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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

36. Holy Men and "Hidden Knowledge"

Parshah Beha'aloscha

TL;DR of the Text

Major Themes

  • Why do all supposedly holy men claim they’re better than the rest of us? 

  • The ingredients for a persuasive religious system

*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash: the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

Numbers 8:6-14*

“Take the Levites from among the Children of Israel and purify them… gather together the entire assembly of the Children of Israel. You shall bring the Levites before Hashem, and the Children of Israel shall lean their hands upon the Levites… So shall you separate the Levites from among the Children of Israel, and the Levites shall remain Mine.”

Just in case the Levites’ status wasn’t already clear, they made a ritual where every single person had to physically exalt them above themselves. The Levites were assuming a position of esoteric authority - they set off my “We’re better than you in ways we can’t explain” radar.

Lately, I’ve been studying the Baha’i faith. Its premise shocked me: the religion points out that all of the world’s religious prophecies foretell the same event: an End-of-the-World arrival of two people who are supposed to shepherd the world into its next cycle. 

Off to an anthropologically correct start, right? Somehow, each of our religions contains the same basic elements and prophecies, so it’s encouraging when a belief system recognizes it from the outset. 

Except Baha’is took this reasonable starting point and said: yep, our religion’s guys are the Real Two Guys, the manifestations of God and everything Good, the Ones who made perfect knowledge, the ones who reveal hidden secrets… just like every other religion before it.

Aren’t we tired of this hamster wheel? We should make a rule: anyone who claims to be God or a manifestation of God is definitely not a manifestation of God. Conveniently enough, we have a word for what they are: an altruistic narcissist, someone who derives their self-worth from people thinking they’re moral and selfless. 

Anyone who says, “I’m better than the rest of you” should automatically be disqualified from any position of authority, which disqualifies every founder of every religion ever made. This world drags us down so much. We’re told every day, in myriad tiny ways, how we’re not good enough. 

Where are the people telling us, “Hey, actually, you’re great! We don’t need God to tell us how to live life because focusing on our humanity will give us the knowledge we need! 

On a similar note, anyone who claims to reveal “hidden knowledge” can just go away. If a point can’t be explained or argued in simple, everyday language, it’s not worth engaging with until it can be. If the justification behind a belief or rule can’t be understood with regular common sense, it’s not justifiable. 

We don’t need any more wise men. We just need normal people who see things plainly and have an open mind. 

Numbers 8:19*

“I assigned the Levites to be presented to Aaron and his sons… to provide atonement for the Children of Israel, so that there will not be a plague among the Children of Israel when the Children of Israel approach the Sanctuary.” 

Exalt these people above you, or else. 

Numbers 8: 24-26*

“This shall apply to the Levites: From twenty-five years of age and up, he shall join the legion of the service of the Tent of Meeting. From fifty years of age, he shall withdraw from the legion of work and no longer work. He shall minister with his brethren in the Tent of Meeting…”

These guys worked for twenty-five years, then got to chill in a tent, eat free food, and get free money. 

Numbers 10:35-36*

“When the Ark would journey, Moses said, ‘Arise, Hashem, and let Your foes be scattered, let those who hate You flee from before You.’ And when it rested, he would say, ‘Reside tranquilly, O, Hashem, among the myriad thousands of Israel.’”

The “Us vs. them” mentality was already baked in. The language was so violent - let those who hate You flee before You? Whereas with Israel, and only Israel, God dwelt tranquilly? 

Numbers 11:1-2*

“The people took to seeking complaints; it was evil in the ears of Hashem, and Hashem heard and His wrath flared, and a fire of Hashem burned against them, and it consumed at the edge of the camp. The people cried out to Moses; Moses prayed to Hashem, and the fire died down.” 

Moses set a fire on his own people so that he could miraculously put it out. 

The Torah serves as a record of the construction of a religion. As I dissect it, I’ve asked myself: what are the ingredients of this belief system that, when mixed together, created a system persuasive enough to gain followers? 

I came up with the following: 

  • Unexplained natural phenomena (burning bush, pillar of fire over the Tent of Meeting, splitting of the sea)

  • Provisions of food in harsh environments (feeding the Israelites with manna)

  • Assassinations and mass murders (e.g., when Aaron’s sons offered “alien fire” and “God” struck them down)

  • Moses’ personal charisma

Fear, charisma, unexplained acts of nature, prophecy, and sustenance (which is also an act of nature). 

Numbers 11:11*

“Moses said to Hashem, ‘Why have You done evil to Your servant; why have I not found favor in Your eyes, that You place the burden of this entire people upon me?’” 

Moses was mad because the Israelites, after following him into the unending desert, dared to request something other than manna for food every day. Nowadays, we have a word for Moses’ rhetorical ploy: it’s called “gaslighting.” 

Numbers 11:25*

“Hashem descended in a cloud and spoke to [Moses], and He increased some of the spirit that was upon him and gave it to the seventy men, the elders; when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but did not do so again.” 

Here’s the charisma thing again; people were swept up in religious fervor, just like the Pentecostal churches where they speak in tongues.  

Numbers 11:26-29*

“Two men remained behind in the camp… they prophesied in the camp. The youth ran and told Moses, and he said, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’

Joshua son of Nun, the servant of Moses since his youth, spoke up and said, ‘My lord Moses, incarcerate them!’

Moses said to him, ‘Are you being zealous for my sake? Would that the entire people of Hashem could be prophets, if Hashem would but place His spirit upon them!’”

Perhaps this seems magnanimous of Moses, but there’s a chance he might have arranged for this Joshua son of Nun guy to be the bad cop to Moses’ good cop. Joshua is a sycophant, so he could take the part of the angry zealot, allowing Moses to appear generous. 

Numbers 11:30-34*

“Moses was brought into the camp, he and the elders of Israel. A wind went forth from Hashem and blew quail from the sea and spread them over the camp… The people rose up all that day…and gathered up the quail… 

The meat was still between their teeth, not yet chewed, when the wrath of Hashem flared against the people, and Hashem struck a very mighty blow against the people.” 

Oh my. A huge massacre just because people wanted a little meat in their diets! Jeez. Moses really enjoyed his mass murders. 

Numbers 12:2-7*

“[Miriam and Aaron] said, ‘Was it only to Moses that Hashem spoke? Did He not speak to us, as well?’ And Hashem heard. Now the man Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth!...

The three of them went out. Hashem descended in a pillar of cloud… He said, ‘Hear now My words. If there shall be prophets among you, in a vision shall I, Hashem, make Myself known to him; in a dream shall I speak with him. Not so is My servant Moses; in My entire house he is the trusted one.” 

You know what makes people believe you’re humble? When you have to tell them you’re humble - and not just humble, the MOST humble. It’s universally accepted that the Torah was written by Moses, so Moses was the one writing about how humble Moses was. 

I keep imagining Moses asking Joshua son of Nun to stand next to some ancient version of a smoke machine and project “God’s voice”, like the Wizard of Oz, so “God” can scold Aaron and Miriam about Moses’ awesome skills. 

Numbers 12:10-14*

“The cloud had departed from atop the Tent, and behold! Miriam was afflicted with tzaraas, like snow!...

Moses cried out to Hashem, saying, ‘Please, God, heal her now.’

Hashem said to Moses, ‘Were her father to spit in her face, would she not be humiliated for seven days?’”

Miriam insults Moses. She somehow acquires a skin disease from a snowy substance (maybe she was sprinkled with some kind of poisonous plant, for example?), which now forces her to endure a humiliating week of ostracization. 

All for lightly criticizing Moses. But hey, he was the most humble person who ever lived, right?

I also love the pettiness of God’s response. Since Moses was the only one to whom God spoke directly, God’s words were Moses’ words. 

It’d be like if I asked a coworker to talk to my boss on my behalf. 

The coworker goes, “Oh, yeah, I’ll help you out, no problem!” 

They come back later and say, “Yeah, I tried, but the boss said no. And also that you suck at your job, and I’m better than you.” 

“The boss said that, or you did?” 

*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.



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