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.
The Torah portion is uplifting as well. For in this week’s portion, we read the Ten Commandments, as repeated by Moses in Deuteronomy. For this section of the Torah reading the entire congregation stands, as if to relive that incredible experience at Mt. Sinaiso many centuries ago.
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.
The people of Israel are the only people in the world who were exiled from their land for 2,000 years and yet remained intact as a people and as a faith. What kept us going all those years was the fact that we had the Torah, the Bible, as a guide through the years of exile, and we had a land to yearn for.
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.
The Levite tribe is set aside as a separate tribe in Israel, dedicated to worshipping G-d on behalf of the nation of Israel in the Temple and, therefore, prevented from owning land or receiving their own tribal territory.
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…