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In this week's portion, Behaalotecha, Moses tells God:

If this is how You are going to treat me, then, if I have found favor in Your eyes, kill me, and do not let me witness my evil. [Num. 11:15]

Sifrei Bamidbar 84:4 says that it really means "their" evil, i.e., the Israelites' evil, not Moses' evil, and that the inversion is just a euphemism, and that this is done frequently in the Tanach.

But in this particular case, why is Moses reluctant to talk directly about the people's sins? He wasn't before. For example, in Ex. 32:31 he tells God "‘Oh, this people have sinned a great sin!"

  • It’s worth pointing out that the Sifrei being quoted doesn’t actually say “Israel”. It says “Shechina”, meaning G-d’s revealed presence in this physical, material world. It is also worth noting that Moses’ people were the ‘Erev Rav’ who Moses insisted on taking out of Egypt together with the children of Israel. – Yaacov Deane Jul 10 at 4:04
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'Evil' in this context does not mean sin. It means the evil that will befall them, namely the punishments that will come as a result of their sins (see Rashi's commentary to verse 15). Tanach tries to avoid directly mentioning terrible things happening to the Jewish people, not the Jewish people sinning.

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    Didn't the prophets regularly warn the Jews about the explicit terrible things that would happen to them if they did not reform? – Maurice Mizrahi Jun 9 at 22:38
  • @MauriceMizrahi In those cases there is a specific reason not to be ambiguous – Jay Jun 9 at 22:40

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