A Simple Thank You–Would Be Nice

Rabbi Reuven Mann

In this week’s Parsha, BeHa’alotecha, final preparations are made for the journey to the Promised Land. We can detect a great deal of tension among the people, which expressed itself in strange ways.

Take, for example, the matter of their diet. It was evident from the outset that a source of food for the nation would be needed. Hashem responded with the provision of the Manna, a specially designed delicacy, which awaited them every morning outside their tents.

In addition to this, at certain times, Hashem would bring them the Slav, which was a type of quail. Let us also remember that the Jews left Egypt with all of their livestock, which could have been used to satisfy any craving for meat. So what was the problem?

Apparently, the difficulty was that they remembered just how good it had been in Egypt:

The rabble that was among them cultivated a craving, and the Children of Israel also wept once more, and said, “Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge; the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now, our life is parched, there is nothing; we have nothing to look forward to but the manna” (BaMidbar 11:4-6).

Is it possible that, looking back, the Jews waxed nostalgic over the wonderful conditions of their enslavement in comparison with their deprived state of dependency on the manna?

The narrative itself intercedes in order to put things in perspective: 

Now, the manna was like a coriander seed; and its color was like the color of 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 its taste was like the taste of dough mixed with oil. When the dew descended upon the camp at night; the manna would descend upon it” (BaMidbar 11:7-9).

 Given that this was the case, what was the basis for their dissatisfaction with their culinary regimen?

Rashi provides an explanation. He takes issue with their depiction of the food in Egypt as being gratis:

Is it possible, he asks, that the Egyptians who wouldn’t even give them straw in order to make bricks would be so generous in providing tasty, complimentary food? What then is the meaning of “free”? Free from the Mitzvot.

Thus, their psychological state was one of discontent. They compared their current condition of “enslavement to Hashem” with the previous situation in Egypt. In both cases they were forced to do certain things in exchange for which they were fed, and guess what: The fare in Egypt was more versatile and delicious than that which they received in the wilderness!

There are significant lessons to be learned here. According to Rashi’s interpretation, it was not the quality of the meals that was at issue. Rather, the discontent of the people with Torah was being displaced onto the food plan.

We see from this, that self-knowledge is a very important thing. When a person experiences extreme unhappiness with something which is actually good for him, he should look within himself and seek out the real cause of his frustration.

Is it possible that they couldn’t appreciate all the bounty that Hashem had provided for them? Had they so quickly forgotten all the miracles that He had performed for them; to gain their freedom, destroy their enemies and provide them with all their needs in the wilderness?

Maybe, at first glance, the Mitzvot did appear as some sort of enslavement, but that was only a superficial impression. They should have realized that with steady and intense learning they would experience the great beauty and enlightenment of the wondrous ideas of Torah.

And they should have had some gratitude, and not acted as though everything was coming to them. We should not underestimate the great significance of expressing appreciation. A simple “thank you” for the manna would have been very much in order. It would have put things in an entirely different light and quelled any notions of complaining. We must always remember the great Mitzvah of Hakarat HaTov (recognition of the good). It will take us a very long way.

Shabbat Shalom.

Dear Friends,

My newest book, “Eternally Yours: G-d’s Greatest Gift To Mankind” (VaYikra) was recently published, and is now available at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09SHRXS3Q

I hope that my essays will enhance your reading and study of the Book of VaYikra and would greatly appreciate a brief review on Amazon.com.

—Rabbi Reuven Mann