Throughout their desert experience, the Children of Israel felt the pull to return to Egypt, and Moses needed to enable them to understand the advantages of freedom, which is accompanied by servitude to G-d. Therefore, it was critical that the Children of Israel be reliant upon G-d for their food and water and understand that simple food and water from G-d as free persons is preferable to watermelon and fish in Egypt as slaves.
On the 9th of Av we also read the book of Lamentations, that terribly poignant description of the destruction of the First Temple written by Jeremiah, an eye-witness to the events he describes.
Numbers 27:12-23: “And G-d said to Moses, Go up to this Mt. Avarim and see the land that I have given to the Children of Israel.” So begins a moving dialogue between G-d and Moses towards the end of Moses’ life.
Moses sends the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel to check out the land of Israel, to investigate its people and evaluate their strength or weakness, to taste the fruits and crops and determine the fertility of the land.
With the opening verse of Chapter 11, everything begins to crash. The nation complains repeatedly and is punished. Miriam speaks ill of her brother and his wife and is punished. And then, of course, comes the sin of the spies…
Thus shall you bless the children of Israel, it is to be said to them: May G-d bless you and keep you, May G-d shine His face upon you and be gracious to you, May G-d turn His face to you and grant you peace.
One of the most tragic events in the Bible takes place in this week’s reading. Leviticus 10 begins with the story of the death of Nadav and Avihu, who brought a “strange fire” before G-d. It is not clear exactly what Nadav and Avihu did that angered G-d.
With the anointing of Aaron, Moses hands over something he will never have again. He lovingly gives up a part of his leadership, so that the people can be better served.
This week’s portion tells the story of the parting of the Red Sea, the culmination of the Exodus from Egypt, and includes the Song of Moses (and the shorter Song of Miriam). Grand events happen in this week’s Torah reading and it is, indeed, an awe- inspiring few chapters.