Beha'aloscha is the first parsha on the list of parshios that give an account of the "transgressions" committed by Bnei Yisrael in the desert. We read how Bnei Yisrael left Har Sinai like a child running away from school, and how they complained about the mann. The parsha ends with Miriam speaking derogatorily about Moshe Rabbeinu. Parshas Shelach recounts the sin of the meraglim and parshas Korach tells about the fiasco of Korach and his cohorts. Parshas Chukas contains an account of Moshe hitting the rock and parshas Balak concludes with Bnei Yisrael straying after the idols and daughters of Midyan. A superficial reading and understanding of these parshios could lead one to think that this remarkable generation wasn't so lofty after all.
Rav Wolbe writes (Daas Shlomo) that one who wishes to get a true picture of just how great these people were, must bear in mind three points. Firstly, the Kuzari (3:54-63) presents a most important principle. He asserts that the Torah only recounts well known events. The Torah does not tell of the great Torah knowledge of Yehoshua, Shmuel, Shimshon, and Gidoen. Rather it recounts the miracles of the splitting of the Yarden, the sun standing still, and the great strength of Shimshon. Sefer Shmuel recounts the wars fought by Dovid but it tells us nothing about his great piety, his awesome Torah erudition and his exceptional holiness. Except for a single story regarding the two women who argued over a baby, the Torah does not tell us about the great wisdom of Shlomo. Rather it mentions his fabulous wealth and his lavish meals. The Torah relates the famous stories while the rest of the details are meant to be filled in by Chazal. Learning The Written Torah without the aid of the Oral Torah is like trying to get a picture of someone's life by looking at a few postcards instead of watching an extended video documenting his life.
Secondly, all twenty four books of Tanach are the word of Hashem, just recorded by humans by means of prophecy or ruach hakodesh. Thus, the gauge to measure those mentioned therein cannot be a human yardstick, for these people are being described by Hashem's exacting standards. The greater the person, the more demanding Hashem is in His dealings with them. Minute infractions indiscernible to the human eye are sometimes recorded as severe transgressions.
Lastly, we are literally spiritual light years away from the people discussed in Tanach. The Gemara (Eruvin 53a) in describing the difference between the Tanna'im and Amora'im writes that the hearts of the earlier generations were open like the entranceway to the Ulam (twenty cubits wide) while the hearts of the later generations are open like the eye of a needle! Moreover, Chazal declared "If the earlier generations were like angels then we are like humans; if they were like humans then we are like donkeys!" In other words, the difference between a few generations is compared to the difference between two entirely different species! Similar statements were made by Abaye and Rava who merited visits by Eliyahu Hanavi on a weekly and yearly basis respectively! We must multiply these differences a thousand fold to include the transformation that occurred from the times recorded in Tanach until the Tanna'im, and the many generations from the times of the Amora'im until the present day. We simply do not have the intellectual capability to comprehend the awesome stature of those mentioned in the Torah.
Let us not jump to conclusions regarding the misdeeds mentioned in the Torah. One Chassidic Rebbe pithily summed up this idea when he commented, "I wish my mitzvos were on the level of their aveiros!" Bearing this in mind will give us a fresh approach to the next few weeks of parshios. Instead of condemning their actions, we will be inspired by the immeasurable greatness attainable by man and hopefully be motivated to push ourselves to attain as much of that greatness as we possibly can!