JUST WHAT THE DOCTOR ORDERED
This week's Torah portion of Beha'alotcha recounts how the Children of Israel were despondent about the manna that Hashem had provided them to eat during their journey in the wilderness.
This week's Torah portion of Beha'alotcha recounts how the Children of Israel were despondent about the manna that Hashem had provided them to eat during their journey in the wilderness. After being prodded by the incessant murmurings of the eruv rav (the mixed multitude who joined the Jewish people upon leaving Egypt), the Children of Israel complained, ". . .Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge; and the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now, our life is parched, there is nothing; we have nothing to anticipate but the manna!" (Numbers 11:4-6).
A lesson that can be learned from this incident is that old habits are hard to break. Not long after leaving behind the trepidations and spiritual handcuffs of Egypt, the Jewish people experienced the most significant divine encounter in history in the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. They had embarked on a journey far from the fish of Egypt's shores into the spiritual crucible of the wilderness. There, the people accepted the privilege of living their lives in accordance with Hashem's mitzvot. Unfortunately, after departing from Sinai, the nation regressed somewhat to the mentality that they had become so accustomed to in Egypt.
Hashem had brought them out of Egypt through wondrous plagues; He split the Red Sea, drowning their pursuers; sheltered their journey in the barren desert; and He bestowed upon them the holy Torah. The manna was a special food that would take on the taste of whatever the consumer desired. It was served directly to the people from Hashem. What was there to gripe about? Why the concern for food? Rashi, the classical commentary on the Torah, quoting the Sifri (a midrash), explains that the people who complained weren't really concerned with food. Rather, this complaint surrounding the delicacies of Egypt was a pretext for them to vent their frustrations toward the discipline required by the mitzvot. Instead of a privilege, they viewed the mitzvot as a burden. They "reminisced" about the nostalgic days in Egypt when the food was "free" -- they were not "constrained" in Egypt by the mitzvot, as the Torah had not yet been given. The complainers were entrapped in their slave mentality, viewing with disdain the obligations and responsibilities incumbent upon an independant people.
They seemed to prefer slavery to freedom: ". . .Why did we leave Egypt?" (Numbers 11:20). In Egypt, "anything goes" was the creed; there were no restrictions on behavior. After the Torah was given, however, the chosen people were expected to act as such. Those who complained -- much the same as children who whine about bedtime, taking a bath, and keeping their room straight -- yearned for the days when their behavior was not regulated, when there was no curfew.
Today, are we really free or are we still slaves? Do we act as if we've left Egypt spiritually, or are we still craving those leeks and onions? Sure, today's society is enormously enticing with its "anything goes" maxim, but what about the manna? It tasted like whatever a person wanted. Similarly, we can make of our lives what we want to -- we can choose to pursue the degenerate and the temporary, or the lofty and the infinite; the taste, the satisfaction of our lives, will reflect this choice.
If someone is sick, he will go to a doctor. The doctor tells the patient what is the proper route to becoming healthy again. If a physicain prescribes something for us, we listen to him -- even if it isn't pleasant to take the medicine and adhere to the regimen designed to make us better. Likewise, we need to dutifully follow the prescription given to our people 3,307 years ago and take the "tablets" given at Sinai! Granted, it may be difficult at times to break away from certain behaviors that one finds pleasurable, but just because one is used to some type of conduct, does that make it right?
The complainers, seeped with a reluctance to conform their conduct to that which the Torah demands, preferred the unconfined society of Egypt. As we are now "leaving Sinai," as Shavuot was a couple of weeks ago, we should strive to improve in our fulfillment of the Torah's mitzvot. Why don't we simply listen to Hashem, our "Life Doctor," so to speak? After all, He knows what's best for us.
Daniel Lasar is a second-year student at Emory Law School in Atlanta.
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