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.
The thrust of the chapter is the expectation of holiness in our dealings with our fellow man. For it is through our relationships with our fellow human beings, through acts of compassion and charity, that we can indeed become holy
G-d does not treat gossip lightly. As men and women, created in His image, we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves and to treat everyone with respect. This includes not maligning them, even in a light, gossipy way.
The first verse in chapter 40 provides us with the date that the Tabernacle was completed — the first day of the first month, or the first of Nissan. Nissan is the month which begins the Biblical count of months and it falls at this time of year. It is also known as the month of the spring (Deuteronomy 16:1). It is not the month of Rosh HaShana
This week we begin the Book of Exodus. The first portion is one of transformation – the children of Israel, the family of Jacob, become the “Hebrews” and the Children of Israel, with a national focus.
This week’s portion begins the story of Joseph, beginning with Genesis chapter 37. We learn that Jacob favors Joseph and buys him a striped coat, which results in the brothers’ terrible jealousy of him.
The Day of Atonement is, indeed, the holiest day of the year. The most important element of the holiday, however, is the atonement connected with it. “You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins.” And again at the end of the section: “And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins.” (verse 34)
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.