of an
infant's id, an irrational desire for material gratification, unmitigated by
reason, faith or gratitude to God. These
immature material needs and desires of the people lead them to deride God's
sustenance and to reject the journey he commands. They cry for the comforts of Egypt. Undoubtedly, Moshe was disturbed.
Nevertheless, is this sufficient to
explain his reaction? Is this all that lies behind the frustration and despair?
Turning our attention to the larger context of the people's complaint may help
to reveal another motif or two.
The latter half of Parashat Beha'alotekha
tells us the story of the first journey of the camp of Israel from Sinai in the
direction of the Promised Land. At a
certain point in time the preparations were complete, the arrangements made,
the cloud lifted from upon the Mishkan and the
journey ensued (10:11-36). The story of Kivrot Ha-ta'ava, the story of
the lust for meat (11:1-35), constitutes the textual continuation of that first
In between these two stories, or
perhaps more accurately, shortly before the end of the description of the
journey's ensuing and the commencing of the Kivrot
Ha-ta'ava narrative, the Torah tucks in the story of
Moshe's invitation to Chovav at the moment of the
journey's inception (10:29-32).
In this cryptic exchange, Moshe
invites Chovav to join the Children of Israel in
their journey (10:29). When Chovav refuses Moshe's entreaty and cites his desire to
return to his land and birthplace (10:30), Moshe presses him, offering him
"the good" that God will do unto Israel (10:32) as an incentive. In addition, he presents a set of murky
rationales including the fact that "you have known our encampment in the
desert" and "you have been for us as eyes" (10:31). In line with this overall lack of clarity,
the story ends inconclusively. We remain
in the dark as to whether Chovav agreed to forsake
his land and birthplace in exchange for the promised "good" or
continued to resist Moshe's entreaties.
Did he opt to return home or to accompany the Children of Israel? For
that matter, who is the previously unmentioned Chovav
and why is his story important?
commentaries (Rashi, Rashbam,
Ramban) identify Chovav as Yitro. After all,
the Torah refers to him as "choten
Moshe," the father in law of Moshe (10:29). Furthermore, as Ibn
Ezra points out, this interpretation receives support from the fact that Chovav "knew the encampment in the desert"(10:31)
and Yitro had found Israel encamped in the desert (Shemot 18:5).
Finally, Moshe tells Chovav, "Ve-hayita lanu le-einayim," translated above as "you have been
for us as eyes" (10:31). The Rashbam, in adopting the Yitro
identification and interpreting "ve-hayita"
as referring to some past service, interprets the term le-einayim, meaning as eyes, as a metaphor referring to
On the Rashbam's account, the phrase in fact refers to the second
half of the Yitro narrative (18:13-27) in which Yitro perceptively advises Moshe not to bear the heavy
burden of judging the people by himself (18:18). As is well known, Yitro
suggests the appointment of officers and judges who will help Moshe in this
task. In Yitro's
words "ve-nasu itakh,"
and they will carry/bear with you (18:22).
Hence the fact that both Chovev and Yitro are perceptive advisors further supports the Chovev-Yitro identification.
that Chovev-Yitro refuses Moshe's invitation and
returns to his birthplace (see Shemot 18:27),
Moshe's lament at Kivrot Ha-ta'ava
(11:11-15) appears in a whole new light.
As we should remember, Moshe complains of the masa,
the burden of the people (11:11), and draws an analogy between the task of
leading the people to the promised land and the task of carrying an infant in
one's bosom (sa'eihu be-cheikekha)
like a nursing mother (yisahu ha-omen)(11:12). In addition, although not central to our
analysis until this point, Moshe utilizes the stem n.s.a.
meaning carry, a fourth time, at the beginning of the close of his chiastic frame,
right after his reference to the people's demands for meat (11:13).
sentence containing this usage is crucial.
Moshe states that he "cannot do it alone (lo ukhal anokhi LEVADI),"
claims he cannot "carry all the people (laseit
et kol ha-am)" and concludes that "it
is too heavy for me (ki KAVED mimeni)" (11:14).
But this constitutes a near exact parallel to what Yitro
had warned of. All the key terms in
Moshe's statement are found in the Yitro
Yitro begins his remarks to Moshe with the observation
that Moshe sits alone while all the people (kol
ha-am) congregate about him (Shemot
18:14). In addition, Yitro's
central warning to Moshe consists of the claim that "it is too heavy for
you (kaved mimkha)"
and that Moshe "cannot do it alone (lo tukhal…levadekha) (18:18).
Finally, in the final point of parallel, as pointed out above, Yitro advises Moshe to have others help him "carry (ve-nasu itakh)"
(18:22). Rearranging this logically
yields a three pointed parallel. First,
the burden upon Moshe OF ALL THE PEOPLE is TOO HEAVY (11:14, 18:14, 18). Second, Moshe cannot do it ALONE (11:14,
18:18). Finally, Moshe carries too much
and requires others to help him CARRY (11:14, 18:22).
of the parallel is that the exact issues of heaviness, burden, leadership
capability and aloneness that Yitro had raised now
dominate Moshe's thinking. In this
psychological vein, we might suggest that the loss of his father in-law, his
perceptive political advisor and leadership mentor has borne a heavy toll on
Moshe. Once again he feels himself
incapable of leading the people. Faced
with the difficult people, their unjustified demands and unjustifiable
appetites, Moshe turns to his father in heaven, in complete despair.
psychological and personal interpretation proposed above can certainly be
argued for, it can also be argued against.
Based upon Shoftim 4:11 and its
reference to Chever, a descendant of Chovav, most commentators (Ibn
Ezra, Ramban) maintain that Chovav
did agree to Moshe's request to join the people on their journey to the
Promised Land. If so, we cannot posit a
reading that is predicated on Chovav-Yitro's
departure. Moreover, as the Ibn Ezra cogently argues, Chovav
is most probably not Yitro. The Torah identifies Chovav
as the son of Reu'el and as the choten
of Moshe. But according to Sefer Shemot, Re'uel is the father of the girls Moshe meets at the well
in Midyan (Shemot
2:16-18). Consequently, Reu'el is Moshe's brother-in-law and choten
should be understood as a general term for in-law or clansmen by marriage. It sometimes connotes a father-in-law and
sometimes a brother-in-law. Once again,
if Chovav is not Yitro, we
cannot posit a reading predicated on Yitro's
in what might be considered a more personal and psychological counter to the
psychological and personal reading, the interpretation above strikes me as
simultaneously both partial and radical.
While Moshe is certainly human and part of a network of relationships
with others, the departure of his father-in-law, confidante and political
advisor doesn't seem sufficient to provoke the despair and anguish manifested
in Moshe's lament. Even taking into
account the difficulties of leadership, the account renders Moshe a bit too
dependent on Yitro.
Simply put, the reading rings false to my ear. In my opinion, something else must also be
going on. With this in mind, let us
direct our attention back to the Chovav and Kivrot Ha-ta'ava narratives.
the dialogue between Moshe and Chovav (10:29-32),
Moshe consistently speaks of the "good." Immediately after announcing to Chovav that "we are journeying to the place" that
God has promised, Moshe invites Chovav to join the
journey, promising that it will be good for Chovav,
as God has spoken good concerning Israel (10:29). In fact, counting the three more times that
Moshe uses the term "good" in trying to overcome Chovav's
hesitancy (10:32), the term appears five times in the four short verses that
make up the narrative (10:29-32). While
things are clearly good and expected to get even better, it remains unclear
what purpose, pedagogic or otherwise, is served by all this talk of
"good." For that matter the
referent of the good, what it refers to, also remains obscure.
may be part of the point of the passage.
Whomever Chovav is, whether he is Yitro or someone else altogether, whatever objects or
occurrences that Moshe predicts or promises to Chovav,
one thing remains clear. God has promised
good things for the future of Israel.
literary plane, the contrast between this central symbol and the terminology of
the opening of the ensuing Kivrot Ha-ta'ava narrative could not be clearer. That segment opens with the opposite of
good. We are informed by the Torah that
the people were "ke-mit'onenim ra be-oaznei hashem"(11:1). Whether we translate this sentence as meaning
"complaining of misery" or "complaining bitterly," things
have certainly taken a turn for the worse.
Even translating as some commentaries do, "complaining/murmuring
and it was evil in the ears of God"(Rashi, Ramban), the contrast of tov
in the Chovev narrative and ra
in the complaint narrative is obvious.
Moreover as the Rashbam and the Ramban both point out (11:1), even on this interpretation,
they are complaining about the bad conditions, the pain and difficulty of the
journey, the "ra" God has provided
them. Where as God had spoken "tov" of Israel, and Moshe "tov" of the journey, the members of Israel,
perceive and speak "ra" of the
this is not just about journey conditions and process. During the Chovav
narrative, Chovav speaks but once. In response to Moshe's first invitation to
come along, Chovav demurs, stating that he prefers to
go (ailaikh) to his own land (artzi) and birthplace (moladeti)
(10:30). While the echo is not readily
apparent in translation, the original text should certainly remind us of
something. In his first refusal to come
along, or "go," Chovav uses the exact same
terms as God does in commanding Avram – Lekh lekha mei-artzekha u-mimoladetekha, Go
from your land and birthplace (Bereishit 12:1).
parallel is far more than just a linguistic coincidence. Just as God commanded Avram
to forsake his land and birthplace to journey to a new land, the Land of
Canaan, so too Moshe entreats Chovav to forsake his
land and birthplace to journey to a new land.
As a matter of fact, it is the exact same land, the land promised to the
forefathers. Not for naught does Moshe
begin his entreaty with the statement that "we are traveling
to the place of which God said: I will give to you." This is the journey to the land Avram traveled toward, to the
land promised to the forefathers for their descendants (Bereishit
in another thematic parallel, God follows up his command to Avram
with a list of benefits. God promises
him that if he engages in the journey, he will become a great nation, he will
be blessed, etc. etc. (Bereishit 12:2-3). In a broad thematic sense this resembles and
connects to what Moshe promises Chovav. He promises Chovav
that his journey will be good for him, that the good that God has promised Avram and Israel will also be his.
of the Chovav-Lekh Lekha
overlap seems dual. On one plane, the
inclusion of the invitation to Chovav in the text at
this point, by paralleling the Lekh Lekha narrative, serves as a marker that we stand at a
crucial historic juncture, the moment when the Children of Israel stand at the
cusp of realizing the promise God made to Avram. They are about to enter the land, become a
great nation, be blessed etc. etc. This
is the "tov" of which Moshe speaks,
the sense in which God "diber tov" regarding the Children of Israel
another plane, the inclusion of the Chovav narrative
and its parallel to the Lekh Lekha story serves as a recreation of what might be
thought of as the journey challenge.
Just as Avram faced the test of perceiving the
good promised by God and journeying to the promised place, so too, Chovav faces the test of perceiving the good promised by
Moshe/God and journeying to a new land.
latter reading of the Chovav-Lekh Lekha parallel, as a recreation of the journey
challenge can be further strengthened by remembering that Sefer
Bereishit presents its own echo of the journey challenge. In seeking a wife for his son Yitzchak, Avraham insists on a bride from his land (eretz) and birthplace (moledet)
(Bereishit 24:4-7). While the
father and brother of the chosen girl can say neither good (tov)
nor bad (ra) about her leaving her land and
birthplace to journey to a foreign land and join the heritage of Avraham (24:50), Rivka presents a
different attitude. When it is decided
to ask the young lady herself as to whether she will go (ha-tailekhi), she responds: ailaikh,
I will go (24:58). In short, Rivka too faces the journey challenge of Avraham. Unlike her
blood relatives, she is able to see the good implicit in the journey, the
destination and the destiny. She
responds that she will go and embarks on her journey to the Land of
Israel. She is worthy of the heritage of
return to Chovav.
As argued previously, based upon Shoftim
4:11 and its reference to Chever the descendant of Chovav, Chovav does in the end
agree to Moshe's request. In response to
the fivefold tov presented by Moshe
(10:29-32), Chovav joins the journey to the Promised
Land. Whether Chovav
is Yitro, someone who has already previously
perceived all the good that God has done for Israel (Shemot
18:9), or whether he is just a different, less-significant clansmen, he is
capable of proper perception. In light
of the miracles of the Exodus, the wonders of Sinai and the material sustenance
provided for the Children of Israel, the good that God has promised Israel
cannot be doubted. They will soon
inherit the Promised Land. Despite being
an outsider, Chovav is capable of perceiving this
good and meeting the journey challenge, of abandoning his land and birthplace
to join a journey to the Promised Land.
But what of the Children of Israel themselves?
brings us full circle back to the interstices of the Chovav
and Kivrot Ha-ta'ava
narratives and the contrast in imagery discussed earlier. Unlike Chovav the
outsider, the Children of Israel are apparently not able to perceive the "tov" and meet the journey challenge. Almost immediately upon breaking camp, they
are mitonenim ra
(11:1) they perceive things as bad, they see and speak "ra."
They fail the challenge. In doing
so, they demonstrate that in some sense they are not yet worthy of the
inheritance of Avraham.
is even more to it than this. The
Children of Israel stand on the cusp of entering the land, whether within a few
days (Rashi 10:33) or perhaps a few weeks. As such, as the placement of the Chovev narrative with its parallel to the Lekh Lekha story
emphasizes, this journey constitutes the fulfillment
of God's promise to the forefathers, to bring their descendants to the Promised
very juncture in history, the Children of Israel stand at the doors of their
tents, organized by families (11:10), just as they had been organized by family
and tribe for traveling to Israel (1:2, 2:2,
17). But instead of orienting themselves
to the good land promised them by God (Shemot
3:5) they cry for Egypt and its tastes (11:5), as God himself puts it, they
regret the fact that they ever left Egypt (11:20). They define Egypt as not just their physical
birthplace but also their existential homeland.
For these slave-born Children of Israel, Egypt, and its free meat, fish
and watermelons are the true Promised Land.
It is the only destiny they can envision. In doing so, they reject their destination
and deny their identity as the inheritors of the divine promise. They negate the immediate fulfillment
of the divine plan.
the circle, let us return to Moshe and his lament. What accounts for his frustration and
despair? What has triggered his crisis? While the outlines of the answer to
these questions should already be clear, the full version of the contrast
between the Chovav and Kivrot
Ha-ta'ava narratives should help sharpen the
contrast between the two narratives, the opposition of the fivefold "tov"
in the Chovav narrative (10:29-32) and "ra" at the opening of the Kivrot
Ha-ta'ava narrative (11:1), picks up steam as we move
further into the complaint narrative. As
pointed out previously, Moshe views the situation of the people wailing for
meat at the doors of their tents as "ra,"
evil or illegitimate (11:10), and in what can now be seen as a consequence,
twice accuses God of having done "ra"
to him by saddling him with the leadership of the Children of Israel
the Chovav narrative outlines the "good journey,"
a journey founded in the promises of good made by God and embodied in the
optimism, talk of good and vision of good that Moshe proposes to Chovav. The
beginning of the Kivrot Ha-ta'ava
narrative represents the reversal and collapse of these themes. The "good journey," the quick fulfillment of the redemption process and the divine
promise quickly collapses into a cycle of complaint and punishment
was not what Moshe had expected. Back at
the burning bush, in first revealing himself to Moshe, God told Moshe that he
intends to deliver Israel from the hand of Egypt, that he will take the
Children of Israel up from Egypt to "a good land" (3:5) and that he
is sending Moshe to Pharoah to accomplish these
purposes (3:10). As we should remember,
Moshe was reluctant.
Who am I
that I should go to Pharoah? And that I should bring
the Children of Israel out of Egypt? (3:11)
responding to God, Moshe questions his own abilities and worthiness. Moshe is humble and does not consider himself
suitable either to confront Pharoah in the name of
God nor to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt.
In point of fact, the remainder of the dialogue at the burning bush
consists of God's attempts to assuage Moshe's hesitations about these two parts
of the mission (3:12-4:17).
should realize is that Moshe never questions the third part of God's
statement. Confronting Pharoah might be difficult, persuading the people that he
speaks in the name of God might be near impossible, but leading the people to a
"good land" once God has freed them from Egypt never seems to be an
issue. Undoubtedly, the newly-freed
slaves will be eager to travel to the land of their forefathers, what God the
redeemer has promised is a good land.
is not to be. It is exactly at this
point, that Moshe's expectations come crashing down. While he did succeed in facing Pharoah, while the people did follow him out of Egypt, the
journey to their forefather's land, turns out to be an altogether different
story. Consequently, whereas before
Moshe had spoken of and seen nothing but "tov,"
now Moshe sees nothing but "ra"
(11:11,16). The "good
journey," in which the people march quickly into the land, fails
immediately and quickly metastasizes into an all too ominous pattern of
failure, sin and punishment. So too
Moshe's vision of good and talk of good, his confident optimism, quickly
evaporates. Given the failure of his hopes
and expectations he too sees nothing but "ra"(11:10,15). Frustrated and in despair, he turns to God
and laments his fate.
conclude, I have tried to argue that the crisis reflected in Moshe's lament
(11:11-15) emerges from the particular circumstances that Moshe faces. The uniquely unjustified complaint of lusting
for meat, the inability of the people to rise to the challenge of Lekh Lekha, the
failure to envision a good journey and future in the land of Israel, the desire
to return to Egypt and the subtext of rejecting the divinely planned journey
all play a role. Perhaps, as discussed
earlier, the personal also plays a role, and Moshe's loss of his trusted
advisor contributes to the crisis. But
in addition, as I have tried to argue, it is the collapse of the "good
journey," the shattered expectation of "we are traveling
to the place" (10:29), that plays the greatest role.
while here in Parashat Beha'alotekha,
Moshe pleads for death rather than be forced to lead the people any longer,
such is not to be. God does not grant
his request. Moshe faces almost another
forty years of leading the Children of Israel through the desert. In closing, it is worth noting Moshe's
reaction some thirty-eight years later when finally informed of his impending
death. Moshe turns to God and pleads
once again, this time for the appointment of a new leader.
lead them out and in…that the congregation of Israel not be as sheep without a
years later after the events of Kivrot Ha-ta'ava, Moshe relates to the people as his flock and himself
as their shepherd. In the end of the
day, Moshe overcomes his despair and frustration. He continues on through the long years in the
desert, building a people capable and worthy of entering the land.
1) Reread 10:29-11:4. Is the placement of 10:33-36 problematic for
the claims made about the relationship between the Chovav
and Kivrot Ha-ta'ava
narratives? (See Rashi 10:29 and 10:33)
2) Review Shemot
18:1-12 and look carefully at 18:8-10.
Now see 18:13-27. Try to make an
additional argument for identifying Yitro and Chovav not made in the shiur
above. See Bamidbar
11:16-17. Now see 11:14 and Shemot 18:22.
Who is it that takes Yitro's place?
3) See 11:13. Now read 11:16-35. Identify the dual solution presented. Follow through the appearance of the terms
"basar" and "ruach."
What is the relationship between them? See Bamidbar
27:15-18. Also see Bereishit 6:3
and Ramban 6:3.
4) Read 11:31-35. Now see 11:20. See Rashi
11:20. What is the problem that Rashi addresses? See 11:4.
Try to formulate another solution.