In the midst of an action-packed Sedra we find Klal-Yisroel in the most bizarre of circumstances. What makes things more difficult is that Moshe Rabeinu seems to handle things in a very uncharacteristic manner. Yet even more disconcerting is how to understand how Hashem seems to react and deals with the whole situation.
Klal-Yisroel move on in the desert and once again they begin to whine and complain to Moshe Rabeinu as to their lack of comfort. Moshe Rabeinu doesn’t simply rebuke them. He doesn’t seem to beseech Hashem for Divine Inspiration. Uncharacteristically, Moshe turns to Hashem and asks why it is that he seems to be responsible for Am-Yisroel. Why must he nurture Klal-Yisroel? Did he (Moshe Rabeinu) give birth to Klal-Yisroel?
Moshe Rabeinu who had but not long before ‘argued’ with Hashem, that Hashem shouldn’t destroy Klal-Yisroel, is now asking Hashem why Klal-Yisroel is his responsibility? Did Moshe Rabeinu not in effect accept responsibility, at least by default, for Klal-Yisroel?
Hashem doesn’t respond that Moshe is indeed responsible for Klal-Yisroel, but rather tells him that if managing Klal-Yisroel is too difficult for him, Moshe should then select a Council of seventy elders and delegate some of this responsibility to them.
Hashem instructs Moshe Rabeinu to give from his Divine inspiration to this council of seventy elders. After Moshe Rabeinu does so Yehoshua comes running in to Moshe and says that Eldad and Medad are prophesising in the camp. Yehoshua is angry and asks Moshe to curse these two elders. Moshe seems not only unconcerned, but even happy, and exclaims as to how great it would be if all of Am-Yisroel would prophesize.
As to how to respond to Klal-Yisroel’s complaining Hashem tells Moshe Rabeinu that He will grant them all the meat in the world for a month. While Hashem does actually supply Klal-Yisroel with an abundance of meat, He also immediately kills all those who ate from it. True, Hashem gave the meat He had promised but none the less he didn’t give it to them for a month, because as soon as they started to partake in it Hashem killed them.
From start to finish, this whole story appears incomprehensible.
Chazal tell us (see Rashi and Tanchuma) that thee seventy elders that Moshe chose to form the new Council were those who were put in charge of their fellow Jews in Egypt by the Egyptians. Chazal tell us that Hashem had told Moshe to choose these men for his Council because they exemplified the epitome of love and care for Am-Yisroel, for their fellow Jews. Thus Hashem wished to show Moshe that this was the very care for Am-Yisroel that he, Moshe, lacked. To say that Moshe was lacking in his passion for Klal-Yisroel is, to say the least, puzzling. It was after all Moshe Rabeinu who had beseeched Hashem for forty days and nights on Klal Yisroel’s behalf. Evidently, however, this is what Moshe Rabeinu was lacking.
It is true that Moshe usually acted as the defendant of Klal-Yisroel and would generally ‘stick up’ for them through rough and tough. Yet here he somehow felt overwhelmed. What happened to suddenly cause such a change?
Perhaps it wasn’t Moshe Rabeinu’s lack of love and passion. Moshe Rabeinu would have indeed continued to defend and pray on Klal-Yisroel’s behalf. He, however, was now worried as to how much longer things could go on like this. Moshe wondered when his love for Klal-Yisroel might begin to lessen.
Hashem therefore commanded Moshe to recruit the Jewish taskmasters of Klal-Yisroel in Egypt in order that Moshe Rabeinu should learn from them. These Jews who had been appointed as taskmasters for their fellow Jews understood that human compassion knows no bounds. These taskmasters would absorb the responsibility for the lack of production of the entire Jewish people in Egypt. They wouldn’t beat their fellow Jews for not fulfilling their quotas, with the result that Paroh beat them. They understood that love wasn’t merely physical but rather that it belonged to the spiritual realm and was therefore boundless. They thus endured the unbearable. Hashem had told Moshe Rabeinu that he could have others to share in the burden but that their Divine powers wouldn’t come directly from Him, but rather from Moshe Rabeinu (Tanchuma). Chazal tell us that although indeed their Divine Inspiration came out of Moshe Rabeinu’s, Moshe Rabeinu didn’t lose any himself. This too can be understood in the very same vein. Since Divine Inspiration is spiritual and not physical it too knows no bounds.
Hashem gave Klal-Yisroel the meat that they had asked for. Hashem gave them meat for a month, but then while they were just beginning to eat it Hashem killed all those who partook in it.
As the Passuk tells us, Hashem said to Moshe: ‘now you will see if my word can come to be’. Hashem didn’t intend to allow Klal-Yisroel to become completely materialistic. Hashem wanted Klal-Yisroel to eat only spiritual food, to eat Manna. Hashem had merely intended to show that He is Omnipotent. Hashem showed Klal-Yisroel that the physical has physical limitations, and thus also that indulging in physical pleasures and attaching oneself to the physical domain could result in death. While to Moshe on the other hand Hashem showed that the spiritual knows no bounds. Hashem taught Moshe that Divine Inspiration are completely spiritual and thus know no bounds.
The Sedra relates that Moshe Rabeinu’s siblings, Miriam and Aharon, spoke negatively about him after he had separated from his wife. Although the reason for that separation is not mentioned explicitly in the text, it is implicit from the context. Moshe Rabeinu separated from his wife in order never to be in the state of Tumah (contamination) that comes with marital relations, so as to enable him to receive prophesy on a constant basis. Miriam expressed her dismay at Moshe’s course of action to their elder brother Aharon. She said to Aharon that she couldn’t understand Moshe Rabeinu’s rationale; after all weren’t they all Neviim, and why did he thus think it necessary to act so differently and separate from his wife. The implied tone in her words was negative. She put down Moshe and accused him of acting ‘holier than thou’. Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam, were than summoned by Hashem and Hashem defended Moshe Rabeinu by explaining to them how Moshe Rabeinu was indeed on such a level that justified his acting as he did. Then Hashem punished Miriam by afflicting her with leprosy.
We could perhaps somehow understand that Miriam should have been chastised for speaking in a negative fashion about Moshe Rabeinu. Hashem, however, doesn’t tell her that she was being punished for that reason. Rather, Hashem rebukes her by asking her why she wasn’t afraid to speak negatively about Moshe (12, 8). The issue here, it would seem, is not so much with the ‘Loshon haroh’ (disparaging speech), but rather just the fact that Miriam and Aharon lacked fear – that they weren’t afraid to disparage Moshe Rabeinu.
As much is there is a prohibition to talk negatively of others, there may at times be a necessity to do so. Sometimes, in order to protect or to correct someone, it may become necessary to speak disparagingly about another. Sometimes someone’s wrongdoings need to be discussed between some people on some level.
Generally our evil inclination functions in one of two ways: either it tempts us so much so that we are willing to sin even though we know and understand that by yielding to our temptation we will be succumbing to great sin; or it confuses us by allowing us to think that wrong things are really right. Thus sometimes we sin thinking (or rationalizing) that we are acting virtuously.
Chazal tell us not to trust ourselves until the day of our death. This advice from Chazal is for everyone – regardless of how great one may be. The idea is that we are all susceptible to sin. No one, no matter at what level, is immune from sin. Thus, logic would dictate that even someone as great as Moshe Rabban shel Kol Yisroel could succumb to Chet. Just because he was a great man and the leader of Israel does not mean he could not make a mistake.
Miriam, Moshe’s older sister, played an important role in his upbringing. Not only did she feel a great kinship to Moshe Rabeinu, but she too was a prophet, and hence felt she understood Moshe Rabeinu’s greatness. “There are no doubts that Miriam’s motivations were noble: she was possibly deeply concerned about the well-being of Moshe Rabeinu’s wife Tzipora, as well as with right and wrong. She may have believed that it was incumbent upon her to rectify somehow what she viewed as a great mistake on Moshe Rabeinu’s part. For this Hashem didn’t blame Miriam. The issue was her attitude: the fact that she didn’t think twice, that she wasn’t afraid to ‘badmouth’ Moshe Rabeinu.
Very often in life we are faced with confusing decisions to make. Not always are things so black and white. Sometimes it can be immensely confusing to differentiate right from wrong. Hashem doesn’t have any claims against us for having such confusions. The claim that Hashem all too often has against us is the lack of fear we have when approaching such decisions.
This week’s Sedra provides the account of what happened at “Kivros-Hataáva”, one of Klal-Yisroel’s encampments. There, the people started to complain that they missed the various good foods that they had eaten in Mitzraim. Klal-Yisroel complained that they wanted meat, and that they had enough of eating just Mon – Manna. Mon was a special, delicious tasting food (as depicted by Chazal in various Medrashim) that never caused indigestion. Not only that, but eating Manna also removed the normal bodily needs to eliminate waste. This was so because it was designed by HaKadosh Baruch Hu to the exact nutritional needs of each member of Klal-Yisroel. Klal-Yisroel’s complaining about the Mon hence appears completely irrational.
Often times as we progress in life we still find ourselves reminiscing over old times. We somehow attach nostalgia and sentimental value to times past even if they were nowhere close to our current level of comfort. However while we might have some sort of sentimental appreciation for these things it doesn’t mean we want to trade the good we now have for it, and we definitely won’t complain about the wealth that we now have. Why was it that Klal-Yisroel complained about the Mon?
The K’sav Sofer writes that their complaint was that their souls were dried out and left empty because all they ate was the Mon (נפשינו יבשה וכו'). the K’sav Sofer suggests that perhaps their complaint was a spiritual complaint: Klal-Yisroel was complaining that they didn’t want to live a life of Miracles. Klal-Yisroel did not want to be sustained only through means of miracles, such as the Mon, that they should be left without Zechuyos (merits) for the world to come (Taanis 20b, Chazal tell us that Nisim deplete our merits).
In the context of the K’sav Sofer’s approach, it would seem at first glance that Klal-Yisroel had a valid and worthy complaint; indeed why should they wish to allow themselves to be rid of their Zechuyos if they could live in a more natural way and preserve their Zechuyos?
When Hashem gave us the Mon He told Moshe Rabeinu that there was a lesson He wished for us to learn from the Mon. Hashem wanted us to learn and to recognize that Hashem never lacks the means to sustain us. As the Passuk tells us “for not on bread alone can man live, rather even from any other creation of Hashem’s speech can man live”. Furthermore, Moshe Rabeinu was instructed by Hashem to place Mon in a jar; this jar was to be placed in the Aron Hakodesh to be used in future times to teach a lesson to Klal-Yisroel. It was intended to be used to teach us the lesson of Bitachon – having faith in Hashem. The Mon illustrated how Hashem reciprocates our faith in Him by taking care of us in return. Mon wasn’t a miracle. Miracles are interventions that Hashem performs at precisely the right moment in order to save us or to affect us in a supernatural way. If the Manna was to be the textbook example of Bitachon, it means not only that it was not a fluke, but that it was something that was to define a norm. The norm in this case being that when we do Retzon Hashem even when it is difficult (like following Hashem in the wilderness without proper provisions) Hashem will then provide for us whatever we need. To a Botaich B’Hashem this is perhaps the embodiment of nature.
Klal-Yisroel weren’t depleting their Zechuyos. Through allowing themselves to continue to follow God almost blindly in the Midbar and to have total and utter trust in Hashem they were only growing their Zechuyos. Klal-Yisroel’s claim was in effect a rationalization of their true desire to live a life in which they would not have to struggle to find faith in Hashem. Klal-Yisroel’s issue was that they wished all too much so to live in the mentally easy confines of “nature”. Thus they blinded themselves from living in the bliss of complete and sheer trust in Hashem.
This is a struggle we all have difficulty with on the most constant basis. How wonderful would life be if we could only realize the bliss of full belief in Hashem?
One of the incidents recounted in this week's Sedra is that of the Slav. The Torah tells us that the Eirev Rav (Hasafsufa – the Egyptians who had attached themselves to Am-Yisroel) had a burning desire for meat. Klal-Yisroel had been receiving Manna every day as their food and there was now a tag along element of the nation that that was complaining about not having meat. The Torah then tells us that this craving for meat spread to parts of Am-Yisroel proper. Hashem responds to their demands in a most fascinating fashion. Hashem tells them that not only will they receive meat but that they will have so much meat for a month straight that they will be sickened by it.
While it is difficult to understand how a part of Klal-Yisroel could complain about heavenly food, the ‘how’ of Hashem’s response appears quite astonishing. It is as if His answer is formulated in the form of a barely veiled threat: "you want meat? - I'll give you meat…".
Manna was an extremely special food. From its every characteristic it was clear that it was a heavenly food. Whatever one received sufficed to satiate, and after digesting man one's body didn't produce any waste. Manna was a completely perfect food. Meat on the other hand is tasty but it is a complicated food on many levels. There are many steps that must be taken before meat can be made palatable.
Klal-Yisroel was complaining about the Manna; they were saying that they were already sickened by this perfect food. Generally the reason people may become disgusted by something is because eventually they can, and do focus on the negative aspects. Somehow Klal-Yisroel had started to complain about the fact that they had something perfect and they were asking Hashem instead for something far from perfect – meat. The only way Hashem could teach them how they misconstrued their own state of being was to show them the opposite side of the spectrum. The only way Hashem could teach them this lesson was by allowing them to contrast this perfect food with something that was far from perfect like Slav.
In life we often focus on the negative; often this negative focus prevents us from seeing how perfect so many aspects of our lives in fact are.
This week's Haftorah is a Nevuah from Zechariah. It takes us back to the beginning of Bayis Sheni. Zechariah prophesizes about Yehoshua the Cohen Gadol at the beginning of Bayis Sheni. The actual words of the Nevuah are vague. This vagueness creates a certain complexity in the Nevuah. Zechariah sees Yehoshua the Cohen Gadol standing and next to him there is the Satan and an Angel of Hashem. The Angel tells Yehoshua to take off his soiled clothing; he tells Yehoshua that if he does so he will remove his sins and dress him in clean white garb. Without a good explanation this prophecy seems incomprehensible.
The Meforshim explain that Yehoshua's sons had married non-Jews and that Yehoshua didn't sufficiently protest. The Meforshim also explain that once he did, they divorced these wives and the Malach was thus able to remove the sin and dress Yehoshua in pure and clean garb. Further on in the Haftorah, the Menorah of the Beis Hamikdash is mentioned. The Haftorah then ends off with a message: the secret to success does not come through strength or power but rather through the Spirit of Hashem.
It seems, in a way, as if one part of the Haftorah is not connected to the other.
The reason given for reading this Haftorah on Shabbos BeHa’aloscha is because it mentions the Menorah. Our Sedra starts off by talking about the Menorah. However, if we read our Haftorah to remind us of the Menorah – and the sections of the Haftorah are rather divided – why must we read the entire Haftorah as we do?
The Medrash tells us that Aharon Hacohen lived with constant apprehension over the Chet HaEigel. When Klal-Yisroel came to Aharon exclaiming that Moshe was no longer, and that they, therefore, needed some sort of mediator (Avoda zarah) between themselves and Hashem – Aharon not only didn't protest, but actually seemed to have aided in its construction. The Medrash tells us that Aharon was calmed only when Hashem gave him the privilege of Hadlakas Hamenorah.
Chazal tell us “הרוצה להחכים ידרים“– that someone who wishes to become wiser should face a bit south when he davens. This is because the Menorah was in the south of the Mikdash and the Menorah represents the Torah which is the source of all wisdom. Hashem's Spirit is found only in Torah.
Aharon Hacohen felt guilty until he was given hadlokas Hamenorah, and the Menorah appears in our Haftorah after Yehoshua Hacohen protested and stood up for the Torah. Hadlokas Hamenorah, containing as it does Hashem's Spirit, is something that requires purity. One cannot be entirely pure if one even allowed evil to prevail. To be pure means that one has to at least minimally protest and show that one is against all wrong. While we may not be able to control that nothing bad should happen, we can still show that we will have no part in wrongdoings. Thus when Aharon Hacohen received the mitzvah of Hadlokas Hamenorah it was evident to him that he must have acted appropriately. By purifying ourselves we create a greater sterile region for good to flourish. Just as the Menorah shined the light of Torah unto the world we can shine the light of purity all over the world.