Disloyal Minorities                   

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Parsha, Behaalotcha, depicts a series of calamities that took place prior to the disaster of the Spies which sealed the fate of the generation that experienced the Exodus from Egypt but failed to achieve the goal of conquering and settling the land that G-d had chosen for His Chosen People.

Ironically, a rebellion broke out over the matter of food. This, at first, sounds strange. It wasn’t as if the people were starving. Their nutritional needs were well cared for through the miraculous cuisine known as Manna. This was a special food designed and produced by the Creator which satisfied all of one’s dietary requirements. 

And it was also easy to obtain. The Torah attests: 

Now the manna was like a coriander seed and its color was like the color of the bedolach. The people would stroll and gather it and grind it in a mill or pound it in a mortar and cook it in a pot or make it into cakes, and it’s taste was like the taste of dough kneaded with oil. When the dew descended upon the camp at night, the manna would descend upon it.

The manna was available,  easy to acquire, uncomplicated to prepare and could assume a variety of forms.  Nevertheless it failed to satisfy the people. They inexplicably complained,

Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge; the cucumbers, melons, leeks and onions and garlic. But now our life is parched, there is nothing; we have nothing to anticipate but the manna!

Everything depends upon perspective. It is frightening to see the extent to which people can distort reality and convert a great benefit into something terrible. They could not appreciate the great blessings that Hashem had rained down upon them and instead waxed nostalgic about the wonderful old days they had enjoyed in Egypt. Seriously?

It is difficult to understand how the Jews could behave in such a lowly manner after all the miracles Hashem had performed for them in Egypt and the wilderness. Not to mention the gathering at Mt. Sinai where they witnessed the Revelation. If they had attained the proper mindset of devotion to the service of Hashem they would have been quite satisfied  with the manna and completely oblivious to the “delicacies” which had apparently been so abundant in Egypt.

The verse provides an additional clue to understanding this bizarre episode. In introducing this story it says, “The “Safsuf (rabble) that was among them cultivated a craving, and the Children of Israel also wept once more and said, ‘Who will feed us meat?” Apparently there was a group of troublemakers in their midst known as the “rabble”. Who were they?

Rashi says that they were the “mixed multitude” of Egyptians who joined with them as they left Egypt. Moshe was very generous and tolerant in his decision to accept them. But was that such a good idea? Rashi regards them as responsible for contributing to many of the sinful behaviors of the Jews in the Midbar. In fact the Midrash depicts  Hashem as taking issue with Moshe for not consulting with Him on this vital matter.

The lessons of this story are very relevant to  contemporary life in the land of Israel. A nation which has a specific identity and mission must be very careful about who it allows to “join” it.  Judaism actually welcomes the right of a convert to enter the nation as is clearly depicted in the Megillah of Ruth that we read on Shavuot.

Ruth was a great woman who embodied the supreme virtues of the Jewish people especially that of Chesed. Indeed,  she was the great grandmother of King David from whom the Moshiach will descend. Our history abounds with the stories of illustrious converts who made great contributions to the Jewish Nation. It is very important to maintain the proper attitude of respect and full acceptance to all who convert to Judaism with full integrity.

But the story of the “rabble” alerts us to the dangers of uncritical acceptance  of those who don’t share our basic values. During the recent war with Hamas serious riots broke out in the “mixed” cities which contain large numbers  of “Israeli” Arabs. They physically attacked Jews and set fire to many synagogues thereby giving vent to the great hatred that they harbor in their hearts. Why would a Jewish state give rights of citizenship and political power to a group of people that identifies with its most extreme enemies and desires it’s destruction?

It should be noted in this regard that many Arabs such as the Druze and certain Bedouins  are loyal Israelis and in fact serve with great distinction in the I.D.F.  I have nothing but great respect for these people and appreciation for their service.

But the problem of granting  significant political  power  to a group that opposes the very foundational principles of the State cannot be brushed aside. The Arabs comprise about 20% of the Israeli population and the Knesset. All of the Arab political  parties call for the dissolution of the Jewish state and its replacement with “some else” in their charters. In the clash with Hamas they opposed Israel’s military response to the rockets that were flying in from Gaza. It is foolish and very dangerous to grant such people  a voice in determining the policies and direction of the state of Israel. 

The war with Hamas brought to the surface many latent problems in Israeli society. The country can no longer ignore the danger of explosive violence in the mixed cities. It must also address the difficulty of preserving Israel as both a democratic society and a Jewish state. I believe that this  is possible but only by maintaining   a guaranteed Jewish majority. New laws must be written with great wisdom and insight that will assure that the Jewish character of the state is enshrined forever.

Shabbat Shalom 

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