Speak like the King
Beha’alotcha (When you set up) Numbers/B’midbar 8:1-12:16
Haftorah Reading: Zechariah 2:14-4:7
Messianic Scripture John 19:31-37, Hebrews 3:1-6
Our reading today contains many themes from the highs of the Menorah to the lows of the verses about Miriam and Aaron complaining and gossiping about Moshe. Today I want us to spend our time mainly on two of these themes. The first is found in Numbers 11:4-5. Here we read of the people complaining about only having manna to eat. They go on and on with their list of just how good they had it in Egypt. They seem to have completely forgotten the part about being slaves there. Then in verses 11:14-15 we see Moshe come to the end of his patience and said to G-d, in verse 15, “And if you deal thus with me, kill me, I pray you.” Moshe had reached the end and cried out to G-d.
G-d’s immediate response in verses 16-17, was to tell Moshe to gather together 70 men and He would take from Moshe some of the spirit that rested on him and put it on these 70 men. These men would then help carry the burden of the people with Moshe. This seemed to revive Moshe’s spirit and he was able to go on in his place as leader of the people.
What is somewhat puzzling, we have already read in Exodus 18:17-21 where Jethro told Moshe he needed help in his role as leader of the people. He suggested he appoint men over thousands, over hundreds and over tens of people to help him lead the people. So the question arises what was the difference here in our portion today? What did this accomplish that the first group in Exodus did not?
In fact, in Numbers 12:25, we are told, “When the spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but did not do so again.” When we look at Moshe after this setting a part of the 70 men, it is as if a new Moshe stands before us with renewed faith and ability to lead the people. Why?
If we look back this is not the first complaining of the people Moshe had endured. However, after Exodus 16 much had happened. They heard G-d at Mt. Sinai; they entered a covenant with G-d. They built the Mishkan and G-d resided in their midst. So to Moshe it had to appear as if nothing had changed with the people. Nothing, it seemed, could transform these people. I expect Moshe felt like a failure. Yet here in our scripture today we see a difference in him. He saw these men filled with a touch of his spirit being able to make his message their own. He had disciples, people to continue his work when he was gone.
So there is a message here for us all. Our task is to do our best to live our life doing what G-d has called us to do, trusting Him that we are His hands and feet to do His will. He takes our efforts and takes care of the results. Some of these results we will probably never see, yet they are there.
Next, I want us to look at the case of Miriam and Aaron complaining about Moshe. I see this as a case where they were caught up in feeling slighted by G-d. They said they were as good as Moshe. What was so special about him. (Numbers 12:1) This reaction also can tempt any of us today when we have a lack of trust in G-d and are feeling left out.
It is interesting to see the difference in Moshe’s response to the gossip of his own brother and sister. Their sin seemed more terrible than the criticisms of the people about food. Yet here we see Moshe acting quite differently. He prayed for his sister, asking G-d to heal her. However, he also saw gossip as a serious societal problem as well. In Deut. 24:9 he said, “Remember what the L-rd your G-d did to Miriam along the way after you came out of Egypt.” Moshe was fully aware of the problem but he handled it differently this time.
Here we read of a problem that is rampant around us. None of us are exempt. However, we are as G-d’s people, to guard against gossiping. We have talked about gossip often but it bears looking at again. In Numbers 11:1 we read, “And the people were murmurers speaking evil in the ears of the L-rd, and when the L-rd heard it, His anger was kindled.” We have no information about what they were talking about which gives us some indication what the main point is here. Seems the point might be, they were complaining because that is what they had become accustom to do. We are social animals and often take on the norms of the people we associate with or that society deems right.
For instance, the use of the word, “like” often in whatever we are talking about. Like, by the way this has spread like, across most of the English speaking world, it’s like crazy! The constant use of the word like began in California and spread across America. We can pick up the habits of those we spend time with. Often this happens without our realizing it.
However, some of these habits we acquire are not so innocent as the over use of the word like and can cause harm to others. Each of us must be able to speak and relate to others in ways that do not demean the person while making a point about their actions. This is why G-d was angry with Miriam and Aaron. If leaders speak like this, the people they lead will pick up the same traits. However, as our verses said earlier, G-d listens and hears every word we utter. Our battle is to not be caught up in the speech around us that does not bring life. We all are better than that. We are children of the King.