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June 5, 2012 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Behaalothca

This week’s Torah portion begins a period of dicey relations between Moses and the people.  They have received the Torah, are eating manna daily in the wilderness, and are starting to get cranky.  In this week’s portion they complain that they aren’t getting the fish they used to get in Egypt, and that their “soul is dried away” (Num. 11:6).   Moses complains to God, and asks “Where can I get meat”? (Num. 11:13) God responds by sending lots of edible birds and a plague to go along with it.

Nachmanides addresses numerous issues arising from this chain of events.

First, why were the Jews so cranky? He writes that the manna “is not in our possession so that our soul can be nourished and satisfied with it; but we desire it and look to it [i.e. we are dependent upon it] at all times, in anticipation that it will come to us; thus, we have nothing at all save our hope in the manna… One cannot compare a person who has bread in his basket with one who does not have bread in his basket.”  In other words, Nachmanides is saying that the Jews were insecure because they didn’t have anything saved up, and would starve if God stopped giving them daily manna.

Should the Jews have just shut up and trusted God?  In retrospect (given that their complaints lead to punishment)  yes.   But given that God had already inflicted one plague (11:1) didn’t they have reason to be concerned?   Like it or not, God and the Jews seem to be stuck in a vicious circle for the next few chapters of the Torah: Jews freak out, causing Divine punishment, making Jews even more freaked out, leading to even more Divine punishment.  Eventually, the cycle burns itself out, and Deuteronomy is relatively uneventful.  Maybe that’s the point: that even when it seems like things will never get better, sometimes they do.

Second, why is Moses asking God how he can give everyone meat?  Doesn’t Moses know God can do anything?  Nachamides says Moses knows that God can give meat by a miracle- but here, God doesn’t say anything about a miracle.  So Moses “asked in astonishment ‘What can [God do to produce meat] by natural means?  … Therefore God answered that His hand is not too short to fulfill their request even by ordinary events.”* And indeed the meat comes through natural events: a normal wind brings across quails that are easy to catch.  So where some commentators see a lack of faith by Moses, Nachmanides sees a comforting lesson: God works through natural events.  (But we all knew that anyhow, didn’t we?)

* Where does Nachmanides get that?  Because God uses the word “hayikrecha” which has some of the same letters as the word mikreh (or “chance”).  Seems like a stretch to me.

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