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Everything goes really, really well and then there's a point, a tipping point, where after that it's all bad times. So the actual tipping point seemed to be these verses that describe how the Ark would travel before the people; Vayehi binsoah ha'Aron - when the Ark would travel, the Ark was meant to be the force that would go before the camp, that would help Israel conquer the land. They were preparing to go, they were only 11 days away - 11 days' journey by foot to the land of Israel - when those 11 days became 40 years. What happened at that point to begin this terrible slide towards disaster?
The text says; Vayehi ha'am k'mitonenim ra'ah b'oznei Hashem - the people were like complainers, it was evil in the ears of G-d. Now let's examine this carefully, these complaints that the people lodged with Moses against G-d. They started off as just amorphous mumblings but then they coalesced into something, a rejection of the Manah - bread delivered directly to man made by G-d. The people say; Nafsheinu yeveishah - our souls, we feel all dried out; Ein kol - we have nothing; Bilti el ha'man eineinu - except for this Manah.
Now let me ask you something, does that remind you of anything? Was there ever another time in Biblical history when G-d provided food directly to human beings? When human beings rejected the food that G-d had made for them? You see back in the garden G-d had provided food for man, He had provided all of these trees and allowed man to partake of the fruits of any of them with the exception of one tree, the Master's own tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. What happened in the garden is that we rejected that gift, G-d was holding out special food, made by G-d, just for us, and we didn't want it, we wanted control over the garden, to pretend that we were master of the garden. The only tree that mattered for us was the Master's own tree.
When we indicated to G-d that we wanted control over our food sources in that way, we didn't want gifts, we wanted to own the whole refrigerator - as it were, so G-d said, look if that's the way it is, if you really want ultimate control over your food; Bezei'at apecha tochal lechem - by the sweat of your brow you shall make bread. Bread is the original processed food, the original manmade food as opposed to G-d-made fruit. G-d says, look you'll have to struggle, you'll have to harvest wheat, beat it down, extract the seeds, grind them into flour, but at the end of the day at least it's real that you're controlling your own food source. And with that, we were exiled from the garden, the special place where G-d offered us His precious trees. G-d sets up two cherubs - two Keruvim, these angels at the entrance of the garden to make sure that we will never find our way back there.
But then one day that changed. The people of Israel left Egypt on a moment's notice and didn't have time to pack food for the way. In the words of the verse; V'tzeidah loh asu lahem - they didn't take provisions, they just trusted that G-d who was leading them out into the desert that He would provide for them somehow. How did G-d respond? He provided us with bread - Manah, from heaven. Bread it's man food but G-d loved us so much He went out of His comfort zone to provide us with man food. In the garden you rejected Me but here in the desert you're coming back to Me, I'll give you food, I'll even give you bread. That's what the Torah calls it back in Exodus 16, bread from heaven. The people looked at the bread that had come from heaven, they didn't understand what it was, they said; Mon hu - what is that? Moshe said; Hu halechem asher natan Hashem lachem l'ochlo - it's the bread that G-d is giving you to eat. It's a paradox, an oxymoron, bread from heaven. The rejection of G-d back in the garden was redeemed by the acceptance of G-d as we followed Him into a dessert - the opposite of a garden - without taking food of our own.
Indeed the zenith of the good times in the desert is when the Ark travels before us, only 11 days away from the land of Israel, ready to help usher Israel into the land. The Ark was adorned by two cherubs - two Keruvim, the same angels that kept us away from G-d's special garden would now bring us to G-d's special land. But alas, just after this moment, the darker specter of the tree of knowledge returned, to cast a shadow once more. When we rejected the Manah we rejected that great gift that was designed to heal the wounds of the garden. Indeed, if you look carefully at the verses in Numbers that surround the story of the Ark you will find a hint to the darkness of the tree of knowledge. Right before that zenith moment you'll find the word Tov - good, appearing over and over and over again, and then right after that moment of the Ark's travels, you'll find the word Ra'ah - evil, appearing over and over and over again. Tov and Ra'ah, it's as if there's this tree of knowledge of good and evil casting a dark shadow over the whole story that follows.
In that following story the people reject what G-d had provided for them and one more time - as it did in the garden - death, a whole generation would perish. How did it come to be? Why did the people reject this great gift of heaven-made bread? Let's look at the very first mention of the word Ra'ah in that chain of Ra'ahs; Vayehi ha'am k'mitonenim ra'ah b'oznei Hashem - and the people were as complainers. Well what does that even mean, they were almost complaining? Well on a certain level that's understandable that they weren't actually complaining, they were on their way to the land, it was all taken care of for them. They had the Manah, G-d was leading them with the Ark, but there was a faint murmur as if they were complaining.
Mitonenim - it actually might mean something else, a little bit different than complaint, the way most translations translate it. Mitonen is the Hitpa'el form of the word Onen. A word that in Hebrew also signifies mourning. Indeed, in Jewish law the very first stage of mourning before burial is known as Aninut, of the stage of being an Onen. It was as if they were mourning, as if they were grieving, K'mitonenim. Well you mourn over a loss, what were they mourning about? What great loss had they suffered? A couple of verses later; Veha'asafsuf asher bekirbo hitavu ta'avah - people amongst Israel they desired something, but it's not immediately clear what it is that they're desiring. Later on, a few lines later, they'll talk about wanting meat, but right now it doesn't say; Hitavu le'basar - they wanted meat, it actually says if you read carefully; Hitavu ta'avah - they desired a desire. That's what they were mourning. All our needs are taken care of, every want anticipated and fulfilled, I'm living from the hand of G-d, it doesn't feel normal. They desired to actually have a desire, to want something that they didn't have.
So they come up with something, they cried and they said; Mi ya'achileinu basar - let's have meat, we don't have meat. Or even better yet, some other kinds of food too. Listen to the next words of the verse; Zacharnu et hadagah asher nuchal b'Mitzrayim - we remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt. Et hakishu'im - the cucumbers, V'et ha'avatichim - the watermelons; Hechatzir - the leeks; Habetzalim - the onions; Hashumim - the garlic. Immanuel Shalev in our office pointed out a fascinating thing to me. Fish, cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions, garlic, it's all underground food, or underwater food. What kind of food are they rejecting? Look at the next line. V'atah nafsheinu yeveishah ein kol - our souls feel dry, we don't have anything except this Manah - the heaven bread. We don't want heaven bread, we want underground stuff, as far as you can get away from the heavens.
Look at the next verse, it describes what the people would do with the Manah; Shatu ha'am v'laktu - the people would go about, they would gather it but then instead of eating it directly; Tachanu bareichayim - they would grind it in mills; O dochu bamedochah - beat it with a mortar; Bishlu - they would bake it; Asu oto oogot - they would try to make it into cakes. They would try processing it. Here it was, it was bread, it was already processed for them at the hands of G-d, but they would try to process it again in whatever ways they could, to try to control it even more. It's like we were back in the garden again, it was that attempt once more to ultimately control your food source. Yes then we were thrown out of the garden, then we were cursed to make bread, and then G-d in His love gave us bread, but now, we will try to control that very bread that G-d gave us. At the end of the day we want to be regular, we don't want to be fed at the hands of heaven.
So at the end of this process, what do we find? You know if you count the Tovs just before the story of the Ark there are five of them, if you count the Ra'ahs just afterwards there's four of them, it seems asymmetrical five and four. But you know, after those four Ra'ahs there's one Tov, it's the Tov that's not really a Tov but a Ra'ah; Tov lanu b'Mitzrayim - it was good for us in Egypt. Was it really so good? It's so easy to forget isn't it? The pain and the screams and the suffering of Egypt, somehow that fades in the distance, we were normal people back then, we ate food like anybody else did. They wanted to be back in that state of need, they wanted to want.
Yes, there is something within all of us that just wants to be regular. A human being almost by its very nature is engaged in trying to fulfill its needs and we don't feel right when we're not doing that, when we're just taken care of. But sometimes there are moments when we just need to be taken care of. At the end of life that's true when we're elderly and need to be helped by others, and at the beginning of life in the womb it's true as well. Something like that was happening here. In the desert they are in a close, intimate and yes, dependent relationship upon Him, in the desert you can't make food. You'll get to the land where you control things, but you're not there yet. G-d is taking care of you now as if you're still in a womb.
Indeed, the notion of being still in a womb, a womb of G-d, that too recalls the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden - in Hebrew, Gan Eden, Eden a colleague of mine once suggested is related to the word Adayin, still, not yet. It was the garden of not yet-ness, when existence hadn't yet quite come to be, it was a kind of womb, that's what a womb is, when you aren't yet really born. G-d took care of mankind, provided him with every possible tree, and now, all this would happen once more, not for all of mankind, but for a particular nation. In the desert after leaving Egypt, the people were in a kind of womb, their nationhood was in nascency, it was just beginning to develop, and G-d was caring for them, preparing them to enter the land. That stage involves intensive nurturing, as a mother would nurture a baby. If you reject that nurturing, you're just trying to get out too soon, if you get out too soon you die. It was that way back in the garden, when we left that womb too soon, death itself came to the world, and here in the desert, this new rejection of G-d-food becomes the beginning of a trail of tears whose climax is the sin of the spies, the death of an entire generation. That was the tree of knowledge of good and evil, not in a garden, but in a desert.
Thanks for watching. For last year's Beha'alotecha video click the link in the top right corner. Enjoy and Shabbat Shalom.
1. Bereishit: Thank You, God...For Not Making Me A Woman?
2. Noach: Why Aren't Dinosaurs In the Torah?
3. Lech Lecha: The Battle For Abraham's Legacy
4. Vayeira: Abram, Sarai, Hagar, Ishmael and...Exodus?
5. Vayeira: Epilogue
6. Chayei Sarah: Eliezer and Samuel's Surprising Connection
7. Toldot: What Is Isaac's Legacy?
8. Vayeitzei: Understanding Rachel's World
9. Vayishlach: From Jacob to Israel
10. Vayeishev: Does God Speak To Us Today?
11. Miketz: Reversing the Sale of Joseph
12. Vayigash: Understanding Pharaoh's Dream
13. Shmot: Does God Really "Love" Us?
14. Va'era: Seeing God in Science
15. Bo: God's Justice In Action
16. Beshalach: Fruit Trees In the Sea?
17. Beshalach: Epilogue
18. Yitro: Seeing Ten Commandments in the Burning Bush
19. Mishpatim: Does Our History Become Laws?
20. Mishpatim: Epilogue
21. Terumah: Angels In the Tabernacle? Part I/2
22. Tetzaveh: Angels In the Tabernacle?- Part 2/2
23. Ki Tisa: A Closer Look At Kiddush
24. Vayakhel-Pekudei: God In Space, God In Time
25. Vayikra: How Can We Relate To Sacrifices Today?
26. Tzav: A Deeper Look At The Priestly Role
27. Tzav: Epilogue
28. Shemini: What Does Aaron Teach Us About Loss?
29. Tazria-Metzora: Rejoining the Community
30. Acharei Mot-Kedoshim: Social Justice...and Sacrifices?
31. Emor: An Epic View of Jewish Holidays
32. Behar-Bechukotai: Walking With God
33. Bamidbar: Why We Count
34. Beha'alotecha: Where It All Went Wrong
35. Shelach: How Can We Relate To Such a Vengeful God?
36. Korach: Why Did Korach Rebel?
37. Chukat: Why Did Moses Hit The Rock?
38. Balak: What Is Israel's Purpose In The World?
39. Pinchas: What Is True Leadership?
40. Matot-Masei: The Art of Negotiation
41. Devarim: What Did Moses Do Wrong?- Part 1/2
42. Va'etchanan: What Did Moses Do Wrong?- Part 2/2
43. Eikev: Why Does The Nation Of Israel Merit The Land?
44. Re'eh: Why Do We Need Both Oral and Written Law?
45. Shoftim: The Significance of Saving Private Ryan
46. Ki Teitzei: How To Merit Long Life
47. Ki Tavo: The Pursuit of Happiness- Part 1
48. Nitzavim: The Pursuit of Happiness- Part 2/2
49. Vayeilech: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 1/3
50. Ha'azinu: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 2/3
51. V'Zot Habracha: Moses' Farewell To Israel, Part 3/3
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