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B’ha-a-lo-techa: The March Begins, Miriam’s Nastiness, Moses’ Verbal Prayer for Her Good Health, and To Bigotry No Sanction

As we begin the reading of B’haalotecha, the third portion of B’Midbar/Numbers, the Israelites remain encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. They stay at this location for a full year after G-d Almighty had given the Torah to Moses. G-d commands Moses to direct his brother Aaron the High Priest to build a Menorah, the seven-branch candelabrum that was to be placed in front of the Tabernacle. The Menorah is a major symbol of the contemporary Israeli government.

The Israelites had already been commanded to observe the Passover Holiday on the fourteenth day of the first month of Nissan. We learn that there were some families who could not celebrate Passover on the required day because they had been in contact with dead bodies and were therefore impure. These families were instructed to celebrate Passover on the fourteenth day of the second month of Iyar, to eat Matzah, bitter herbs, drink wine, and offer the Pascal sacrifice, just as was commanded on the first Pesach in the previous month.

Finally, the cloud lifts from over the Tabernacle, and G-d Almighty instructs Moses to commission the fabrication of two silver trumpets. The silver trumpets would be used to summon the people to begin their march.

On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifts, and the journey through the wilderness of Sinai begins! Moses encourages his father-in-law to join him in the march, but he initially refuses. Earlier, Moses’ father-in-law had given him crucial advice about allocating many of his responsibilities to assistants.

As the Ark carrying the Two Tablets begins to move, Moses recites, “Advance, O Eternal One! (Vay’hi Binsoa Ha-aron…) May Your enemies be scattered, and may your foes flee before You! And when it halted, he would say: (U’v’nuho Yomar…) Return, O Eternal One, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands! (10:35-36).

In the Torah scroll, these words are enclosed by the Hebrew letter Nun written upside down at the beginning and the end! These words are recited in our services to this day whenever the Torah is removed from the Holy Ark, read, and then replaced.

As the journey begins, B’nai Yisrael/The Children of Israel complain bitterly about the manna that G-d Almighty had been providing for them. They want meat! So, the Holy One causes a wind to blow, sending an abundance of quail to the Israelites. They stuff themselves with the quail, become violently ill, and many die! Thus begins their “kvetching” that Moses must confront and attempt to assuage throughout the Sinai march.

Even Moses’ siblings get nasty! They slander their younger brother because he had married a Kushite/Ethiopian woman! Because Miriam speaks poorly of her brother, she is punished and contracts leprosy. “As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow white scales!”(12:10) Even though she had slandered her brother Moses, he prays to Almighty G-d, “O G-d, pray heal her!”/“El Na, Refah Na La.”(12:13).

There are very few verbal prayers in the Torah! That is why this five-word text is so powerful, clear and concise. A beloved and respected Rabbi, of blessed memory, taught me to recite this short prayer of healing every time I speak with or visit someone who is ill.

On Wednesday evening, June 2, at 7:00 pm, we have the opportunity to watch the screening of “To Bigotry No Sanction,” written by Cantor Jonathan Comisar, commissioned by Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel. Four years ago, I conducted the premiere performance of this stirring and powerful cantata during Shabbat evening services at KI. The premiere presentation featured Cantor Amy Levy; Shir KI, our volunteer adult choir; Shir Joy, our children’s choir conducted by Liz Sussman; our professional quartet; Andrew Senn, our virtuoso organist; and a professional instrumental ensemble. All who attended the Shabbat service of the premiere were very touched by the artistic and dramatic merging of Cantor Comisar’s original music with the words of President George Washington that he had written to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island.

Cantor Comisar has revised his composition and has expanded the accompaniment to feature a chamber symphony. The new version will be shown on June 2nd featuring a professional orchestra and chorus conducted by Kensho Watanabe, former assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Cantor Levy will sing a solo in the work. Dean Malissa, resident of Rydal, will bring to life President George Washington. Dean’s portrayal of Washington has been part of festivities at Mount Vernon, Washington’s home, for many seasons.

You can log on to the viewing of To Bigotry No Sanction by clicking HERE.

Ellen, Avrum, Rabbi Howard, Alana, our daughter in law Naomi, and our grandchildren Micah Toby and Sophie Daniela, join me in wishing you a happy, healthful, and safe Shabbat Shalom and Memorial Day holiday.