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June 6, 2017 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Behaalotekha

After the Jews start inexplicably complaining about food (Numbers 11:4) Moses gets disgusted and asks God “did I conceive this entire people? Did i give birth to them?” (11:12).

After the Golden Calf fiasco (a much more serious sin to the extent that it involved idol worship) Moses takes charge, and here he complains to God.  Why is he so ticked off?

The Miller Chumash has an explanation.  Miller says that the Golden Calf was based on a theological mistake about how to worship God, and that “Moses was comfortable with this since his role was that of the teacher and educator.”  In other words, the people misunderstood so Moses could teach them the right way of doing things.

By contrast, the complaints about food were “not an error of ideology but something much more basic and crude.”  Such lusts weren’t really amenable to intellectual instruction.  Instead, Moses “would have to nurture the people through their national understanding.”  In other words, Moses had to go beyond his original skill-set as a miracle-worker and intellectual leader.

Miller cites Rav Soloveitchik for all this, and adds that today’s Jews are tempted not by other religions but by “the pleasure-seeking culture of our day”- so Jews need “the warm embrace as much as the brilliant idea.” (Which may explain why Chabad is so popular, since they tend to specialize in the former).

There is one thing that seems a little too neat about this analysis: the way it describes the Golden Calf incident is a bit incomplete.  Miller makes it sound like Calfgate was a faculty seminar, but in fact Moses resolved it not through an elegant argument but by having 3000 men executed (Exodus 32:28).  And also God kills a few more people with plague (32:35).

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One Comment

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  1. Shira Salamone / Jun 7 2017 4:06 pm

    In both cases–the Calf incident and the meat-craving incident–I find all the bloodletting rather difficult to deal with. Were our ancestors and/or G-d really that bloodthirsty?

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