Beets and Kohlrabi and Carrots Oh My

Published in Bob’s Fresh and Local CSA Newsletter, 6/28/2017.

I hope everyone is enjoying the greens of summer as I am. I used every single leaf this week, every green turnip top, every spinach leaf. My husband, Andy, who isn’t big on eating his spinach, looks forward to the greens-packed smoothies I make him every morning. Today I used kohlrabi greens. “Greenies” are our new regular breakfast, and I’m looking forward to greens during the winter from Farmer Bob’s new greenhouse.

This week we’ll see lots of other colors in our Meal Boxes as well: bright orange carrots, purple and white kohlrabi, deep ruby beets. I sampled a beet this past week, and it was the perfect addition to a big jar of Middle Eastern style pink pickled turnips. You’ll find that recipe in last week’s newsletter. I confess it was hard to get enough turnips to fill my jar, though, because I kept nibbling those tender, crispy, spicy nuggets.

Here’s another Middle Eastern favorite, Moroccan Beet Salad. You’ll find some version of it in many Moroccan Jewish cookbooks. I used to serve this one in my cafe, and even those who inexplicably didn’t like beets were addicted to it. I love it because it doesn’t use added sugar, just lets the delightful, sweet natural flavor of the beets come through.

Our beets will be smaller than I originally used with this salad, and we’ll probably have fewer, so adjust the recipe accordingly.

MOROCCAN BEET SALAD
Ingredients

  • Beets, 6 large
  • Red onion, 1/4 large (3 oz.)
  • Lemon, 2 lemons, juiced (about 4 TB)
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 6 TB (if you must refrigerate before eating, use canola oil so it doesn’t solidify)
  • Salt, 2 tsp. (to taste)
  • Cumin, 2 tsp.
  • Szeged Hot Paprika, 1-2 tsp. (to taste)
  • Cilantro, 1/4-1/2 cup chopped

Directions

  1. Place whole, unpeeled beets in water to cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until done. Don’t over-cook, but you should be able to pierce the beets easily with a fork.
  2. Cool the beets in the cooking juices and rub off the skins.
  3. Julienne the beets.
  4. Add olive oil, lemon juice, spices.
  5. Slice onions thinly into the bowl with the beets, 1″-2″ long slices.
  6. Add chopped cilantro to the bowl.
  7. Stir all together gently, adding lemon, salt and hot paprika to taste.

Of course, these young beets at the early end of the season are so sweet and tender that you can just use them raw in salads. The same high-powered blender that makes your delicious greenie will also make an extraordinarily beautiful ruby red soup or smoothie.

Finally carrots, beautiful orange carrots. Another time, I’ll share some great carrot recipes, including Moroccan Carrot Salad. I also like to make a creamy carrot soup without an ounce of cream — it’s amazing what a blender will do!

But I’ll end as I began, with smoothies. Of course, I often use carrots in my smoothies. They actually help sweeten a smoothie in which there’s no added sugar — and straight-up carrot smoothies with some light-colored fruits to retain that bright orange color, maybe a little ginger or cinnamon, will please your kids or kid at heart, like my husband, Andy.

So get ready, get set, here comes another beautiful Meal Box from Farmer Bob thanks to some wonderful, soaking rains…at last.

If you’d like more information about the CSA, please visit Bob’s Fresh and Local (produce) and All Grass Farms (livestock, chickens, milk and cheese).

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Torah Ecology: Chukat (Num. 19:1-22:1)-Balak (Num. 22:2-25:9)

The portions during these last two weeks have been so full and rich that it’s hard to know where to start…and I confess, I’ve been short on time so haven’t been able to give them the attention they deserve.

Taken together, though, these two portions continue the story of shaping a people wandering, often aimlessly, despite the amazing opportunity and mission put before them. A people who “murmur” and complain despite their many reasons for gratitude, a people of fragile faith easily led astray despite the signs and wonders they witness.

In Chukat, we read of the Red Heifer, whose blood causes impurity and purifies. Miriam dies, the people complain they have no water. G-d instructs Moses to speak to the rock and water will come forth for the Children of Israel and the cattle. Instead Moses strikes it twice, saying with some aggravation, “Hear now, ye rebels; are we to bring you forth water out of this rock?” We can almost hear his disbelief.

Aaron is stripped of his garments, which pass on to his son, then dies and the people mourn him even as Moses learns he, too, will not enter the Land with those whom he leads: “And the LORD said unto Moses and Aaron: ‘Because ye believed not in Me, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (Num. 20:12)

Once again we learn that those who journey through the wilderness are tragically flawed as are their leaders. These passionate people show that holiness in the world is aspirational not fully actual. One cannot live life in the real world without treading on it, one can only strive for full consciousness, mission-awareness and faith. Despite “best” efforts, failure brings consequences. Despite failures, they continue to move history forward.

The story told in Balak begins in Chukat and continues into the following portion, Balak. Balak son of Zippor, King of Moab, calls upon Balaam son of Beor to curse the Israelite “hordes”poised to enter the land of Moab. The story repeats a familiar theme: despite human desires and human failures, history moves forward according to G-d’s plan offering those whom G-d chooses the opportunity to participate consciously in moving the plan forward…or to blindly resist it.

Three times Balaam’s ass balks when he sees an angel blocking the path — an angel Balaam himself cannot see. “Even” an ass is more in tune with G-d’s intention than this prophet. Even an ass can see G-d’s messenger in the world.

Three times Balaam plans to curse the Israelites as Balak requires him to do and three times utters a blessing instead. Only with the third blessing does Balak see: “And he took up his parable, and said: The saying of Balaam the son of Beor, and the saying of the man whose eye is opened; The saying of him who heareth the words of God, who seeth the vision of the Almighty, fallen down, yet with opened eyes.” (Num. 24:15-16). What the rest of the creation knows effortlessly, human beings resist.

As it is so often, here again the message is that righteousness is about breaking down the barriers of consciousness, the self-absorption that alienates us from ourselves and the rest of creation, our purpose in life and the flow of history. Three times bested by a humble and patient talking ass who accepts his mission and immediately sees the messenger of G-d that Balaam cannot see. Three attempts, two with 7 altars and the sacrifice of 7 bullocks and 7 rams, an extravagant display…and only on the third attempt, without all the fanfare, does Balaam finally see and accept his purpose.

As history continues its drive forward, each nation in turn swallowing the one that preceded, Balak and Balaam return to their homes unceremoniously. We are left wondering if they, like the Israelites, will return to their blindness and self-absorption, leaving perception and conscious choice to other creatures less encumbered with their sense of themselves.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Torah Ecology: Korach (Num. 16:1-18:32)

The most dramatic moment in this dramatic story of rebellion and punishment comes in verse 16:27 with this poignant image: “…and Dathan and Abiram came out, and stood at the door of their tents, with their wives, and their sons, and their little ones.'”

It’s those words, “and their little ones” that rivets our attention and holds it through the following verses when the ground opens her mouth and swallows them up, when Korach, his men, their households and all that pertain to them  “go down alive into the pit.” That image of the little ones standing at the door of their tents with their older brothers and parents lingers as we contemplate the earth swallowing these innocents alive.

It’s a repeat motif, pride, the “murmuring” that spreads fear among the children of Israel, the lack of trust, the failure to embrace a mission, the desperation that results from wandering aimlessly in the wilderness (“We perish, we are undone, we are all undone” – Num. 17: 27).

These are indeed children of Israel, yet they can hardly afford to be children. They are also a subsistence community, on the march through the wilderness, and the actions of some affect all, first with the earth swallowing up those who transgress ethically and everyone and everything associated with them, then with fire that engulfs the co-conspirators and their families, then with plague threatening those who lost their way and their families.

As we saw before, the natural world is permeated with the ethical consciousness that flows throughout creation. It rebels against those whose pride or fear causes them to lose their path and sense of purpose, striking first by swallowing up alive, then with fire and finally with plague. These natural disasters threaten the Israelites as much as they threatened the Egyptians in the land which the Israelites came.

But it is that image of the little ones and their brothers and mothers swallowed up along with their rebellious fathers that stays with us reminding us that in addition to nothing new, there is no such thing as innocence under the sun and that the actions of one put us all at risk.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Fridays I like to cook at the shul

Our kitchen at the shul needs a little work, but it’s big and bright and airy, and I like to cook there on Fridays, prepare a little something for our Friday evening dinners, which more and more of our little family on the prairie are coming to enjoy, and Saturday morning kiddush. During the warmer months, I include veggies from my CSA box as much as possible.

Spelt vegan challot are a standard part of what I do, a couple for Friday evening and a couple for kiddush on Saturday. This week, in addition, I made a stir fry with green onions, red onion, lots of good greens, carrots Julienne and topped with a special treat, snap peas — all from the farm.

Somehow I feel as though the path to resolving the many issues that face us in these times is through food justice in all its dimensions. That’s a thought that will need to wait for another moment for unpacking. Right now I’m just immersing myself in the pleasure of planting, nurturing, harvesting and preparing things that are good to eat.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Remembering Pauline

Today I turned off the news and social media to sit outside and watch the clouds drift overhead while I think and write. Once again, Pauline Dubkin Yearwood, עליה השלום, entered my thoughts as she has so often in recent months since she died.

Pauline was Managing Editor for the Chicago Jewish News, where I came to know her. She was also vegan and an animal rights activist long before I considered it. My journey included many detours,  and for years, I wandered back and forth between meat-eating and vegetarianism. Veganism was out of reach for me during most of the years I knew Pauline, an exotic idea somewhere on the fringes of my consciousness.

That is, until it wasn’t, and that is when I really started to appreciate Pauline, her unerring sense of ethics, big heart and impatience with fake news, foggy thinking and peripheral issues. Exploring 100% plant-based eating opened my eyes and consciousness to so much, healed so many mental and spiritual disconnects, that I marvel I didn’t see years ago what I see now. And I miss connecting with Pauline to ask her questions or benefit from her clear-eyed insights.

One day I shared with Pauline a post I had written when Cecil the Lion was killed in a sanctuary. She reminded me that Cecil was one animal, and we cause suffering to and kill billions of animals every day without recognition or comment. When I wondered about eating eggs from backyard chickens, she opened my eyes to the ways in which even backyard chickens happily living out their lives are part of a brutal system.

Pauline always urged me to expand my boundaries of awareness and think more deeply and consciously about the choices I make. At the same time, she never pushed me. Rather, she offered me a friendly, humble but compelling example and responded to my questions directly and with solid information.

I shared another post with Pauline a year after I began a serious exploration of veganism. It was about the mental and spiritual disconnects that happen every day in our lives. I sometimes wonder if full awareness of suffering on the planet might not otherwise overwhelm us.

I first stopped eating animals 45 years ago because I didn’t want to do what was required to put them on my plate. I didn’t want to buy their remains neatly wrapped in styrofoam and plastic, completely removed from the life that was and removing me from conscious responsibility for that death. Then one day after a year of eating only plant foods, I looked down and noticed my leather shoes. How did I miss the fact that my shoes come to me in the same way?

That sudden awareness reminded me how easy it is to put up fences in our consciousness. I thanked Pauline for inspiring me to do the work of breaking down those fences.

Pauline’s compassion was active. She volunteered for a no-kill animal shelter in Evanston, and she was active with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). I follow them for a while, then unfollow them when their often graphic pictures overwhelm me. Pauline’s deep compassion for all creatures rested comfortably side-by-side with her tough realism.

Thanks to Pauline, I gradually expanded the range of what I can tolerate seeing and knowing in this world. Breaking down barriers of consciousness in relation to our treatment of animals generated a similar process in other areas. I read and understand U.S. history differently as I do what I read and see in the daily news. I relate differently to the planet on which I live. Never more than superficially political, I began to understand the profound connection between politics, policy and life on the planet. I read the Torah differently and appreciate more than ever the expansiveness and inclusiveness of its ethical consciousness.

And so as I sit to enjoy this extraordinarily beautiful day, watching the clouds overhead, I think of Pauline and wish she were sitting here on my porch with me so I could thank her face-to-face, ask about her thoughts on the news of the day — and serve her a delicious vegan lunch.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Saving The Planet: Eat Your Greens, But Don’t Forget Those Roots

Published in Bob’s Fresh and Local CSA Newsletter, 6/21/2017.

If you are interested in sustainable agriculture, and your CSA membership says you are, you probably know that those veggies are a lot easier on the environment and our water resources than animal agriculture — so much so that Frances Moore Lappe suggested in 1972 in Diet for a Small Planet that we would be better served to eat the grains we grow for animals than to feed them to animals and eat the animals.

So I’m always excited to bring home my box of CSA veggies! It is one contribution I make to taking care of this beautiful earth. As with last week, we’ll see a lot of greens, wonderful greens, a sure sign that it’s early in the season, and we have many luxurious, fresh vegetable-filled weeks to go. So I want to say a word about greens, but I want to focus this week on turnips and radishes, root veggies which we are also enjoying now.

GREENS. Today was a banner day for me. This morning I enjoyed a kale, spinach, soy milk, seeds, fruit and ice cube “Greenie” for breakfast, a delicious way to start the day.

For lunch, I enjoyed the rest of my greens from last week, two lettuces, one red and one green, some mizuna, tokyo bekana, and kale, topped with red onion, radishes and walnut pieces and dressed with extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper. Be sure to mince the stems and throw them into your salad along with the broken walnuts. Any little bits of veggie waste can go into compost.

ROOT VEGGIES & THE ENVIRONMENT.

Cooked white beans, roasted turnips, chopped & sauteed turnip greens, olive oil, white Balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

I just learned this week that of all the veggies, root veggies are some of the easiest on environmental resources. Last week we received two kinds of turnips, white Hakurei turnips and red turnips. I cut mine up, coated them with extra virgin olive oil and roasted them, chopped and briefly sauteed the turnip greens with olive oil, garlic and seasonings, then mixed both with cooked white beans. With the addition of a little more olive oil, white Balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, I had a lovely dish to eat warm or cold (as a salad).

RADISHES are also great roasted. They’re delicious as an unusual side dish or make a colorful addition to a roasted veggie platter.

One of my favorite things to do with turnips is to pickle them, Middle Eastern style.  Beets thrown into the pickling mixture give the beets their pink color, which deepens with more beets or longer pickling.  On the occasion pictured here from last summer, I enjoyed my pickled turnips with scrambled  tofu and greens — and beautiful tomatoes included in my box. Next time I make beet pickles, I’m going to try it without the vinegar, let them ferment to get that tangy flavor, which results in a denser population of probiotics.

PICKLED TURNIPS
Make a brine of 4 cups water, 1 cup vinegar and 3 TB kosher salt. Set aside. Wash a wide mouth glass jar. Prepare your pickling veggies, in this case turnips, by washing and cutting (peeling for older or larger turnips). Add sliced garlic if desired. Pack the veggies into the jar, and pour brine over the veggies until the jar is filled, stirring the brine as you work to be certain it stays evenly mixed. you may need a small dish held down by something with weight to keep the turnips under water. If you put your pickles directly into the refrigerator, it will take a couple of weeks for them to pickle. Alternatively, let them pickle on your kitchen counter for 2-5 days, and move to the refrigerator when they taste as you would like.

I love these spring and summer veggies!

If you’d like more information about the CSA, please visit Bob’s Fresh and Local (produce) and All Grass Farms (livestock, chickens, milk and cheese).

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Torah Ecology: Shelach (Num. 13:1-15:41)

This portion uses an unusual construction of the phrase “Children of Israel,” namely congregation of the children of Israel, pointing repeatedly to the idea of community. Like the preceding portion, it illuminates how the community is so easily led astray by the “murmurings” of instigators. Whereas in the last portion, it was the mixed multitude (“rifraff,” according to some translations) who fomented insurrection, in this portion, it is representatives of the princes of Israel who divert them from their purpose by generating fear.

Interestingly, the evil report of the spies is framed in terms of food: “The land, through which we have passed to spy it out, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof…” (Num. 13:32). The people pick up that motif and view themselves as “animal food” for predators: “And wherefore doth the LORD bring us unto this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will be a prey…'” (Num. 14:3) Joshua and Caleb reverse that theme, turning it on the current inhabitants of the land, when they say, “…neither fear ye the people of the land; for they are bread for us…’

Finally G-d picks up the theme, returning to the idea of the Israelites as animal food: “…your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness.” (Num. 14:29) … and “…your little ones, that ye said would be a prey, them will I bring in…” (Num. 14:31), and then, “But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness” (Num. 14:32) and “…until your carcasses be consumed in the wilderness (Num. 14:33).

What distinguishes the community of Israel from others is nothing intrinsic. Only to the extent that they understand themselves as a community of people with a purposeful mission, and only to the extent that they live in fulfillment of that mission, are they anything more than animals, and like animals, they can become food.

What is the mission? The text tells us explicitly at its conclusion, “‘…that ye may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy unto your God. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.'” Fulfilling this mission brings benefits: possession of the Land and a higher rung on the food ladder than other animals. And distraction, lack of focus, lack of commitment, susceptibility to “murmuring?” That leads to a land that “vomits you out.” It leads to a world where you are not only hunter but prey, where you claim no role of privilege in the food chain, a world of biological pre-determination.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

5 Ways to Use This Week’s CSA Veggies

Prepared for Bob’s Fresh and Local CSA. Visit them on Facebook.

This week we’ll enjoy a wonderful variety of spring greens, mostly Asian and from the mustard family, including Mizuna, Tokyo Bekana, Hon Tsai Tai and Tatsoi as well as the more familiar spinach. We’ll also receive radishes, Hakurai, red stem turnip…and maybe some chives.

Greens, spinach, radishes and carrot with extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon, salt.

Most of these greens have a slightly peppery flavor. Hon Tsai Tai, somewhat similar to broccoli raab, is a bit more mild and delicious from stem to flower. Tokyo Bekana, closer to lettuce, is a little sweeter and crunchy. Tatsoi has pale lime green leaves in rosettes. The mixture makes beautiful salads, and I always like to make a simple one as soon as I get home with my Box. Spring radishes are a perfect addition. I dress these salads simply with extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and freshly ground pepper.

But salads are only the beginning of what you can do with those flavorful greens! Here are five other ways to use your greens:

  1. Soba Salads or Entrees. Soba is a buckwheat Japanese noodle available packaged in many grocery stores. Prepare according to directions. Saute minced garlic and fresh ginger root in extra virgin olive oil. Add radishes and even turnips Julienne to the saute if desired. Add the greens and wilt. Turn off the heat. Add a little of salt or soy sauce to taste. Stir into the Soba noodles, or just top them off with a crown of sautéed greens. Serve warm or cold (for a salad).
  2. Patties. Make your favorite veggie patty. I like the Middle Eastern way (falafel), in which the beans are not pre-cooked, just soaked overnight. Try this: 1/2 lb. dried chickpeas rinsed and soaked in a covered container overnight, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/2 Spanish onion in chunks, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. allspice, 1 tsp. hot paprika and 3-6 oz. mixed greens, chopped. Using a food processor, place the garlic in first, then the chunked onion, the chickpeas, the seasonings and rough chopped greens. Place everything except beans in bowl, and pulse about 10 times, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Then run for about 30 seconds. Scrape down, add the beans, and run another 30 seconds or more, scraping sides periodically, or until you have a uniform gravelly mixture that holds together. If you plan to fry, form the mixture into (falafel) balls. If you plan to saute or bake, form into small patties (I use a 3/4 oz. candy scoop). Deep-frying, the balls will take 3-1/2 minutes. If you saute, you might need to experiment a little. The patties should be browned on the outside and soft but not raw inside. Enjoy with pita, Middle Eastern chopped salad and tahini dressing.
  3. Soups. I’m a soup-lover, in the summer too. Ramen soup is very easy. I use three items that I always keep on hand in my home: 1) Costco has a great Millet and Brown Rice Ramen from Lotus Foods, 2) I order Mori-Nu Silken Tofu Organic Firm by the case from Amazon, which can remain unrefrigerated until opened (I just open one 12.3 oz. package from the case at a time), and 3) quality Miso. Make a delicious Miso broth, and when the broth boils, drop loads of roughly chopped Asian (or other) greens. Finally, drop in a square of Ramen for a moment or two until you can pull it apart. For a more substantial dish and a protein boost, add a few squares of Tofu. The chives would work nicely with this soup as a garnish and for added flavor.
  4. Omelets, Frittatas, Quiches, “Shakshouka.” Those of you who get eggs with your Meal Box remember to enhance all your favorite egg dishes with greens and chives! You’re probably familiar with omelets, frittatas and quiches, but Shakshouka might be new to you. Traditional Shakshouka, made with tomatoes and peppers, originated in North Africa. When the rich and aromatic tomato and pepper sauce is hot, the eggs are cracked into it, poached briefly in a covered pan, then served. In this version, saute some garlic in extra virgin olive oil, add the greens, salt, pepper or other seasonings to taste, and when you have a hot, saucy mixture, add the eggs for poaching covered.
  5. Pizza! Make or buy a whole wheat pizza crust — or use 6″ whole wheat pitas. Pre-heat the oven to high heat (unless you’re fortunate enough to have a small pizza oven). Oil the top of the crust. Add briefly braised and wilted greens to the crust, then thinly sliced onions and halved grape or cherry tomatoes, some pine nuts if you have them, seasonings (oregano, salt, crushed red pepper). Bake until the edges of the pizza crust begin to brown a little. Enjoy!

Next week I’ll write about turnips and radishes, spectacular veggies we take for granted. For now, save those turnip greens to use with other greens in your soups and egg dishes, or just to use as a (sautéed and seasoned) bed for roasted turnips.

If you’d like more information about the CSA, please visit Bob’s Fresh and Local (produce) and All Grass Farms (livestock, chickens, milk and cheese).

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Torah Ecology: Beha’alotkha (Num. 8:1-12:16)

From the perspective of structure, this section begins with the purification of the Levites in 8:5, paralleling the story of Miriam’s leprosy and purification beginning in 12:1. Within that envelope are four complaints and outcomes.

THE COMPLAINTS OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL

For a person seeking biblical wisdom on the ideal diet for human beings, this section is a goldmine. The details of the people “lusting” for “flesh” and disdaining the gift of manna is matched by G-d’s proclamation that the people will eat meat not one or two or five or ten or twenty days but “until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you.”

The first complaint is diffuse, the people murmuring and “speaking evil” in the ears of the Lord. The consequence is immediate, a fire that ravages the boundaries of the camp.

The second complaint is very specific, as the “rifraff” or “mixed multitude” recall longingly “the fish, which we were wont to eat in Egypt for nought; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic…” At the same time, they dismiss the manna, lovingly described in some detail…but not by the Congregation of Israel, inspired to join in with whoever constitutes the rifraff. Instead of appreciating the Lord’s saving action, represented in the manna, they weep at the doors of their tents.

In the case of the second complaint, the response is first, in the wind, which brings and drops quail, 6 feet deep and a day’s journey all the way around, an unimaginable amount. The people gather for two entire days and a night, foregoing sleep, and “While the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague.” The second consequence of ingratitude coupled with gluttony is a plague.

The order of events: Fire, a beneficial wind bringing an abundance of riches, followed by plague.  Purification and a second chance. Indulgence, and a plague.

א  וַיְהִי הָעָם כְּמִתְאֹנְנִים, רַע בְּאָזְנֵי יְהוָה; 1 And the people were as murmurers, speaking evil in the ears of the LORD…
ד  וְהָאסַפְסֻף אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבּוֹ, הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה; וַיָּשֻׁבוּ וַיִּבְכּוּ, גַּם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיֹּאמְרוּ, מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָׂר. 4 And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting; and the children of Israel also wept on their part, and said: ‘Would that we were given flesh to eat!
ה  זָכַרְנוּ, אֶת-הַדָּגָה, אֲשֶׁר-נֹאכַל בְּמִצְרַיִם, חִנָּם; אֵת הַקִּשֻּׁאִים, וְאֵת הָאֲבַטִּחִים, וְאֶת-הֶחָצִיר וְאֶת-הַבְּצָלִים, וְאֶת-הַשּׁוּמִים. 5 We remember the fish, which we were wont to eat in Egypt for nought; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic;
ו  וְעַתָּה נַפְשֵׁנוּ יְבֵשָׁה, אֵין כֹּל–בִּלְתִּי, אֶל-הַמָּן עֵינֵינוּ. 6 but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all; we have nought save this manna to look to.’–
ז  וְהַמָּן, כִּזְרַע-גַּד הוּא; וְעֵינוֹ, כְּעֵין הַבְּדֹלַח. 7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and the appearance thereof as the appearance of bdellium.
ח  שָׁטוּ הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ וְטָחֲנוּ בָרֵחַיִם, אוֹ דָכוּ בַּמְּדֹכָה, וּבִשְּׁלוּ בַּפָּרוּר, וְעָשׂוּ אֹתוֹ עֻגוֹת; וְהָיָה טַעְמוֹ, כְּטַעַם לְשַׁד הַשָּׁמֶן. 8 The people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars, and seethed it in pots, and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was as the taste of a cake baked with oil.
ט  וּבְרֶדֶת הַטַּל עַל-הַמַּחֲנֶה, לָיְלָה, יֵרֵד הַמָּן, עָלָיו. 9 And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it.–
י  וַיִּשְׁמַע מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הָעָם, בֹּכֶה לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָיו–אִישׁ, לְפֶתַח אָהֳלוֹ; וַיִּחַר-אַף יְהוָה מְאֹד, וּבְעֵינֵי מֹשֶׁה רָע. 10 And Moses heard the people weeping, family by family, every man at the door of his tent; and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly; and Moses was displeased.

Solutions:

א  … וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה, וַיִּחַר אַפּוֹ, וַתִּבְעַר-בָּם אֵשׁ יְהוָה, וַתֹּאכַל בִּקְצֵה הַמַּחֲנֶה. 1 …and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and devoured in the uttermost part of the camp.
ב  וַיִּצְעַק הָעָם, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל מֹשֶׁה אֶל-יְהוָה, וַתִּשְׁקַע הָאֵשׁ. 2 And the people cried unto Moses; and Moses prayed unto the LORD, and the fire abated.
ג  וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא, תַּבְעֵרָה:  כִּי-בָעֲרָה בָם, אֵשׁ יְהוָה. 3 And the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burnt among them.
יח  וְאֶל-הָעָם תֹּאמַר הִתְקַדְּשׁוּ לְמָחָר, וַאֲכַלְתֶּם בָּשָׂר–כִּי בְּכִיתֶם בְּאָזְנֵי יְהוָה לֵאמֹר מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָׂר, כִּי-טוֹב לָנוּ בְּמִצְרָיִם; וְנָתַן יְהוָה לָכֶם בָּשָׂר, וַאֲכַלְתֶּם. 18 And say thou unto the people: Sanctify yourselves against to-morrow, and ye shall eat flesh; for ye have wept in the ears of the LORD, saying: Would that we were given flesh to eat! for it was well with us in Egypt; therefore the LORD will give you flesh, and ye shall eat.
יט  לֹא יוֹם אֶחָד תֹּאכְלוּן, וְלֹא יוֹמָיִם; וְלֹא חֲמִשָּׁה יָמִים, וְלֹא עֲשָׂרָה יָמִים, וְלֹא, עֶשְׂרִים יוֹם. 19 Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days;
כ  עַד חֹדֶשׁ יָמִים, עַד אֲשֶׁר-יֵצֵא מֵאַפְּכֶם, וְהָיָה לָכֶם, לְזָרָא:  יַעַן, כִּי-מְאַסְתֶּם אֶת-יְהוָה אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבְּכֶם, וַתִּבְכּוּ לְפָנָיו לֵאמֹר, לָמָּה זֶּה יָצָאנוּ מִמִּצְרָיִם. 20 but a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you; because that ye have rejected the LORD who is among you, and have troubled Him with weeping, saying: Why, now, came we forth out of Egypt?’
לא  וְרוּחַ נָסַע מֵאֵת יְהוָה, וַיָּגָז שַׂלְוִים מִן-הַיָּם, וַיִּטֹּשׁ עַל-הַמַּחֲנֶה כְּדֶרֶךְ יוֹם כֹּה וּכְדֶרֶךְ יוֹם כֹּה, סְבִיבוֹת הַמַּחֲנֶה–וּכְאַמָּתַיִם, עַל-פְּנֵי הָאָרֶץ. 31 And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought across quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, about a day’s journey on this side, and a day’s journey on the other side, round about the camp, and about two cubits above the face of the earth.
לב  וַיָּקָם הָעָם כָּל-הַיּוֹם הַהוּא וְכָל-הַלַּיְלָה וְכֹל יוֹם הַמָּחֳרָת, וַיַּאַסְפוּ אֶת-הַשְּׂלָו–הַמַּמְעִיט, אָסַף עֲשָׂרָה חֳמָרִים; וַיִּשְׁטְחוּ לָהֶם שָׁטוֹחַ, סְבִיבוֹת הַמַּחֲנֶה. 32 And the people rose up all that day, and all the night, and all the next day, and gathered the quails; he that gathered least gathered ten heaps; and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp.
לג  הַבָּשָׂר, עוֹדֶנּוּ בֵּין שִׁנֵּיהֶם–טֶרֶם, יִכָּרֵת; וְאַף יְהוָה, חָרָה בָעָם, וַיַּךְ יְהוָה בָּעָם, מַכָּה רַבָּה מְאֹד. 33 While the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the anger of the LORD was kindled against the people, and the LORD smote the people with a very great plague.
לד  וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא, קִבְרוֹת הַתַּאֲוָה:  כִּי-שָׁם, קָבְרוּ, אֶת-הָעָם, הַמִּתְאַוִּים. 34 And the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people that lusted.

COMPLAINT OF MOSES

Moses complains that G-d has placed an impossible burden on his, Moses’, shoulders in making him the leader of this people. He neither conceived nor gave birth to them, and it shouldn’t be his job to keep them fed according to their infantile desires. He complains that his load is too heavy. If this is going to continue to be the plan, G-d should just kill him.

G-d’s solution to Moses’ complaint is administrative, much along the lines of Yitro/Hobab at an early place in the text. G-d tells Moses to bring seventy elders of the people, and G-d will “take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee…” Fair enough, but “it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did so no more.” Does this mean they in fact were not providing the necessary assistance to Moses?

The story continues to tell us, “there remained two men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad; and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were recorded, but had not gone out unto the Tent; and they prophesied in the camp.” When someone comes to report that two not among the 70 are assuming the mantle of “prophecy” and Joshua advises to  “shut them in,” protecting Moses, his mentor, Moses replies, “Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His spirit upon them!” With these words, he at once affirms his own modesty, a characteristic that gets more attention in the next segment, and the true nature of the people’s mission, to be a holy people.

יא  וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-יְהוָה, לָמָה הֲרֵעֹתָ לְעַבְדֶּךָ, וְלָמָּה לֹא-מָצָתִי חֵן, בְּעֵינֶיךָ:  לָשׂוּם, אֶת-מַשָּׂא כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה–עָלָי. 11 And Moses said unto the LORD: ‘Wherefore hast Thou dealt ill with Thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in Thy sight, that Thou layest the burden of all this people upon me?
יב  הֶאָנֹכִי הָרִיתִי, אֵת כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה–אִם-אָנֹכִי, יְלִדְתִּיהוּ:  כִּי-תֹאמַר אֵלַי שָׂאֵהוּ בְחֵיקֶךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר יִשָּׂא הָאֹמֵן אֶת-הַיֹּנֵק, עַל הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לַאֲבֹתָיו. 12 Have I conceived all this people? have I brought them forth, that Thou shouldest say unto me: Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing-father carrieth the sucking child, unto the land which Thou didst swear unto their fathers?
יג  מֵאַיִן לִי בָּשָׂר, לָתֵת לְכָל-הָעָם הַזֶּה:  כִּי-יִבְכּוּ עָלַי לֵאמֹר, תְּנָה-לָּנוּ בָשָׂר וְנֹאכֵלָה. 13 Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they trouble me with their weeping, saying: Give us flesh, that we may eat.
יד  לֹא-אוּכַל אָנֹכִי לְבַדִּי, לָשֵׂאת אֶת-כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה:  כִּי כָבֵד, מִמֶּנִּי. 14 I am not able to bear all this people myself alone, because it is too heavy for me.
טו  וְאִם-כָּכָה אַתְּ-עֹשֶׂה לִּי, הָרְגֵנִי נָא הָרֹג–אִם-מָצָאתִי חֵן, בְּעֵינֶיךָ; וְאַל-אֶרְאֶה, בְּרָעָתִי.  {פ} 15 And if Thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray Thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in Thy sight; and let me not look upon my wretchedness.’ {P}

Solution:

טז  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, אֶסְפָה-לִּי שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ מִזִּקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲשֶׁר יָדַעְתָּ, כִּי-הֵם זִקְנֵי הָעָם וְשֹׁטְרָיו; וְלָקַחְתָּ אֹתָם אֶל-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, וְהִתְיַצְּבוּ שָׁם עִמָּךְ. 16 And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Gather unto Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with thee.
יז  וְיָרַדְתִּי, וְדִבַּרְתִּי עִמְּךָ שָׁם, וְאָצַלְתִּי מִן-הָרוּחַ אֲשֶׁר עָלֶיךָ, וְשַׂמְתִּי עֲלֵיהֶם; וְנָשְׂאוּ אִתְּךָ בְּמַשָּׂא הָעָם, וְלֹא-תִשָּׂא אַתָּה לְבַדֶּךָ. 17 And I will come down and speak with thee there; and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone.
כד  וַיֵּצֵא מֹשֶׁה–וַיְדַבֵּר אֶל-הָעָם, אֵת דִּבְרֵי יְהוָה; וַיֶּאֱסֹף שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ, מִזִּקְנֵי הָעָם, וַיַּעֲמֵד אֹתָם, סְבִיבֹת הָאֹהֶל. 24 And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the LORD; and he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the Tent.
כה  וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָה בֶּעָנָן, וַיְדַבֵּר אֵלָיו, וַיָּאצֶל מִן-הָרוּחַ אֲשֶׁר עָלָיו, וַיִּתֵּן עַל-שִׁבְעִים אִישׁ הַזְּקֵנִים; וַיְהִי, כְּנוֹחַ עֲלֵיהֶם הָרוּחַ, וַיִּתְנַבְּאוּ, וְלֹא יָסָפוּ. 25 And the LORD came down in the cloud, and spoke unto him, and took of the spirit that was upon him, and put it upon the seventy elders; and it came to pass, that, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did so no more.
כו  וַיִּשָּׁאֲרוּ שְׁנֵי-אֲנָשִׁים בַּמַּחֲנֶה שֵׁם הָאֶחָד אֶלְדָּד וְשֵׁם הַשֵּׁנִי מֵידָד וַתָּנַח עֲלֵהֶם הָרוּחַ, וְהֵמָּה בַּכְּתֻבִים, וְלֹא יָצְאוּ, הָאֹהֱלָה; וַיִּתְנַבְּאוּ, בַּמַּחֲנֶה. 26 But there remained two men in the camp, the name of the one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad; and the spirit rested upon them; and they were of them that were recorded, but had not gone out unto the Tent; and they prophesied in the camp.
כז  וַיָּרָץ הַנַּעַר, וַיַּגֵּד לְמֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמַר:  אֶלְדָּד וּמֵידָד, מִתְנַבְּאִים בַּמַּחֲנֶה. 27 And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said: ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’
כח  וַיַּעַן יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן-נוּן, מְשָׁרֵת מֹשֶׁה מִבְּחֻרָיו–וַיֹּאמַר:  אֲדֹנִי מֹשֶׁה, כְּלָאֵם. 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the minister of Moses from his youth up, answered and said: ‘My lord Moses, shut them in.’
כט  וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ מֹשֶׁה, הַמְקַנֵּא אַתָּה לִי; וּמִי יִתֵּן כָּל-עַם יְהוָה, נְבִיאִים–כִּי-יִתֵּן יְהוָה אֶת-רוּחוֹ, עֲלֵיהֶם. 29 And Moses said unto him: ‘Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His spirit upon them!’
ל  וַיֵּאָסֵף מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-הַמַּחֲנֶה–הוּא, וְזִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל. 30 And Moses withdrew into the camp, he and the elders of Israel.

THE COMPLAINT OF MIRIAM AND AARON

Miriam’s and Aaron’s complaint appears to be that Moses has taken all the power to himself, that is, they are jealous: “Hath the LORD indeed spoken only with Moses? hath He not spoken also with us?” Yet their specific issue is with the Cushite (black) woman that Moses married. Her racial origin is mentioned twice in verse 1. The specifics seem to be manufactured, a pretext to disguise their real issue, jealousy.

Their claim is refuted in Moses’ own words before Miriam and Aaron even complain when Moses shows his willingness, even his desire, to share power with people who have a sense of their mission. The claim is refuted by the text itself in the next verse, which affirms, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth.” We are then left with the original, spurious complaint, a mere pretext.

The “solution” is described in an interesting way: “And the LORD spoke suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam…” It almost seems as if G-d leaps to Moses’ defense, Moses, whom we were just told, is very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth. G-d points out the ways in which Moses is superior to any other prophet, including Moses and Aaron, who cannot claim that G-d speaks directly to them, mouth to mouth. Moses “is trusted in all My house.”

Strangely, although Miriam and Aaron conspired together against Moses, and the Lord’s anger is kindled against them, only Miriam is punished: “And when the cloud was removed from over the Tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow; and Aaron looked upon Miriam; and, behold, she was leprous.”

When Aaron pleads with Moses on Miriam’s behalf, then Moses with G-d, G-d responds with these words, “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not hide in shame seven days? let her be shut up without the camp seven days, and after that she shall be brought in again.”

I don’t have an answer to the question, why the focus on Miriam when both she and Aaron are at fault? Has Aaron already been demoted enough for the episode with the Golden Calf? Is there a subtle reference to the Garden of Eden story? A question for another time.

א  וַתְּדַבֵּר מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמֹשֶׁה, עַל-אֹדוֹת הָאִשָּׁה הַכֻּשִׁית אֲשֶׁר לָקָח:  כִּי-אִשָּׁה כֻשִׁית, לָקָח. 1 And Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman.
ב  וַיֹּאמְרוּ, הֲרַק אַךְ-בְּמֹשֶׁה דִּבֶּר יְהוָה–הֲלֹא, גַּם-בָּנוּ דִבֵּר; וַיִּשְׁמַע, יְהוָה. 2 And they said: ‘Hath the LORD indeed spoken only with Moses? hath He not spoken also with us?’ And the LORD heard it.–
ג  וְהָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה, עָנָו מְאֹד–מִכֹּל, הָאָדָם, אֲשֶׁר, עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה.  {ס} 3 Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men that were upon the face of the earth.– {S}

The Solution:

ד  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה פִּתְאֹם, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה וְאֶל-אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל-מִרְיָם, צְאוּ שְׁלָשְׁתְּכֶם, אֶל-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד; וַיֵּצְאוּ, שְׁלָשְׁתָּם. 4 And the LORD spoke suddenly unto Moses, and unto Aaron, and unto Miriam: ‘Come out ye three unto the tent of meeting.’ And they three came out.
ה  וַיֵּרֶד יְהוָה בְּעַמּוּד עָנָן, וַיַּעֲמֹד פֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל; וַיִּקְרָא אַהֲרֹן וּמִרְיָם, וַיֵּצְאוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם. 5 And the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud, and stood at the door of the Tent, and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forth.
ו  וַיֹּאמֶר, שִׁמְעוּ-נָא דְבָרָי; אִם-יִהְיֶה, נְבִיאֲכֶם–יְהוָה בַּמַּרְאָה אֵלָיו אֶתְוַדָּע, בַּחֲלוֹם אֲדַבֶּר-בּוֹ. 6 And He said: ‘Hear now My words: if there be a prophet among you, I the LORD do make Myself known unto him in a vision, I do speak with him in a dream.
ז  לֹא-כֵן, עַבְדִּי מֹשֶׁה:  בְּכָל-בֵּיתִי, נֶאֱמָן הוּא. 7 My servant Moses is not so; he is trusted in all My house;
ח  פֶּה אֶל-פֶּה אֲדַבֶּר-בּוֹ, וּמַרְאֶה וְלֹא בְחִידֹת, וּתְמֻנַת יְהוָה, יַבִּיט; וּמַדּוּעַ לֹא יְרֵאתֶם, לְדַבֵּר בְּעַבְדִּי בְמֹשֶׁה. 8 with him do I speak mouth to mouth, even manifestly, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD doth he behold; wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?’
ט  וַיִּחַר-אַף יְהוָה בָּם, וַיֵּלַךְ. 9 And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them; and He departed.
י  וְהֶעָנָן, סָר מֵעַל הָאֹהֶל, וְהִנֵּה מִרְיָם, מְצֹרַעַת כַּשָּׁלֶג; וַיִּפֶן אַהֲרֹן אֶל-מִרְיָם, וְהִנֵּה מְצֹרָעַת. 10 And when the cloud was removed from over the Tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, as white as snow; and Aaron looked upon Miriam; and, behold, she was leprous.
יא  וַיֹּאמֶר אַהֲרֹן, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה:  בִּי אֲדֹנִי–אַל-נָא תָשֵׁת עָלֵינוּ חַטָּאת, אֲשֶׁר נוֹאַלְנוּ וַאֲשֶׁר חָטָאנוּ. 11 And Aaron said unto Moses: ‘Oh my lord, lay not, I pray thee, sin upon us, for that we have done foolishly, and for that we have sinned.
יב  אַל-נָא תְהִי, כַּמֵּת, אֲשֶׁר בְּצֵאתוֹ מֵרֶחֶם אִמּוֹ, וַיֵּאָכֵל חֲצִי בְשָׂרוֹ. 12 Let her not, I pray, be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb.’
יג  וַיִּצְעַק מֹשֶׁה, אֶל-יְהוָה לֵאמֹר:  אֵל, נָא רְפָא נָא לָהּ.  {פ} 13 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying: ‘Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee.’ {P}
יד  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, וְאָבִיהָ יָרֹק יָרַק בְּפָנֶיהָ–הֲלֹא תִכָּלֵם, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; תִּסָּגֵר שִׁבְעַת יָמִים, מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה, וְאַחַר, תֵּאָסֵף. 14 And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘If her father had but spit in her face, should she not hide in shame seven days? let her be shut up without the camp seven days, and after that she shall be brought in again.’
טו  וַתִּסָּגֵר מִרְיָם מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה, שִׁבְעַת יָמִים; וְהָעָם לֹא נָסַע, עַד-הֵאָסֵף מִרְיָם. 15 And Miriam was shut up without the camp seven days; and the people journeyed not till Miriam was brought in again.

CONCLUSION

So what does it all mean? We have four complaints and four consequences:

  1. Murmuring – fire (Children of Israel).
  2. Lack of appreciation, gluttony – plague (Children of Israel inspired by “rifraff” or mixed multitude).
  3. Too much responsibility – distribution of load (Moses).
  4. Jealousy and conspiracy – death-like disease, leprosy (Miriam & Aaron).

In all four cases, there is no doubt the complaints were made (from a legal perspective). In the first instance, the people speak evil “in the ears of the Lord.” In the second instance, they are equally voluble, although no specific recipient of their complaints is named. Moses hears each weeping in front of his/her tent, though. In the third instance, Moses speaks directly to G-d. Finally, in the fourth instance, “the Lord heard it.”

G-d administers consequences, showing different relationships first, with the Children of Israel, then with Moses, finally with Miriam and Aaron.

  • The Children of Israel, far from purpose-driven, are impulse-driven gluttons, forgetting G-d’s great saving action on their behalf. G-d purifies them with fire, but their self-absorption continues, and they are struck with plague.
  • Moses’ complaint is just and reasonable and related to accomplishing the mission of his people. G-d responds accordingly, distributing Moses’ burden of responsibility among the congregation. Moses, far from reluctant to relinquish power and responsibility, wishes to share it even more widely.
  • Miriam and Aaron generate community discord with a red flag, hoping to disguise their real issue, self-absorbed jealousy, and Miriam pays the price with her impurity and humiliation.

The purity allusions with regard to the Children of Israel and Miriam and Aaron form another envelope around the Yitro allusion related to Moses.  The first, second and fourth issues are between Israelites and G-d, then the priests and G-d, a vertical alignment. The third issue is a lateral alignment, with Moses, cognizant of his followers’ complaints, struggling under the burden of moving a whole community forward.

The sense of physical movement is part of the imagery of the segment as well, with Pesach Sheni for travelers or those who inadvertently come into contact with death on the Eve of Passover with no time to purify. The Israelites set forward on their first great march from Sinai on the 20th day of the 2nd month of the 2nd year, accompanied with trumpets and tribal flags.

Other than a somewhat tongue-in-cheek observation, I don’t have a clear sense of the overall structure and purpose of Numbers in the framework of the Torah narrative. That observation is that while Exodus read like a love story between G-d and the people of Israel, Numbers reads like a somewhat dysfunctional marriage including a constant flow of exhausting criticism.

These posts at this point are things that I notice as I read and will come back to when I finish the entire text.

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Torah Ecology: Naso (Num. 4:21-7:89)

Naso wraps up the numbering sequence that introduced us to the Book of Numbers and concludes with genealogies and the numbers of gifts and animals for sacrifice brought by the princes of Israel for the dedication of the desert Tabernacle.

The numbering and valuing is interrupted with detailed and lengthy narratives of the Sota, a woman who is unfaithful or whose husband thinks she is unfaithful, and the Nazir, one who takes a vow of consecration to the Lord. I begin from the premise that this apparent interruption to the narrative was deliberately positioned in this exact spot for a reason. Furthermore, the Sota and the Nazir were specifically chosen and placed in proximity to each other for a reason.

I’ll start with the second, easier, issue first, the relationship between these two segments, the Sota and the Nazir. Here’s what I notice:

  • Consecration. The Sota potentially de-consecrated herself if she broke her marriage vows in secret (or if her husband imagines that she did so). The consecrated Nazir “fulfills” or ends his period of consecration through a prescribed set of rituals.
  • The first action, unfaithfulness, if it happened, was impulsive and secretive. The second, consecration as a Nazir and fulfillment of the vow, was conscious, purposeful and public.
  • The consequences of suspected impulsive action and the consequences of conscious, purposeful action both involve hair. In the first instance, the hair is “loosed.” In the second, it first is allowed to grow, then is shaved and burned.
  • The Sota who proves innocent is ready to conceive. The Nazir who has not fulfilled his days cannot expose himself to contact with a dead body.
  • The Sota offers only a meal offering without frankincense and without oil. The Nazir offers a yearling lamb, a yearly ewe-lamb, a ram and cakes of fine flour mingled with oil and drink offerings.

It seems to me that these segments are inversely parallel, one person shamed after acting impulsively to break a vow, the other honored after purposefully fulfilling a vow. It is, perhaps, reflective of the two sides of covenant, also represented at Mts. Ebal and Gerizim (Deut. 28), similarly inversely parallel.

AFAR/DUST

עָפָר (afar), according to Strong’s, is “dry earth, dust.” In the creation story, it is material for the human body — and as food for the serpent, a punishment. In the Tabernacle, it is the mixture of dirt on the floor around the altar mixed with the blood of sacrifice. In Leviticus, it is dried mud or mortar for bricks. In I Kings it is loose earth on the surface of the ground or the debris of a ruined city. In Deuteronomy, it’s a sandstorm. In Habbakuk, the material for siege works. It is earth particles sometimes associated with abundance, more often with commonness, worthlessness or humiliation. It is ashes, earth, ground, powder or rubbish. Sometimes afar is “clay,” but most often it is loose, granular.

Why is this word of interest here? Because afar is what is used in the drink for the Sota to determine her guilt or innocence. For the “bitter water,” the priest takes afar from the floor of the Tabernacle and mixes it with water. The woman’s belly will swell up and her “thigh waste away” if she is guilty. If she does not experience these symptoms, she is declared innocent.

The associations are primarily negative: punishment, humiliation, worthlessness, rubbish. On the other hand, G-d fashions Adam from afar, this loose earth, breathing into Adam G-d’s own breath, the breath of life. Afar has a dual valence, corresponding to the dual possibility for the Sota: guilt or…innocence. A humiliated woman or the crown of G-d’s creation.

WHY THIS INSERT

Returning to the first question, why these inserts, the Sota and the Nazir, between the numbers and valuations? And why are these inversely parallel passages followed by the beautiful “priestly blessing?” And I’m not yet sure of the answer to that question. Perhaps as my study of Numbers continues, the overall structure and meaning will reveal itself.