Parshat B’ha’aloteycha (Numbers chapters 8-16)


Tamar Pelleg

Since then, a lot of water has flowed in the river of my life. Today, apart from my everyday writing in my “Morning  Diary”, I write regularly on topics related to the Hebrew Bible’s portion of the week, from a psycho-spiritual perspective and on topics  related to relationships that I post on  Facebook, blog, digital story collections and recently I am engaged in writing a  book and my  dream begins to come true.


The portion of the week Be’haloteycha opens with reference to light (,אור in Hebrew,  ‘or’)

דַּבֵּר֙ אֶֽל־אַהֲרֹ֔ן וְאָמַרְתָּ֖ אֵלָ֑יו בְּהַעֲלֹֽתְךָ֙ אֶת־הַנֵּרֹ֔ת אֶל־מוּל֙ פְּנֵ֣י הַמְּנוֹרָ֔ה יָאִ֖ירוּ שִׁבְעַ֥ת הַנֵּרֽוֹת

Speak to Aaron and say to him, “When you mount the lamps, let the seven lamps give light at the front of the lampstand.” (Leviticus 8, 1-3)

And it ends with a reference to the skin (עור, also ‘or’ in Hebrew)

וְהֶעָנָ֗ן סָ֚ר מֵעַ֣ל הָאֹ֔הֶל וְהִנֵּ֥ה מִרְיָ֖ם מְצֹרַ֣עַת כַּשָּׁ֑לֶג וַיִּ֧פֶן אַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶל־מִרְיָ֖ם וְהִנֵּ֥ה מְצֹרָֽעַת׃

As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales. When Aaron turned toward Miriam, he saw that she was stricken with scales. Leviticus 12, 10).

The expression” onto the front of the menorah(lampstand)” raises questions:

What is meant by this?

What is the importance of raising the candles in front of the face of the menorah and not from the back of it?

The word פנים ‘panim’ in biblical Hebrew has a double meaning. Panim refers to the outer side of your face, and p’nim means inside, the inner meaning of things.

So perhaps the instruction Aaron receives is related not only to lighting the candles in the menorah in the temple, but also to raising the inner light, in his inner lamp?

And immediately the association brings me to the Midrash (Talmud story) which tells of Adam and Eve, that before they broke the prohibition against tasting the fruit of the tree of knowledge, God clothed them in garments of light (‘or’, (אור and then, after being expelled from heaven, converted them into garments of skin. (‘or’, עור in Hebrew).

That is, their decline in spirituality was manifested in the outer attire of skin.

Our skin is the largest organ in our body. And not only is it the largest organ — it is also the most external and, in this respect, – the closest to physical friction with the light of the Creator.

Through the pores in our skin, we breathe the light of the Creator.


And what happens when the skin is damaged? How does this affect the relationship with the Creator?

Maybe something in the intimacy of the direct contact of the exposed skin with infinite light is impaired?

Maybe this is why Judaism forbids tattooing the skin?

The drama that takes place at the end of the parsha related to the punishment of leprosy that Miriam suffers makes me wonder even more.


Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married: “He married a Cushite woman!”

They said, “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” The LORD heard it.

Now Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth. Suddenly the LORD called to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting.” So the three of them went out. The LORD came down in a pillar of cloud, stopped at the entrance of the Tent, and called out, “Aaron and Miriam!” The two of them came forward; and He said, “Hear these My words: aMeaning of Heb. uncertain. Others “If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord.”When a prophet of the LORD arises among you, I-a make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moses; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the LORD. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moses!” Still incensed with them, the LORD departed. As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales!. When Aaron turned toward Miriam, he saw that she was stricken with scales. (Leviticus 12, 1-10)


In the skin disease that God has inflicted on Miriam, is it as if he is ending his connection to her?

I hear a kind of pun between the word leprosy ( in Hebrew: ‘tsara’at, צרעת ) and the word sorrow/grief ( ‘tsa’ar’, (צער , and I’m thinking,   is this how God responds to the sorrow that saddened him when she spoke blasphemously to Moses , and hence  he brings upon her a disease of sorrow / leprosy?  To make her sorry for her actions?

And maybe it was the reaction to her looking with “narrow eye” ( in Hebrew ‘Ayn Tsara’ , (עין צרה at Moses, meaning seeing him with diminishing eyes, that brought the leprosy to her?

Miriam, in her sin against Moses, descends spiritually to an even lower degree than the rank of the “skin garments” of Adam and Eve — not only has she lost her “garment of light” but even her “skin garment” has been damaged.

Speaking from a narrow-minded perspective, complaining, lacking in light, is what turned off her inner lamp, and when the inner lamp went out, then so was the outer connection with the Creator also damaged.

Miriam’s punishment is expressed not only in skin disease (leprosy) but also in exclusion from the community for a week.

And when Moses makes his supplication before the Lord

“O God, pray heal her!”

God answers him:

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהֹוָ֜ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֗ה וְאָבִ֙יהָ֙ יָרֹ֤ק יָרַק֙ בְּפָנֶ֔יהָ הֲלֹ֥א תִכָּלֵ֖ם שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים תִּסָּגֵ֞ר שִׁבְעַ֤ת יָמִים֙ מִח֣וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וְאַחַ֖ר תֵּאָסֵֽף׃ וַתִּסָּגֵ֥ר מִרְיָ֛ם מִח֥וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֖ה שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים וְהָעָם֙ לֹ֣א נָסַ֔ע עַד־הֵאָסֵ֖ף מִרְיָֽם׃

But the LORD said to Moses, “If her father spat in her face, would she not bear her shame for seven days? Let her be shut out of camp for seven days, and then let her be readmitted. So Miriam was shut out of camp seven days; and the people did not march on until Miriam was readmitted. ” Bamidbar, 12, 14-15

The Hebrew text actually uses the word “be gathered” להיאסף)) twice. It doesn’t use the word ” be healed”.   In the word “gathered” my ear picks up a connotation of death, like in the Biblical expression for death “to be gathered to your forefathers”.

That is, God does not actually promise Moses that Miriam will be healed at the end of the seven days, and the possibility that she will be “gathered to her people,” in the sense of death, exists for all seven days.

Miriam lives in this uncertainty throughout the week, enclosed within the tent and within herself, with the ability to observe her life and actions from a distance, in isolation from the community, from a distant perspective.

And maybe during the week she does manage to gather herself again, realizing that she actually “turned off” her inner candles when she looked enviously and unkindly at Moshe and when she uttered an angry and disparaging speech towards him.

And perhaps she does understand — in the deepest sense — why she was punished. Then she is healed.

The solitary tent at the edge of the desert is also a kind of “grave,” in which the “old” Miriam dies, and the “new” Miriam is born, like the serpent shedding its skin, emerges from the shells.

May we all have the privilege of raising the candles in front of our inner lamp.

And let us also remember that complaints and jealousy extinguish the candles.

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