THOUGHT FOR PARSHAT BEHAALOTCHA 5779
BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER
During this very dramatic Parsha, we discover the human frailties and strengths not only of Bnei Yisrael but also of Moshe and his siblings.
At the very beginning, Moshe is instructed by HaShem to appoint Aharon as the official “Lighter of the Menorah.” Rashi is quick to point out the Midrash which says that Aharon was peeved that the 12 Tribely Princes, none of whom were Kohanim - were given the task of bringing the very first sacrifices to the newly-built Mishkan.
Much of the continuation of the Parsha deals with Bnei Yisrael’s consistently erratic behaviour and negative attitude towards Moshe and HaShem.
And at the very end of the Parsha, we read: [12:1-3] “Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe regarding the Kushite woman he had married for he had married a Kushite woman. They said: ‘Was it only to Moshe that HaShem spoke? Did He not speak to us as well?’ And HaShem heard. Now the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.”
Miriam the instigator was ultimately punished, and Aharon was severely reprimanded, even though most commentators agree that they genuinely intended to correct what they saw as a wrong. So yes, they were indeed human, and they erred. But what’s with Moshe? And what has his humility got to do with this episode?
On the word “Anav” – humble – Rashi writes “Shafel VeSavlan”. The word “Shafel” is not complimentary. It means downtrodden or low. “Savlan” means a sufferer. Rashi seems to imply that Moshe had a very low opinion of himself.
The Netziv argues vehemently against this explanation. He points out how Moshe, when needed, showed great strength and leadership - with Pharaoh, with the Golden Calf, with Korach, and on other occasions. This does not come from a man whose self-opinion is so low. The Netziv explains “humble” as meaning “not taking personal offence.” You can be an extremely courageous, outgoing, and forceful leader, and you can recognise your strengths as opposed to denying them – and still stay humble.
It’s reassuring that the Torah does not attempt to whitewash the human failings of our biblical heroes. Rather these failings are properly documented, probably so that we can learn both from the mistakes of our leaders, and model our lives on their strengths.