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Bar Mitzvah of the Week

Ben Silverberg

June 22, 2019

Parashat B'haalot'cha - Numbers 8:1 - 12:16

God speaks to Moses, describing the menorah for the Tent of Meeting. The Levites are appointed to serve as assistants under Aaron and his sons. (8:1-26)
Those who are unable to celebrate Passover during Nisan are given a time in the month of Sivan to observe a "second Passover." (9:1-14)
A cloud by day and fire by night show God's Presence over the Tabernacle. When the cloud lifts from the Tabernacle, the people leave Sinai, setting out on their journey, tribe by tribe. (9:15-10:36)
The Israelites complain about the lack of meat, and Moses becomes frustrated. God tells him to appoint a council of elders. God provides the people with meat and then strikes them with a very severe plague. (11:1-34)
Miriam and Aaron talk about the "Cushite woman" whom Moses has married. In addition, they complain that God speaks not only through Moses but also through them. Miriam is struck with leprosy, and Moses begs God to heal her. After her recovery, the people resume their journey. (12:1-16)

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Ben's Interpretation 

Hi. Now my Torah portion has a name that I can't pronounce, but I will try. BE-HA-A-LOW-TE-CHA. More importantly, let me tell you what's going on with the Israelites and Moses at this time. Just like most stories in the Torah, this one takes place in the middle of nowhere. Now, there are quite a bit of things going on here. Miriam got a skin disease, people who can't do the Passover service can now do it, etc. But what I found the most intriguing, was this one part where the Israelites are complaining. And how can you blame them? They are in the middle of the desert, with nothing but tents to sleep in. But here, they want food. Now God has been providing them with this stuff called manna. It has no taste and seems kind of disgusting, but it's edible, and will sustain you. The Israelites want real food. They start to think back to when they were in Egypt. They remember getting lots of real food every day back then! So they complain. Obviously this is annoying our boy Moses, because he goes to God and is like “Yo, I didn't want these people. They never stop complaining!” God agrees with Moses as it was also bothering God too. Then the story takes a dark turn, but I'll get back to that later.

Now, I think that the moral of this story in the Torah was supposed to be “don't complain”. And I think most rabbis agree. But what is wrong with complaining? If you never complain, nothing will ever get better. Because if you never complain, you never work towards anything. Complaining is you striving for more, it is you trying to improve! Just like, if I never complain about the school lunch food being literal trash, it won't get better, even though they don't listen to me anyway. Another example of good complaining can be every protest ever. People don't like something, so they complain, and hope to make it better. But the thing about complaining is that it is in no way an action. It's only a call to it. Like people protesting about racism technically doesn’t do anything to stop it. But at the end of the day it's an extremely helpful tool to fight it. This is one of the many instances where I think God is wrong.

Now, the interesting thing about this is, I can't find anyone who had my same opinion. The closest I can get is Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, who says that the people suffered from nostalgia and boredom. He explains how all of their needs are met, but they want more. He also talks about how they don't really have an objective. He goes on to say that the people felt so bored, they felt already dead and “buried alive”. I agree with Hirsh’s interpretation, but I still don’t think complaining is a bad thing. Rabbi Hirsch is giving them an excuse, and I don't think one is needed.

Rashi offers another explanation for why the Israelites complain. He suggests that they are exhausted from their first three day journey. Upset, even angry, that Moses is pushing them along and not giving them time to rest, they raise their voices in protest. Cranky and tired, they whine like children, recalling easier times when all their needs for food and comfort were met. I disagree with Rashi. The people just simply want real food. Something an all powerful GOD should be able to create with no effort or problem. Another reason I disagree with Rashi, is that again, complaining is not a bad thing. The people wanted more, so they asked for it.

Later on in the story, God “gives them what they wanted.” God sends food to the Israelites. And everyone was all like “yay finally our requests have been answered!” but shortly after they eat the quail, God sends a plague that kills them all. So I want you to think about how many people, complainers and non-complainers would get said plague. God’s reaction was the definition of immoral and wrong. And remember, God did this because he was ANNOYED! I don't know about you, but I don't commit mass murder when I am a little upset.

Now, maybe a different way the story could have gone, was that God heard the complaints and used INFINITE power to give them what they were asking for. God could have been a good leader, and maybe listened to what the people’s problems were. In this new ending, the message could have been, good leaders listen to their people or something. But God should not have killed them.

Ben's Mitzvah Project

Alright so now it’s time to talk about my mitzvah project. I love dogs, and I hope most of you do too. So that’s why for my mitzvah project, I decided that I wanted to share the gift of dogs with others. I am currently going through the process of having my dog Ranger registered to be a therapy dog. He and I will go into nursing homes to visit residents and make them happy. My good friend Cecilia and I also volunteered together at the SPCA of Westchester in Briarcliff Manor to help with making the dogs better behaved and ready for adoption, etc. so big thanks to her for the company and assistance.