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.
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.
The story of Balaam and his desire to curse the children of Israel is a fabulous one. At the request of Balak, King of Moab, he tries to curse Israel, but at each opportunity, G-d prevents him from doing so. Finally, without a choice, he blesses the nation of Israel in some of the most beautiful verses in the Bible.
This portion begins with two verses that set forth exactly who is part of the rebellious group: “Now Korach the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men.” (Numbers 16:1-2)
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.
To this day, all first-born sons to a Jewish mother are ‘redeemed’ in a special ceremony which represents the divine statement that the Nation of Israel is holy.
Moses then reminds them of the sin of the spies who had returned from the Land of Israel and spoke ill of the land, causing the people to doubt the success of their imminent entry. God’s response, of course, was to punish the people and delay the entry for an additional 38 years. Moses fears that if Reuben and Gad remain in the land east of the Jordan, the rest of the people will refuse to enter. After years of experience with the Children of Israel, Moses is quite aware that the littlest provocation can instill fear and lack of faith in the people.