By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant

 

Slightly after a year of being rescued from Egypt, this week’s Parsha provides a glimpse into Moses’ psyche, as well as the state of mind of the Israelites.

As the plan continues at Mount Sinai with some last minute perfunctory details, God instructs Moses  regarding the procedures for the Israelites’ encampments, further into the desert.  Shortly after the beginning of the march to the next destination, the multitude among them starts vigorously complaining:

“Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions. Now our bodies are dried out, for there is nothing at all; we have nothing but manna” (1).

According to Rashi, the Israelites exaggerated their nostalgia for living in a pagan society, where there was no sense of spirituality, no commandments, and no singular God to whom they were accountable (2).

Moses had heard such complaints from the Israelites before (e.g. lack of fresh water, monotony of eating the same food each day, boredom, etc.). However, that was before the Revelation at Sinai; the experience of Divine anger at the ‘Golden Calf’; the long lists of commandments and directives throughout the Book of LEVITICUS; and the long and hard labor of the building of the Tabernacle. If these experiences could not transform them into believers of the unique ethical-spiritual destiny to which they had been called, what would…or could? Moses’ despair was all too intelligible. For the first time since his mission began, he saw defeat staring him in the face.

Moses said to God: “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your eyes, that you place the burden of the entire people upon me? I cannot carry this burden alone. If this is the way that you treat me, please kill me” (3).

God responded by taking seventy elders, who had demonstrated the most intense respect for Moses, as a humble, but great leader; selfless in his goals to satisfy God; to teach the Israelites, and try and transform them into a great nation. These seventy wise men could not perform miracles, and were given no assignment, except to restore confidence in Moses’ heart and soul.

During this period, God responded to the Israelites with anger, sarcasm, and real punishment. “You shall eat meat not one day, not two, not even five days or twenty; but, a whole month until it comes out of your nostrils” (4). The place where this happened became known as ‘Kivrot Hataavah’ (graves of craving).

With the seventy elders, God let Moses see the influence he had on others. All Moses needed to continue, was a transparent glimpse of how his spirit could be inspired and communicated to others. Then he realized what a tremendous difference he had…and, will continue to be, to others.

 

FOOTNOTES:

(1) NUMBERS (11:4-6)

(2) The Torah: A Modern Commentary

(3) NUMBERS (11:11-15)

(4) NUMBERS (11:18-20)