Beha'alotcha - Fit For Life

by Rebbetzin Malkah

At least once or twice within our lifetimes, many of us will decide to try the cure-all diet that will fix the body's slowing metabolism.  Sometimes we even become vegetarian, vegan, or lacto-pesco-ovo.  Certain that this diet will be the solution, we suffer, starve, cut down portions, binge and sacrifice - all in the hope of finding the hidden person underneath all those cushy layers.  But what are we really searching for buried under those extra pounds?  Are we searching to relive the youth we had, the inexperience, days of uncertainty as to where our future would place us?  Are we longing to regain a slimmer body that reminds us of what it is to be carefree or less responsible, now that responsibility greets us every morning with no let up?  In this week's parasha, we find the Children of Israel begging for a diet change - one that is merely a guise for returning to something familiar, far away and forbidden.  However, they quickly learn that their desire to change their current food plan does not match the soul diet of Hashem; the regime they need to follow has little to do with their palates or ways of the past.  Their gluttonous cravings for meat are but a cover for their inability to forget their unchecked and blithe ways of old.  As we look at the menu this week, we need to be ever mindful of the effect our own appetites have on our spiritual growth.

Please, Sir, Can I Have Some More?

Anyone who has ever traveled with small children knows that at some point, despite how often you feed them or bribe them with ice cream, the dreaded question must be heard:  are we there yet?  As the Children of Israel progress through the desert on their perfect diet of manna, their minds wander back to the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic of Egypt.  Though they don't realize that the salt of this food was the slavery they endured, they somehow conjure in their minds that it must be better than the personal growth and responsibility that they are currently experiencing.

"The rabble that was among them cultivated a craving, and the Children of Israel also wept once more, and said, "Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge; the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic.  But now, our life is parched, there is nothing; we have nothing to anticipate but the manna!"  Bamidbar 11:4-6

As slaves, they received nothing free of charge.  They submitted tirelessly and in return were fed so they could work again. The implications are clear however:  beyond their slave labor, they were not required to submit anything else in order to receive food.  When the food that they needed fell daily from the heavens in the desert, what cause did they have to be dissatisfied?  The text spells it out clearly.  Each day, the only anticipation they had was the manna, or the spiritual refining that Hashem had in store for them on a daily basis.  The days of carefree dining were replaced by a table set with manna, new mitzvot, responsibilities and awakenings. For a people so entrenched in slavery, this was simply terrifying.   This cry rooted from something much deeper within, a selfishness.  They wanted unconditional meat.  The slave mentality was the only one which they possessed and the Divine was trying to shake them of this identity.  A kingdom of priests would have to operate on a whole new paradigm and that seemed very uncomfortable.

Sky-High Meat

Sforno notes that the relationship of the Children of Israel to Hashem is a child-parent relationship.  While in some cases children might be at odds with their parents, deep down there is a trust base upon which the child rests.  The child can see the parents having love for them and acting with good intentions.  However, in the case of the Children of Israel, we see something quite wrong in this parasha, for they take this inner conflict they have with Moshe and Hashem to a new level: complete lack of trust.  This is illuminated by the verse that describes their weeping.

"Moshe heard the people weeping in their family groups, each one at the entrance of his tent and the wrath of Hashem flared greatly; and in the eyes of Moshe it was bad."  Bamidbar 11:10

In Hebrew, bokeh implies not only weeping but also lamenting, as if they had lost something tremendous and were in great travail.  The Ohr HaChayim implies that it is clear from the text that their loss of trust in their leadership could only be the cause of such a great outpouring of emotion.  For each leader of the family group to be visibly and audibly mournful outside of their tent implies that their distrust was widespread, and lay even at the heads of households.  Immediately following, we see that the heinous lamenting of the people is not only unwelcome in the ears of Moshe and Hashem, but in their sight as well.  Hashem special orders the meat - fresh quail from afar - and the Children of Israel will dine exorbitantly: but at a high price.

"To the people you shall say, ‘Prepare yourselves for tomorrow and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the ear of Hashem, saying; ‘Who will feed us meat?'  for it was better for us in Egypt.  So Hashem will give you meat and you will eat.  Not for one day shall you eat, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days nor twenty days.  Until an entire month of days until it comes out of your nose, and becomes nauseating to you, because you have rejected HashemWho is in your midst, and you have wept before Him, saying: ‘Why did we leave Egypt.'"  Bamidbar 11:18-20

What dulled state have the people plunged themselves into that we see no rejection of such an offer after it is given?  Where is the teshuvah, the remorse for their demanding behavior?  Had they repented, the Ohr HaChayim eludes to the fact that they might not have perished from the meat and their desires.  We see from their lack of response in the text afterwards that the hungering they have for meat goes soul deep - they are infatuated with the desire to consume meat under any circumstance.  They have not lost their slave state of mind and are willing to sacrifice their soul growth for the sake of something chewy between their teeth.  It is at this point that Hashem knows that these complainers are incorrigible; they have no hope of growth despite the miracles, the daily manna, and Hashem's sustaining hand throughout the wilderness. Their fate is set:  Hashem will allow them to devour their own souls with their passions, and then erase them from the journey in the hopes of saving the rest of the people.  But after the quail arrives and the complainers are given punitive measures, we see that the damage from their weeping has done more than just arouse wrath in Hashem: it has infected the nation with doubt, distrust, and hopelessness.  This outward act of discontent sets the stage for the calamity with the spies and the eventual destruction of our Temple.  This price is much higher to pay than the deaths of those who yearned for meat.  Bokeh.

So What's The Special?

As we try and imagine what we should be ordering up after all that, it helps to refocus on the manna.  This heavenly sustenance was given daily and contained not only all the necessary nutrients, but was completely absorbed into the body without waste.  So great was this miracle that Moshe was commanded to place some manna in a jar and keep it before the ark in the Holy of Holies. It was to be remembered as a gift of perfection, resembling the shape of coriander seed and white like a pearl.  Simply put, it was a beautiful, wholesome food for life.

As we journey through our own wildernesses, with Mashiach as our guide, we need to be wary of where we are trying to go and what cravings we have.  Do we stop at times and look back at our past?  Do we attempt to walk down dead-end paths of the past, hoping to revisit or resurrect some whimsy - be it relationship oriented, career, habits, etc? Or do we realize that our needs are being met, albeit within sometimes a sparse, desert environment.  Assessing our true blessings and gifts in our lives will not only keep us from reverting to pre-enlightened thinking/behavior, but will also springboard us forward into nourishing, life-changing experiences.  By realizing that the Torah is our manna, the inspiration of Mashiach gives us the energy to move forward, we truly have everything we need.

Indeed, the special of a lifetime.

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