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June 6, 2015 – 19 Sivan 5775
God briefly explains the details for the menorah in the Mishkan, then turns attention to the Levites’ purification cere- mony. These men, who are allowed to serve from ages 25-50, are responsible for assisting the priests and helping ensure the Israelites will not succumb to plagues.
The Israelites are reminded of their responsibility to offer the Passover sacrifice, and learn that those who are rendered impure after having contact with a corpse will be allowed to observe Passover one month later.
The people finally resume their journey in the wilderness, following a protective fire-cloud that directs both their movement and the places and times to make camp. When a new march begins, the Israelites are called to attention by two silver trumpets, then walk in tribal groupings. They are joined by Moses’ father-in-law, Hobab, as Moses recites a standard phrase each time they begin and end each leg of their journey.
The Israelites complain twice — generally at first, then specifically demanding meat. Moses asks God to kill him, but God sends the people quail instead, then strikes them with a devastating plague.
Parashat Shelah Lekha
June 13, 2015 – 26 Sivan 5775
God asks Moses to send one man from each tribe to scout the Promised Land and its inhabitants. After 40 days, the spies return with luscious fruit — and two different interpretations of what they saw. Ten of them say that the people in Canaan cannot be defeated, while Joshua and Caleb insist otherwise. The Israelites panic, demanding to return to Egypt.
Moses talks God out of destroying every Israelite other than him, but God insists that this generation (besides Joshua and Caleb) would not reach the Promised Land, and would instead wander the wilderness for 40 years. The 10 negative spies are killed by a plague, and the Israelites who attempt to preemptively invade Canaan are routed.
June 20, 2015 – 3 Tammuz 5775
Moses and Aaron’s authority is challenged twice: first, by Korah, a Levite who gathers 250 Israelite nobles, and then by Dathan and Abiram, who claim that Egypt, not Canaan, is the true land of milk and honey. Moses suggests that fire-pans of incense be brought to test Korah’s claims, but God threatens the rebels’ immediate destruction. Moses and Aaron beg for clemency, but as predicted by Moses, the earth swallows the rebels and their possessions (Korah’s sons are spared).
God orders that the rebels’ fire pans be attached to the Tabernacle altar to remind the people of the attempted insur- rection. But the Israelites criticize God’s punishment, leading to a plague that kills 14,700 others. Next, God demands that the tribal leaders deposit a staff into the Tent of Meeting. Aaron’s staff sprouts almonds, serving as another reminder of recent events.
The Israelites now fear approaching the Tabernacle. God assures that only Levites can be punished for trespasses. To ease the Levites’ burden, God outlines the sacred gifts that they and the priests will receive.
June 27, 2015 – 10 Tammuz 5775
God introduces the ritual law of the red heifer, whose ashes are used to purify those who are impure after being con- taminated by a corpse. Miriam dies. The Israelites, bereft of water, despair that they are still in the wilderness. Even though God says water will emerge from a rock, Moses strikes the rock twice before water pours forth. Moses and Aaron are punished by not being allowed to enter Canaan. Aaron dies at Mount Hor, and Eleazar succeeds him as High Priest. The Israelites are challenged by nearby peoples: the Edomites refuse them safe passage; the Canaanites unsuccessfully attack them; and Amorites and Bashan fall to them convincingly. But the Israelites still complain about their hardships, and some are killed by bronze snakes.