G-d gives Moses instructions for Aaron about lighting and positioning the seven detachable lamps of the golden menorah, constructed from a single piece of hammered gold. Next, He explains how the Levitical workforce must be purified. These men, "'(f)rom twenty-five years of age up...(until) the age of fifty...'" are essentially the Kohanim's personal assistants in the Mishkan (and later in the Temple). They are also the sacred schleppers, dismantling and packing up the Holy tent and ritual objects when it's time for the Israelites to move on. B'haalot'kha also describes the second Passover sacrifice (in case someone missed the first one due to impurity); it is to take place "in the wilderness of Sinai, on the first new moon of the second year following the exodus from the land of Egypt...on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight." It, too, will be observed for posterity. Reading almost like a novel, the parsha lets us imagine what it feels like to know that G-d is literally beside you, guiding your every footstep: "And whenever the cloud (of
G-d's presence) lifted from the Tent, the Israelites would set out accordingly; and at the spot where the cloud settled, there the Israelites would make camp." And yet! Even though they have physical evidence that they are on the right path, the Israelites start kvetching. Egged on by "the riffraff" (the non-Israelites who accompanied the people out of Egypt), they whine about the absence of "...the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic." This is despite the fact that G-d provides them daily with generous amounts of manna, represented above, that is "...like coriander seed, and in color was like bdellium (pale yellow or white)...It tasted like rich cream."
"'Where am I to get meat to give to all this people?'" an overwhelmed Moses asks The Boss.
"...'(L)et me see no more of my wretchedness!'" The people's punishment? G-d provides the complainers with so much quail meat that the greedy Israelites literally eat themselves sick: "...The anger of the Lord blazed forth against the people and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague." At the parsha's end, Aaron and Miriam "(speak) out against Moses (saying)... 'He married a Cushite woman!'" Worse, in a conversation that could easily take place in many a Jewish family (including my own!), they wonder aloud why Moses gets to be the favorite child. "'Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?'" Miriam--but not Aaron, who commits the same act--is stricken with leprosy. Moses, "a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth, prays for his big sister to be healed. After seven days outside the encampment, Miriam is allowed back in; "the people did not march on until Miriam was readmitted". The message here is that lashon hara (gossip) is such a serious sin that even a prophetess (though not, presumably, a prophet) will be punished.