Moses finds the people’s complaining so hard to bear that he is ready to die if no solution is found, and his honesty with God brings about a Divine solution.
God tells him to gather 70 experienced elders to the Tent of Meeting. They are to share the burden of leadership and God endows them with Moses’ spirit (Numbers 11:17). In Judaism, this act of God is seen to forever legitimate the judicial role of Israel’s elders.
God also promises Moses that He will give the people so much meat that they will be sick of it, which Moses finds difficult to believe.
To satisfy the cravings of these ungrateful Israelites, God sends tons of quail. Many gorge themselves and die as God’s anger is unleashed due to their rejection of Him. They are buried at the place they named Kibroth-hattaavah (graves of craving). (Numbers 11:31–35)
Miriam and Aaron also complain by speaking against their brother Moses. They criticize Moses for marrying a Cushite woman—slander, and they want more respect as prophets in their own right—pride.
For speaking lashon harah (slander, but also speaking the truth to injure) and for her pride, God strikes Miriam with leprosy; she turns white “like snow.”
Aaron recognizes their sin and cries out to the Lord, “O God, please heal her—please.”
Although repentance helps restore our relationship with God, a lesson still has to be learned by them and the entire camp. They cannot move ahead until Miriam spends seven days outside the camp.
Haftarah (Prophetic Portion): Purity and the Menorah
The prophetic reading this Shabbat (Zechariah 2:14–4:7), begins with an invitation to shout for joy because God will dwell in the midst of Zion and once again choose Jerusalem. In that day many nations will join themselves to the Lord.
Zechariah’s vision confirms how deeply Adonai cares about the cleansing of His people.
The Prophet Zechariah sees the high priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak, standing before the angel of the Lord in the Heavenly Court.
Satan is also there accusing Joshua, who is clothed in filthy rags, a metaphor for sin. According to Rashi, the sin Joshua was guilty of was allowing his sons to marry foreign women, which is not allowed for Levites (see Ezra 10:18).
The Angel of the Lord identifies Joshua as a brand plucked from the fire, which Chabad interprets as the “hardships of exile.” Indeed, Joshua has returned from the Babylonian exile along with Zerubbabel and the Jewish exiles to Jerusalem where they will rebuild the city and the Jewish Temple.
The Lord rebukes Satan and says to Joshua, “See, I have removed your guilt from you, and you shall be clothed in [priestly] robes.” (Zechariah 3:4)
Zechariah then describes his vision of a seven-branched Menorah, which is kindled in this week’s Torah reading.
Empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit)
Rebuilding Jerusalem and the Second Temple is a huge task. And through the Prophet Zechariah, God reassures both Joshua and Zerubbabel that He is behind the initiative.
Immediately after Zechariah sees the Menorah, the symbol of purity and the light of truth reaching the nations, the Lord gives a word to Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah, saying,
“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit—said the Lord of Hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)
Of course, pursuing spiritual goals is too difficult if we are left to our own devices. Both the Parasha reading and the Haftarah reading reveal that we have supernatural help.
We see that even Moses had his limits. No one could do the work of Moses without being anointed with the Spirit of God.
To ease Moses’ burden, God spread some of Moses’ anointing—the Holy Spirit Himself—giving it to 70 respected elders who would share in the task of leadership.
The Scriptures say that these elders immediately prophesied. When the Spirit of God is working in someone, spiritual gifts manifest. Prophecy is just one of these gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12:4–11, 28; Romans 12:6–8).
These gifts were only available to a select few until the Ruach (Spirit) descended on Shavuot upon the first Believers 50 days after Yeshua’s resurrection.
Through Yeshua, our garments of iniquity have been removed and we, like Joshua, are clothed in vestments of purity and righteousness. This is a fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy, which foretells of a time when the Messiah will remove all iniquity in a single day.
“I am going to bring My servant the Branch [a future king from the line of David] … and I will remove that country’s guilt in a single day. In that day—declares the LORD of Hosts—you will be inviting each other to the shade of vines and fig trees.” (Zechariah 3:8–10; Jeremiah 33:15)
This righteous Branch from the line of David has appeared, and in one day, He paid the penalty for our sin and clothed us with His righteousness.
Each of us need God’s Ruach in our lives empowering us to obey His word, manifest His love, joy and peace, and exercise spiritual gifts He has bestowed. Filled with that Spirit, each of us are beacons of light that show the way to a lost and dying world.
One practical way we can shine as lights in the midst of the darkness is by refusing to complain and, instead, express gratitude in all things, rejoicing in the Lord always.
“Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:14–15)