May/June 1999


by Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Arutz Sheva Israel National Radio
Broadcast on May 27, 1999 / Sivan 12, 5759

In This Article:

1. The Manna Problem
2. We Can't Take it Any More!
3. The Lessons
4. Short-Term Pity, Long-Term Cruelty

When the People of Israel trekked through the desert on their way to the Land of Israel over 3,000 years ago, they underwent several difficult crises - from each of which we learned something important and came away strengthened. As recounted in this week's Torah portion of B'haalotecha, one of the first problems we faced was that of the manna.

The Jewish people had left Egypt, received the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and were aided on their long journey to the Promised Land by Divine miracles. But accompanying them from Egypt was a "mixed multitude," for whom it was hard to deal with the trials and tribulations of the long trek. They sought various excuses to throw off the Divine yoke - and their influence began to be felt amongst the Israelites as well. The Torah tells us, "The rabble amongst them began to lust, and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, 'Who shall give us meat to eat? We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for nothing, the squash, the melon, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our soul is dried away, there is nothing except for this manna…" [Num. 11, 4-6]


The nation was not quite on the verge of rebellion at this point, but had rather begun to "cry in its families." Their morale was low and their spirit - broken. In addition to the problem with the food, the great commentator Rashi explains that the above verse refers to the morality laws newly imposed upon them. This is of course a tried and true method of the "yetzer hara" [the inclination to do wrong] - not to rebel directly, but to adopt what appears to be a defensive position. The people attempt to claim that the mission thrust upon them is beyond their mortal powers and is simply impossible. "We are only flesh and blood," they cry. "We can't separate ourselves from the forbidden relations, and we can't eat the same thing every single day! We can't take it any more!"

But the Holy One, Blessed be He, does not give in to Israel. "As a father afflicts his son," G-d attempts to bring them back towards the right path. He knows that their weakness is not justified, but is simply the lure of the yetzer hara to entice them off the path of G-d. The crisis becomes more intense, however, to the point that Moshe tells G-d that he no longer has the strength to bear the sole responsibility for the nation. Moshe foresees the terrible results of the crisis, and is willing to sacrifice himself: "If Thou deal thus with me, please kill me… and let me not see my wretchedness" - the wretchedness of Israel.

G-d then provided them with meat, according to their request, so that they should not feel that G-d was incapable of such. But afterwards came the "just deserts," the punishment that would return them to the right path.


What can we learn from this crisis that Israel underwent in the desert?

1. - That one of the methods of the yetzer hara is to use the excuse, "I can't take it anymore, I have no strength left." Complaining that the demands are too great is incorrect. Israel has all the power and strength it needs to deal with the requirements of a Torah life.

2. - As our Sages have taught, "A man is led in the way in which he wishes to go" - even if it is to his detriment. A person should never say, "Look, I achieved my goals - proof that I was right." One must always wait to see the final, more far-reaching, consequences.

3. - Moshe Rabbeinu attempted to prevent Israel from receiving that which they wanted, in order to ensure that afterwards it would not be worse for them. This is how all lovers of Israel must behave towards them. They must warn Israel of the dangers inherent in the lure of a weak character. Even when the nation cries, "We are too weak to continue along the path of Redemption," they need not be simply pitied, but they must be helped up and encouraged. For even if they are happy to receive pity now, who knows what long-term price they will be forced to pay.


The lessons for our nation in the current situation are clear. Those who would have pity on the nation, those who say, "The people are tired of war," seem not to fully understand the long-term ramifications of this approach. Chazak, Chazak, V'nitchazek - Let us be strong and be strengthened.

Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed is the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Beit El, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Arutz Sheva, and Co-Chief Rabbi of Beit El.
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