Posted on May 28, 2021 by Harold Levin
This week, we read Parashat Beha’alotecha from the Book of Numbers. The highlights include Aaron being commanded to raise light in the lamps of the menorah and the institution of a Second Passover in response to a group of Jews who were unable to bring an offering on time before Passover because they were not ritually pure. The third area deals with people expressing to Moses their dissatisfaction with a steady diet of manna, the bread from heaven.
This concept of wanting more, being dissatisfied by what is being given, and never being happy as leaders accommodate the requests and needs of their constituents is an appropriate topic during the time period we currently live in as the desire to receive more is quite prevalent. When the Jews left Egypt, they were provided with a daily supply of manna, which came down to them from heaven and provided enough nutrition to sustain them on a daily basis. It was comprised of coriander seeds and had to be eaten the day it was harvested to avoid it becoming spoiled and infested by worms. King David referred to manna as “the bread of angels.” The only deviation was that enough manna was sent to them each Friday to carry them through Shabbat and we are told that this batch would not spoil or become infested for 48 hours.
The Jews were furious with Moses and demanded that meat become a part of their diets. They exclaimed that their lives replicated the desert with no variety whatsoever. Keep in mind that Moses had just led them away from Egypt to escape misery and here they were complaining and questioning his leadership! Rabbi Gamliel II wrote, in the 3rd century, “The Israelite complaint was just a pretext; once Moses solved that problem, they would just complain about something else.”
Rabbi David Stein observes that when God allowed the Israelites to feed their craving for meat to supplement manna, they became seriously ill from their over indulgence. He points out that the people were perfectly fine living on manna but were not satisfied by the gift God had given them and instead of being at peace spiritually, put the pressure on Moses and, ultimately, God to give them more. This reminds me of the story of the Golden Calf which led to the destruction of the first tablets.
Rabbi Naftali Reich suggests that another explanation for the dissatisfaction with manna can be found where the Midrash compares the Torah to water. While there are many beverages we can drink which are more flavorful than water, none of them will quench our thirst and refresh the way a cool, clear glass of water is capable of doing so. The same can be said of the Torah, those who are not interested in learning or nurturing their spirituality may not find the Torah very inspiring and will sadly not absorb the wealth of knowledge it imparts. Those who are looking to nourish their souls and become more deeply rooted will find the Torah as refreshing as that glass of water.
Today, I am witnessing a society which never seems satisfied with what is made available to them, who expect more from our leaders and officials on all levels, our society overall and, I suspect, from God. This constant need for more can be seen in many ways. Who ever thought restaurants would need beverage dispensing machines which can pour dozens of flavors of soft drinks from one device? There was a time, which many of us still remember, when we had a choice of perhaps seven or eight television channels versus today when we have hundreds of cable channels, streaming apps, and other ways to watch entertainment without leaving our living rooms! How many of us have lost the art of using pen and paper to send detailed letters to friends and family members and feel a text of a few brief words is actually staying in touch? We can purchase just about anything we want with a few clicks of our cellphones while perhaps losing the experience of going shopping to see what is available to us in person. While all the changes in the world have been positive in many ways, giving us more flexibility and diversity, at the same time, the desire for more than just manna and water still poses challenges.
The words of the Passover prayer, Dayenu, come to mind: If God had supplied our needs in the desert for forty years, and had not fed us the manna Dayenu, it would have been enough. If God had fed us the manna, and had not given us the Shabbat Dayenu, it would have sufficed us.
Let us be happy with today’s equivalent to manna and grow spiritually as we move from strength to strength.
Harold Levin, guest darshan