I really think the first part of this week’s reading is placed there as a delaying tactic, so we can put off reading how the Israelites behaved on the march.
There are still some items to deal with before the Israelites set out toward the Promised Land. First, a gold, seven-branched candelabrum(menorah) is made for the Tabernacle. (The Haftarah, Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7, is also during Chanukah, not only because it describes such a menorah but because of its vision of cleansing and rededication. )
Then the Levites’ sanctification is completed via sprinkling with water of purification, a full-body shave, laundry, and sacrifices. A “Pesach Sheni” (second Passover) a month after the first is established for those unable to partake at the regular time. Finally, they get ready to break camp and start their journey, according to the motion (or lack) of a fire by day and a cloud by night that settled over the Tabernacle. I noted here 8 years ago, “This sounded very passive and kind of random to me until I read a lovely interpretation by R’ Chaim Shmulevitz in A Daily Dose of Torah (J. Weiss ed., vol. 9, p. 135), that this is analogous to a mother carrying her infant hither and yon; while she knows she is doing various chores and errands, what her baby is aware of simply being safe in his mother’s arms. So too, Israel was in the Lord’s arms while it was still in its national infancy.”
Whenever they were to set out, Moses was to say the words that are set off by two inverted nuns in the Hebrew (10:35-36) and are part of our service for taking out the Torah. Further, two silver trumpets are made to summon the people, signal movement, be used in war, and to celebrate. Since everything is apparently under control, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, feels he can head home to Midian The Israelites march out with great fanfare and excitement. It is the second year, second month, twentieth day since the Exodus from Egypt.
Then they start kvetching. Yes, the very next verse reads (11:1) reads “The people took to complaining bitterly before the Lord.” About what, we don’t know. But the Lord is angry and sends a fire. The people turn to Moses. Moses prays to the Lord, and the fires dies down. This pattern will repeat many, many times on the Israelites’ journey. Then they complain they want meat They’re sick of manna. They remember (11:5) the “fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” Now Moses is totally fed up, so the Lord tells him to pick 70 elders, who receive some divine spirit and can help him. The people are deluged with quail, stuff themselves, and are struck with a plague (food poisoning?).
The final incident in the reading shows that even Miriam and Aaron are cranky enough to misbehave. They gossip about Moses’ marriage and complain that they are prophets too. At this, the Lord swoops in and gives them a well-deserved chewing out: Moses is unique. Only he communicates with the Lord directly, rather than through a vision or a dream. Miriam is then stricken with the skin disease tzara’at (not Aaron – supposedly, he just followed her. Right.), which is traditionally associated with slander. Moses isn’t angry at them but prays for his big sister to be healed. The people wait while she stays outside the camp for seven days.
This is not a good start to the journey. But the people don’t have confidence in their future. Most are unable to hold onto the promises of an invisible, and at times deadly, God. They have lost their moorings. They know their past and cling nostalgically to memories of small enjoyments, like leeks and melons and fish.
Similarly, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic no coherent national strategy, with lockdowns and premature openings, lives lost and businesses destroyed, in a particularly high-stakes presidential election year, with the economy in turmoil, I’d guess that most of us have lost our moorings. Everything has been tossed in the air. Will there be a second wave of virus? Will it be worse, as in 1918? Will we ever settle into a new normal in which kids go to school and choirs sing and people casually go out to eat? Probably, but I wish I felt more confidence in that.
Shabbat shalom and zei gezunt (be well),
Joe was getting a shave from a rather inexperienced barber who nicked him several times. The barber, trying to smooth things over, asked, “May I wrap your head in a hot towel?”
“No, thanks,” said Jim. “I’ll just carry it home under my arm.”
17 Light Bulb Jokes That Make You Sound Smart (selected)
By Andy Simmons, RD.com
· How many polite New Yorkers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Both of them.
· How many fatalists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
What does it matter? It’s just going to go out again anyway.
· How many Chinese Red Guards does it take to screw in a light bulb?
10,000—to give the bulb a cultural revolution.
· How many chiropractors does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one, but it takes six visits.
A chicken, duck and quail were found dead on a swing set.
The police suspect fowl play
I wanted to go bird hunting
But I didn’t quailify.
Get it!? I didn’t meat the quail-ifications!
Quotes about Complaining
Why does the Air Force need expensive new bombers? Have the people we’ve been bombing over the years been complaining? George Wallace
When I was an orphan, I was the richest kid at the orphanage because everyone else was complaining about not having anything. But when I discovered that you could get two cents for a Coca-Cola bottle, I would follow people around who were drinking it and ask them if they were almost through with it. Wayne Dyer
I think ‘Dilbert’ will remain popular as long as employees are frustrated and they fear the consequences of complaining too loudly. ‘Dilbert’ is the designated voice of discontent for the workplace. I never planned it that way. It just happened. Scott Adams
Watch out for the joy-stealers: gossip, criticism, complaining, faultfinding, and a negative, judgmental attitude. Joyce Meyer
Complainers change their complaints, but they never reduce the amount of time spent in complaining. Mason Cooley
The Good Old Days
[I guess you can call this type of thing “anti-nostalgia.” IGP 2009]
Date Received: Mon, 20 Oct 1997
This is from a Washington Post Report from Week 228, in which readers were asked to tell Gen-Xers how much harder they had it in the old days:
In my day, we couldn’t afford shoes, so we went barefoot. In the winter we had to wrap our feet with barbed wire for traction. (Bill Flavin, Alexandria)
In my day we didn’t have MTV or in-line skates, or any of that stuff. No, it was 45s and regular old metal-wheeled roller skates, and the 45s always skipped, so to get them to play right you’d weigh the needle down with something like quarters, which we never had because our allowances were too small, so we’d use our skate keys instead and end up forgetting they were taped to the record player arm so that we couldn’t adjust our skates, which didn’t really matter because those crummy metal wheels would kill you if you hit a pebble anyway, and in those days roads had real pebbles on them, not like today. (Russell Beland, Springfield)
And the winner of the velour bicentennial poster:
In my day, we didn’t have no rocks. We had to go down to the creek and wash our clothes by beating them with our heads. (Barry Blyveis, Columbia)
Honorable Mentions: [selected]
- In my day, we didn’t have dogs or cats. All I had was Silver Beauty, my beloved paper clip. (Jennifer Hart, Arlington)
- In my day, attitudes were different. For example, women didn’t like sex. At least that is what they told me. (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)
- In my day, we didn’t have fancy health-food restaurants. Every day we ate lots of easily recognizable animal parts, along with potatoes drenched in melted fat from those animals. And we’re all as strong a AAGGKK-GAAK Urrgh. Thud.
(Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)
- In my day, we didn’t have hand-held calculators. We had to do addition on our fingers. To subtract, we had to have some fingers amputated. (Jon Patrick Smith, Washington)
- In my day, we didn’t get that disembodied, slightly ticked-off voice saying ‘Doors closing.’ We got on the train, the doors closed, and if your hand was sticking out it scraped along the tunnel all the damn way to the Silver Spring station and it was a bloody stump at the end. But the base fare was only a dollar. (Russell Beland, Springfield)
- Kids today think the world revolves around them. In my day, the sun revolved around the world, and the world was perched on the back of a giant tortoise.
(Jonathan Paul, Garrett Park)
Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company