This week’s Torah portion covers Numbers 8:1 to 12:16. It begins with divine instructions on how to care for the Tabernacle’s golden seven-branched lampstand, maintaining its everlasting light. It continues with guidelines for consecrating the Levites. At this point in Numbers, it has been exactly a year since the former slaves left Egypt so they are reminded how they should celebrate the first Passover, including the bringing of the offerings to the Tabernacle.
Despite the tangible proof of God’s protection via cloud and fire, the people begin grumbling and protesting in a manner much heavier than in previous episodes. It started off that the “rabble” among them nitpicked their diet. Rabble stands for non-Israelites. Remember the encampment held a mixed multitude. But misery enjoys company. And the Israelites forgot the promises to their ancestors and began whining as well.
Moses has a very pronounced breakdown in response to the demand for meat, much more so than he did with the episode of the golden calf or the prior complaints about food. Before this, he has lead the people through serial breaches in their faith and not grown so depressed and forlorn. He cries out to God and tells him that the burden is to0 heavy for him alone. He asks God to go ahead and let him die, rather than him continue on this way. So why now? Why here?