The Sin of Running Away From School

Vayehi binso’a haAron vayomer Moshe kuma Hashem v’yafutzu oyvecha v’yanusu messanecha mipanecha uvenucho yomar shuva Hashem rivevos alfei Yisrael (Bamidbar 10:35-36)

Parashas Behaalos’cha contains the Jewish people’s initial journey after the giving of the Torah, which is followed by a conversation between Moshe and Yisro. The Torah then records the comments Moshe made when the Ark began to travel and when it rested, which are curiously set aside by inverted letter nun’s that precede and follow them, a phenomenon not found anywhere else in the entire Torah.

Rashi explains that this anomaly is intended to hint to us that this section is out of place chronologically, and it is included here to interrupt between two other portions that deal with sin and retribution. What were the two sections of punishment that are separated by this passage?

Just before these verses, the Torah says that the Jewish people departed Har Sinai (Bamidbar 10:33). The Ramban writes that they left the site of the giving of the Torah gleefully, like a child running away from school.

Their second sin was that they sought grounds to complain, and they expressed their dissatisfaction with the mann, which they wanted to replace with meat. What is the connection between these two seemingly unrelated narratives, which needed to be separated by a passage set off by upside-down nun’s?

Shlomo Hamelech writes in Koheles (5:9): “Ohev kesef lo yisba kesef” — a person who loves money will never be satiated by what he has, for he will always yearn for more. The Midrash says (Koheles Rabbah 1:13) that every time such a person finds himself with $100, he will want $200, but as soon as he manages to amass $200, he will suddenly wish that he had $400. Why would Hashem create such a frustrating desire?

Harav Avraham Yaakov Pam, zt”l, explains that this trait is not limited to money. It applies to anything that a person values, and it is intended to be used to motivate us to increase our Torah knowledge. We should never be satisfied with what we have already learned, and we should constantly seek to add to our wisdom and understanding. When we channel this tendency not to be complacent toward spiritual matters, it will not manifest itself as strongly when it comes to longing for material acquisitions, which will be secondary in our internal value system.

With this introduction, Rav Pam notes that the episode in which the Jewish people desired meat and nostalgically recalled the foods they used to eat in Egypt defies logic. How did they fall so far so soon after receiving the Torah, which elevated them to such lofty spiritual heights? The Torah tells us that the key to understanding this phenomenon is that they left Har Sinai quickly and joyfully.

Because they didn’t properly appreciate the Torah and didn’t develop within themselves a desire to do more mitzvos, their human instinct to yearn for more was instead trained on gluttonously craving a change in their diets. Therefore, a person who struggles with pangs for physical things should strive to subdue them by directing them toward spiritual matters, which will automatically reduce the pull toward physical ones.

Harav Yisroel Reisman adds that this insight fits beautifully with the mitzvah of Pesach Sheini, which is also found in Parashas Behaalos’cha. A group of Jews who were impure and therefore unable to offer a Korban Pesach had such a love of mitzvos that they were devastated by the prospect of missing out on performing one of them. They approached Moshe to express their distress at being left out of the Korban Pesach, and when Hashem saw their genuine passion for spirituality, He created a new mitzvah called Pesach Sheini to give them another opportunity to participate.

During the approaching summer months, our daily schedules are often less organized than at other times of the year. This lack of structure presents a natural spiritual danger, but it also offers a wonderful opportunity to show Hashem how much we love to learn Torah and do mitzvos of our own volition.

Q: Rashi writes (Bamidbar 8:2) that there was a step in front of the Menorah upon which the Kohen stood when cleaning it and lighting it. As the Menorah was only 18 tefachim tall (approximately 5 feet), why was it necessary for the Kohen to stand on a step to light it?

A: Harav Leib Tzintz points out that Moshe was speaking to Aharon, who was a Kohen Gadol. The Gemara in Sotah (38a) rules that although Kohanim in the Temple recite Birkas Kohanim with their hands raised above their heads, the Kohen Gadol may not do so. Rashi explains that this is because Hashem’s name is written on the Tzitz (Head-Plate), and it is inappropriate to raise his hands above this level.

Just as Aharon could not raise his hands above his head for the purpose of Birkas Kohanim, so too was he forbidden to do so to light the Menorah, and he had no choice but to stand on a step to light it.

Q: The Torah testifies (12:3) that Moshe was more humble than any person on the face of the earth. Was this true only in relation to those in his generation, or even in reference to those from earlier generations such as the Avos?

A: The Sifri quotes a dispute about this issue. One opinion maintains that the verse only intends to compare him to his contemporaries, but not to those who lived before him, as the Avos were indeed even more humble, which is also the opinion of the Avos d’Rav Nosson.

A second opinion argues that he was humbler even than the Avos. Interestingly, both sources write that the comparison is only to other humans, but not to angels, which are indeed humbler than Moshe.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.