Beha’alotecha: Exacerbating Jewish suffering?

What can make Jewish suffering even worse for us?

In Parshat Beha’alotecha, the Torah tells us about a tragic episode relating to ‘vehasafsuf asher bekirbo’ – the mixed multitude within our ranks (Bamidbar 11:4). The Israelite nation was divided. This led to bitterness, enmity and ultimately, tragedy.

In the ‘tochecha’ – the list of curses appearing in Parshat Bechukotai that we read just a few weeks ago, Hashem told us that a time would come when:

“Veradu bachem soneichem,” – “those who hate you will rule over you.” (Vayikra 26:17)

The Sifra, an anthology of Midrashic texts, takes two of these words out of context, removing the word ‘veradu’ and leaving “bachem soneichem,” which would translate as, “those who hate you are in your own ranks.”

Such a phenomenon can lead to bitter persecution becoming even worse. That is why the prophet Isiah declares,

“Maharsayich umachrivayich mimeich yeitzeihu,” – “Sometimes those who lay waste to you and destroy you can come from within your own ranks.”

I have often heard it noted that if you take an iron rod and strike it with iron, it makes an enormous noise, but if you take a wooden stick and strike it with iron, it hardly makes any noise at all.

When struck by one of your own, the consequences are more severe. That surely is a major lesson of Jewish history. And isn’t it so tragic that even though, at Mount Sinai, Hashem warned us that we could exacerbate our problems through internal strife, nonetheless we still haven’t properly learned that lesson.

However, it is Parshat Beha’alotecha which shows us the way forward. Towards the end of the parsha we are told how Miriam the Prophetess, sister of Moshe and Aaron, became gravely ill. She needed to be separated from the rest of the camp, and the entire nation of Israel, which was ready to move on, stayed behind, in order that she shouldn’t be left by herself. In their eyes, every single individual counted and they wanted to guarantee the unity of the people.

Let us therefore take this lesson to heart always. Let us, in our time, guarantee that Jewish unity will always be a top priority.

Shabbat shalom

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Posted in Parashah
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