27 May 2021 Beha’aloscha: The Great Defender of the Jews
In this week’s parsha, the nation sets out to leave Har Sinai, under the impression that they are about to enter into Eretz Yisrael. How certain is the nation that their arrival in the Land is imminent? Moshe Rabbeinu extends an invitation to Yisro to join them on their historic journey: And Moshe said to his father-in-law: נֹסְעִים אֲנַחְנוּ אֶל–הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אָמַר ה’ אֹתוֹ אֶתֵּן לָכֶם; לְכָה אִתָּנוּ וְהֵטַבְנוּ לָךְ, כִּי–ה’ דִּבֶּר–טוֹב עַל–יִשְׂרָאֵל – We are journeying to the place of which Hashem has said: I shall give it to you. Go with us and we shall treat you well, for Hashem has spoken of good for Israel (Bamidbar 10:29).
Rashi (ibid) says: נסעים אנחנו אל המקום. מִיָּד — עַד שְׁלֹשָׁה יָמִים אָנוּ נִכְנָסִין לָאָרֶץ, שֶׁבְּמַסָּע זֶה הָרִאשׁוֹן נָסְעוּ עַל מְנָת לִכָּנֵס לְאֶרֶץ יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶלָּא שֶׁחָטְאוּ בְּמִתְאוֹנְנִים; וּמִפְּנֵי מָה שִׁתֵּף מֹשֶׁה עַצְמוֹ עִמָּהֶם? שֶׁעֲדַיִן לֹא נִגְזְרָה גְזֵרָה עָלָיו וּכְסָבוּר שֶׁהוּא נִכְנָס – We are journeying to the place – (Moshe meant to say) Immediately! In another three days we are entering the land! For on this first journey, they journeyed with intent to enter the Land of Israel, but they did not enter immediately, for they sinned with the sin of the מִתְאוֹנְנִים (those who seek pretexts and excuses, Bamidbar 11:1-3). And why did Moshe include himself among them? Because the decree was not yet decreed upon him, and he was certain that he too would enter!
How moving, how tragic, how difficult to read these verses… At this juncture, the nation believed they were about to enter the Land, and Moshe Rabbeinu along with them. We are traveling to the Land, in just three days we will cross the Yarden River, come with us and it will be good for you! Alas, due to the sins of the nation, it was not meant to be.
And yet, Rashi indicates here that the initial stirrings of rebellion of the מִתְאוֹנְנִים, later in our parsha, was the beginning of the end for the dor yotzei Mitzrayim (the generation that left Egypt and would not enter the Land). Even before the slander, and sin, of the spies, those who were seeking pretexts, those who complained, those who rejected the goodness of G-d in their midst, brought ruination upon the nation.
And the nation were like those who seek pretexts of evil in the ears of Hashem, and Hashem heard and His wrath flared… And the rabble that was among them desired a desire, and the Children of Israel also turned, and they wept, and said: מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָׂר, Who will feed us meat? זָכַרְנוּ, אֶת–הַדָּגָה, אֲשֶׁר–נֹאכַל בְּמִצְרַיִם, חִנָּם; אֵת הַקִּשֻּׁאִים, וְאֵת הָאֲבַטִּחִים, וְאֶת–הֶחָצִיר וְאֶת–הַבְּצָלִים, וְאֶת–הַשּׁוּמִים, We remember the fish that we would eat in Egypt for free; the cucumbers, and the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic; וְעַתָּה נַפְשֵׁנוּ יְבֵשָׁה, אֵין כֹּל—בִּלְתִּי, אֶל–הַמָּן עֵינֵינוּ, and now our soul is parched, there is nothing, we have nothing before our eyes but the manna! (Bamidbar 11:1-6).
According to the most basic understanding of the pshat (text), the nations murmurings, dissent, dissatisfaction and ingratitude towards G-d are readily apparent in these verses. They are unhappy and complaining.
However, the great defender of the Jews, Rav Levi Yitzchak m’Berditchev zt’l, zy’a (1740-1809) offers an entirely different perspective. One that is not negative, but positive. One that puts the nation, not in a derogatory light, but in a complimentary one.
“Moshe was beleaguered by throngs of hungry people crying out for meat. ‘Who will feed us meat?’ they said. ‘We still remember the fish we ate in Egypt.’ What is the connection between these two statements? If they had a desire for meat, why did they find it necessary to mention the fish that they ate in Egypt?
“Our Sages tells us, explains R’ Levi Yitzchak, that the manna had the taste of almost all the other foods in the world. If a person wanted it to taste like a certain food then it did. But there was one condition. The person had to know the taste of that food; it had to be lodged in his memory. Then, when he recalled the taste of that food, he could transfer those flavors from his memory into the manna and enjoy the experience of eating that food. But if he had never tasted that food, if that taste was unknown to him, he could not experience the pleasure of eating that unfamiliar food when he ate the manna.
“The taste of kosher meat, having been slaughtered and salted according to the instructions of the Torah, differs from the taste of non-kosher meat. The Jewish people were not familiar with the taste of kosher meat. The only meat they knew was non-kosher meat which they had eaten in Egypt before they were instructed with kosher laws. Therefore, they could not experience the taste of kosher meat in the manna.
“That is what they were saying to Moshe. ‘Who will feed us meat?’ How will we experience the enjoyment of eating meat? We have no recollection of the taste of kosher meat in our memories. We do not have this problem with fish, because there are no special instructions for the preparation of fish. Therefore, since we remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for free we can experience the taste of fish in the manna. But how will we have the taste of meat?’” (Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev According to the Weekly Parashah, Artscroll Mesorah, p.195).
According to the pshat, the מִתְאוֹנְנִים, those seeking pretexts, along with those who desired desires, הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה, were motivated by rejection of the good Hashem had bestowed upon them from Egypt to now. And yet, for one as great as a Rav Levi Yitzchak m’Berditchev, who always strove to see the good in G-d, and in His nation, there is a way to explain even these murmurings and complaints.
מִי–הָאִישׁ, הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים אֹהֵב יָמִים? לִרְאוֹת טוֹב – Who is the man who desires life, who loves days? One who sees the good. It is he who will guard his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. סוּר מֵרָע, וַעֲשֵׂה–טוֹב בַּקֵּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרָדְפֵהוּ, he is one who turns away from bad to do good, who seeks peace and pursues it (Ps.34:13-15).
,בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום