June 17, 2022
In this week’s Torah portion, Beha’alotecha, we find a unique way in which Gd decides to teach the people how to be thankful for what they have. In fact, the people’s grievances are so extraordinary that Moses appeals to Gd to, “kill [him]” (Numbers 11:15) rather than put him through fulfilling these newest set of complaints.
But what are the people asking for that could be worse than their previous protests you might wonder? Moses had already endured the challenge of exhaustion, dehydration, fear of death, and even absent leadership, so what could possibly exceed all of these? It was meat! Yes, the people cried, “If only we had meat to eat!” (11:4)
There is a fascinating exchange that takes place between Moses and Gd following the people’s “gluttonous cravings” (11:4). Moses appeals to Gd that this is the end of his ability to lead these people, and Gd replies with a, don’t worry, I’m going to give them way more than they bargained for, “[the people] shall eat [meat] not one day, not two, not even five days or ten or twenty, but a whole month, until it comes out of [their] nostrils and becomes loathsome to [them all].” (11:19-20)
It is not really the request for meat that drives Moses to this tipping point. The “meat” is simply a demonstration of the people’s hunger for luxury. All of their earlier complaints were out of their fear for survival. Moses took their earlier complaints to Gd without judgment. Sometimes he was bothered by how the people complained, but never by what they were complaining about.
Previous dialogues between Moses and Gd were about how to meet the people’s needs while reminding them of Gd’s great care for their survival. But now, now the people had their basic needs met. Now they were fed each day a portion of Divine manna that miraculously kept them sustained until the next day. Yet, their appeals for meat were simply beyond Moses’ ability to intervene for them.
In 1902, George Barr McCutcheon wrote a book that would in 1985 be turned into a Hollywood movie, “Brewster’s Millions.” Although the screenplay adapted the original story, the message was clear, give someone so much of a good thing that eventually they wouldn’t enjoy anything about it. Essentially, McCutcheon adapted the story from this week’s Torah portion. The people wanted meat, and so meat they got!
We are taught in Pirke Avot (Mishne 4:1), that the “rich” person is the one “who rejoices in his lot.” There is much to be learned from this message. Yes, it is true that some people have more than others, but more material wealth has never equated to greater richness. If we simply take a step back and look at the world today, we can see how fortunate we truly are.
The Jewish Federation’s mission is to follow in Moses’ footsteps. To make sure we provide the resources for our people’s basic needs. Our support of our local social service organizations, our international aid, and our commitment to raising the next generation of Jewish leaders is imperative. If not us, then who? Because we are…