Malcontents

Some people are never happy unless they have something to be unhappy about.

Image of young rebellious man with megaphone stirring up the crowd. (Concept image: © Bigstock)

Beha'alotcha

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Beha'alotcha (בהעלותך | When you set up)
  • Torah: Numbers 8:1-12:15
  • Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14-4:7
  • Gospel: Matthew 14:14-21

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Numbers 8:1 | The Seven Lamps
    • Numbers 8:5 | Consecration and Service of the Levites
    • Numbers 9:1 | The Passover at Sinai
    • Numbers 9:15 | The Cloud and the Fire
    • Numbers 10:1 | The Silver Trumpets
    • Numbers 10:11 | Departure from Sinai
    • Numbers 11:1 | Complaining in the Desert
    • Numbers 11:16 | The Seventy Elders
    • Numbers 11:31 | The Quails
    • Numbers 12:1 | Aaron and Miriam Jealous of Moses
  • Prophets
    • Zec 2:6 Interlude: | An Appeal to the Exiles
    • Zec 3:1 Fourth Vision: | Joshua and Satan
    • Zec 4:1 Fifth Vision: | The Lampstand and Olive Trees

Portion Summary

The third reading from the book of Numbers and the thirty-sixth reading from the Torah is called Beha'alotcha (בהעלותך), a word that literally means "When you ascend." It comes from the first verse of the portion, which could literally be translated as "When you ascend the lamps" (Numbers 8:2), a reference to the fact that the priest had to step up to clean and light the lamps of the menorah. This portion is jam-packed, telling the story of the consecration of the Levites, the first Passover in the wilderness, the silver trumpets, the cloud of glory, the departure from Sinai, the grumbling in the wilderness, the first Sanhedrin and the punishment of Miriam.


The generation in the wilderness were not worse complainers than any other collection of human beings. Every association of human beings seems to be vexed by the ceaseless grumbling of the members.

The Torah says, "Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD." (Numbers 11:1) God is slow to anger-usually. Complaining can incite His swift wrath. The book of Numbers contains several stories of Israel's discontent in the wilderness. In each story, the Israelites complain about something and God punishes them for complaining.

Human beings are prone to complain. It often seems that people are not happy unless they find something to be unhappy about. Nothing seems to please us more than complaining about what we don't like and what things do not meet our approval. We are malcontents.

A person of faith is duty bound to rise above the natural human instinct to complain and criticize.

Every day of our lives is full of both good things and bad things. Every human being has positive characteristics and negative characteristics. If we concentrate on the bad things that each day contains and the negative characteristics that each person possesses, we will spend our entire lives in an ugly world where everything goes wrong all the time and everyone we know is grossly deficient. With our critical spirits and tongues we can actually ruin our own lives.

Paul encourages us to "do all things without grumbling or disputing" (Philippians 2:14). Complaining is a form of evil speech (lashon hara). It has evil results in our lives and in the lives of others. Nobody wants to be around a chronic complainer.

A critical person complains against God. The Didache warns that grumbling and complaining is a symptom of a haughty spirit and that it can lead to blasphemy:

My child, do not be a murmurer, because it leads to blasphemy; neither be self-willed nor evil-minded, for out of all these blasphemies are engendered. But be meek, since the meek shall inherit the earth. Be long-suffering and merciful and genuine and gentle and good and always trembling at the words which you have heard. (Didache 3:6-8)

Grumbling about things is a telltale sign of weak faith. A person of strong faith has confidence that God is in charge and is working all things out for the good. He is not given to complaining because he believes that everything is ultimately in God's hands.

The antidote for a poisoned, malcontented spirit is gratitude. When we force ourselves to focus on the good and the positive, and to thank God for all the blessings He daily bestows, the way we experience life is transformed. But we should not thank God only for the good things. We should thank Him for everything, as Paul says, "In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in the Messiah Yeshua" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Judaism teaches that there is even a blessing for when one hears bad news: "Blessed is the true judge."

Paul urges us to not to "grumble, as some of them did [in the wilderness], and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction" (1 Corinthians 10:10-11).

Adapted From: Torah Club Commentary Set: Unrolling the Scroll. Learn more about Torah Club and how you can start a Club of your own, or join a Torah Club in your area. Visit TORAHCLUB.ORG

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