Behaalotekha: Language and Translation

Bamidbar/Numbers 12:6 is often translated as something like “when a prophet of the Lord arises among you…” However, both Robert Alter and Everett Fox note in their translations — see Source Materials — that the Hebrew here is difficult.

Fox renders the “awkward” Hebrew as: “If there should be among-you-a-prophet of YHVH….”

Alter says the “cryptic” Hebrew literally reads: “If-there-be your-prophet the-Lord.” He notes that the call to “hear” [shimu-na] is “one of the conventions for beginning a biblical poem,” and translates this passage as follows:

Listen, pray, to My words.
If your prophet be the LORD’s
in a vision to him would I be known,
in a dream would I speak through him.

Not so My servant Moses,
in all my house is he trusted.

Mouth to mouth do I speak with him,
and vision, and not in riddles,
and the likeness of the LORD he beholds.

And why did you not fear
to speak against My servant Moses?


The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

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