Mann Meltdown – Beha’alotcha


In this week’s parsha we read about Bnei Yisrael complaining about the Mann and Moshe’s “inability” to deal with their complaints on his own.

This was not the first time Bnei Yisrael complained about food. Back in Shmot (16, 3) they were already complaining how much they fondly remembered the “fleshpots” and the abundance of bread in Egypt. Back then Moshe did not raise his hands in “defeat” as he did now.

As a result, in this week’s parsha HKB”H tells Moshe to gather 70 elders to transfer some of Moshe’s power of prophecy to them. This began a catastrophic chain of events that culminated in Moshe perishing in the Midbar and not entering Eretz Yisrael.

Two of these elders, Eldad and Meidad received a nevuah that Moshe would die and that Yehoshua would lead Bnei Yisrael into the Promised Land. This was the precursor. The actual fait accompli took place later in Mei Meriva. Both episodes were related to complaints about the Mann.

The Mefarshim say that if Moshe would have led Bnei Yisrael into the Land of Milk and Honey and subsequently built the Beit Hamikdash, we would already be 3333 years into the era of Mashiach.

In prior debacles, most glaringly the עגל הזהב, Moshe rallied behind his people and came to their defense. This time they complained against the Mann. So what? Is complaining against the Mann worse than the previous time they complained about food? Is it worse than the eigel hazahav? What was so terrible in this specific episode that caused Moshe to “give up”?

To understand this, we need to examine what exactly it was that Bnei Yisrael were complaining about.

This bout of complaints began after Am Yisrael left Har Sinai. The passuk says –

וַיִּסְעוּ מֵהַר ה' דֶּרֶךְ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים וַאֲרוֹן בְּרִית ה' נֹסֵעַ לִפְנֵיהֶם דֶּרֶךְ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים לָתוּר לָהֶם מְנוּחָה. (במדבר י, לג)

They did not leave Har Sinai of their own volition. Hashem explicitly commanded how and when they should travel – that the Pillar of Cloud would rise from the Ohel - that was the sign. There would be a blast of trumpets – tekia, terua, tekia. There was nothing spontaneous involved, it was all by HKB”H’s behest.

There was nothing wrong with Bnei Yisrael leaving Har Sinai, it was how they left that was problematic.

The Kli Yakar on the above passuk says that Bnei Yisrael left Har Sinai like children running away from school. They said to themselves “Let’s leave quickly before Hashem piles on more commandments and mitzvot!” Contrast this to what happened at the Red Sea, when the Egyptians drowned and all their loot floated ashore. Moshe had to forcibly get them to leave - they were too busy piling the gold on their donkeys.

If someone perceives that something is good for them, for their benefit, they want to stick around for more. If however, they perceive that it is not for their benefit, they want to high-tail it out of there. The Kli Yakar says that Bnei Yisrael did not perceive that all these new commandments and mitzvot were for their benefit. They had just escaped bondage in Egypt and now they perceived that they were entering a new kind of “bondage”, just with a different Master

This was the feeling that instigated it all. Everything after that was just the excuse. וַיְהִי הָעָם כְּמִתְאֹנְנִים – they were “like” complaining, not really complaining about something substantial or significant, but rather looking to complain for no reason.

Hashem detested this lack of gratitude and smote them with fire. The Midrash says it was a fire that erupted from the earth and consumed them. They pleaded to Moshe, who prayed to HKB”H and the fire subsided. It did not disappear altogether - it became concentrated in the Mishkan.  The Midrash says that when Bnei Yisrael brought korbanot, this fire erupted on the Mizbeach and consumed the korbanot.

After this, the erev rav הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה. They suckered the rest of Bnei Yisrael in with them, moaning and crying “Who will feed us meat?”

זָכַרְנוּ אֶת הַדָּגָה אֲשֶׁר נֹאכַל בְּמִצְרַיִם חִנָּם אֵת הַקִּשֻּׁאִים וְאֵת הָאֲבַטִּחִים וְאֶת הֶחָצִיר וְאֶת הַבְּצָלִים וְאֶת הַשּׁוּמִים.

This preamble finally led to the clincher – complaining about the Mann. When you want to discover what someone is truly complaining about, you skip the preamble and cut straight to the punch line. Meat, fish, cucumbers, watermelons, garlic - that was all just smoke and mirrors. Their real complaint was about the Mann. It is like when Lavan chased after Yaakov and launched into his long tirade – “They are my children and why did you run away like thieves in the night and not allow me to kiss them goodbye, blah blah.” But finally Lavan cuts to the chase “Why did you steal my idols!” Lavan was not interested in kissing his grandchildren, he wanted his idols.

Why did Bnei Yisrael truly complain about the Mann?  

Mann was the most incredible food ever to exist in history. First of all it was free, you didn’t have to work to earn it. It descended from Heaven every morning (except Shabbat) and was encased in two layers of dew, above and below to keep it pristine. It could taste like anything you wanted it to, not only the flavor, but also the texture - like something baked in an oven, something cooked in a pot. It was perfectly nourishing and left no waste products.

Some Mefarshim say that it was precisely these “perks” that Bnei Yisrael complained about. “OK, so we have ‘tofu’ that tastes like chicken and ‘tofu’ that tastes like chocolate cake – but it all still looks like ‘tofu’! There is no visual stimulus with the Mann to arouse the appetite!” “How can it be that we eat and eat and eat and never have to go to the bathroom? Eventually we will explode!”

But that was not the reason they complained. They complained because the Mann was a “teller”. If someone sinned the Mann would “tell” everyone about it. If two people came to Moshe regarding a monetary dispute, each saying the other stole from him – Moshe would say “Wait until tomorrow and watch where their portion of Mann arrives!” The following morning an extra portion of Mann would arrive at the righteous party’s doorstep and the sinner would be short of Mann in his jar. If someone complained that his wife was cheating on him Moshe would say “Wait until tomorrow and watch where her portion of Mann arrives!” at the woman’s home or at the home of her father. It is one thing to feel private guilt for wronging another, but to have the fact broadcast publicly for everyone to see? The sinners didn’t like the Mann!

Ultimately however the reason they complained about the Mann is because the Mann, and only the Mann, had restrictions placed on it. “You can only take one omer measure per person.” “You cannot leave it until the following morning.” “On erev Shabbat you must gather a double portion.”

There were no restrictions on how much water they could drink from the Well of Miriam! There were no restrictions of how much שלו (quail) you could eat! (some Mefarshim say that Am Yisrael ate Mann and quail, all 40 years in the Midbar). The complainers despised the fact that there were restrictions on their daily bread! It is not as if anyone ever went hungry, nobody ever did - it was that they didn’t want anyone telling them how to eat their food.

OK, so Bnei Yisrael complained about the Mann. Why was the Mann the last straw that “broke” Moshe Rabbeinu? That he could not bear the burden of his people any longer?

Firstly, the Mann existed in Moshe’s merit. The Clouds of Glory were due to Aharon and the Well of Miriam was bizchut – Miriam! The Mann was Moshe’s “baby”. Complaining about the Mann struck a nerve with him and made him lose his rag. It happened here and after Mei Meriva, when the people again began complaining about the Mann.

However it was much deeper than that.

The whole purpose of Matan Torah was to restore the Creation to how it was before Adam and Chava sinned. Prior to Matan Torah HKB”H gave Bnei Yisrael Mann to eat, because Mann is the food of angels לחם אבירים. It elevated Bnei Yisrael to the level of angels so that they could witness HKB”H’s Shechina at Har Sinai and live to tell the tale.

Yes, they sinned immediately after with the egel hazahav, but they repented and HKB”H forgave them. If not for their complaining about the Mann, Moshe would have led Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael and the era of Mashiach would have commenced. What put a spanner in the works was the complaint against the Mann. Because of that we are still suffering galut 3333 years later and the Geulah has not yet arrived (it is very close but not here yet).

There was nothing Moshe wanted more than to lead Am Yisael into Eretz Yisrael - he pleaded endlessly to Hashem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisrael, even in the form of a bird! But Moshe himself knew that Bnei Yisrael were not ready yet for the Mashiach, he knew it because they were repeating the very same sin of Adam and Chava in Gan Eden.

Adam Harishon enjoyed the crème de la crème in Gan Eden - every possible kind of food, with every flavor, texture, no waste products (remind you of something?). So why would he eat from davka the only tree Hashem told him not to? Because there were restrictions on that tree! It was the only tree in Gan Eden with restrictions on it. The restrictions were for Adam and Chava’s benefit, but they did not perceive it so. The nachash managed to convince Chava that HKB”H did not want them to eat from the eitz hada’at because Hashem did not want them to be like Him. According to the lashon harah of the nachash, Hashem ate from the eitz hada’at and thus acquired the knowledge to create the world. This made Chava perceive that the restriction was not for her benefit, but to her detriment.

What does it say about the erev rav - הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה.  What does it say about the eitz hada’t ? וְכִי תַאֲוָה הוּא לָעֵינַיִם. The complaint about the Mann was visual, it had to do with the eyes בִּלְתִּי אֶל הַמָּן עֵינֵינוּ. When Am Yisrael complained about the Mann again after Mei Meriva, what was their punishment וַיְשַׁלַּח ה' בָּעָם אֵת הַנְּחָשִׁים הַשְּׂרָפִים.

Bnei Yisrael complaining about the Mann was a reenactment of the eitz hada’at. It was a lack of gratitude to HKB”H and a perception that Hashem is placing restrictions and rules not for our benefit.

If this was the reality in Bnei Yisrael, then they were not ready yet for Mashiach. They had to come to the perception themselves that כָּל מאן דְּעָבִיד רַחְמָנָא לְטַב עָבִיד. Moshe himself set into play the sequence of events that would delay the Geulah.

It was not as if Moshe was “giving up”, he simply realized that Am Yisrael were not yet “mature” enough to merit the Geulah. They needed to undergo a process that would bring them to the recognition that everything HKB”H does is for our benefit.

Being given everything “on a plate” is HKB”H’s מידת הרחמים at work. It was the default with Adam Harishon and the default with Am Yisrael after Matan Torah. However, it failed to instill the required perception of gratitude. Am Yisrael needed to come to the realization themselves, of their own volition.

This is what galut is. Galut is the recognition that all that Hashem has given us is good, so good in fact that we are willing למסור את הנפש to cling to it. After almost 2000 years of persecution, genocide and assimilation and accepting the “restrictions” out of choice, we are finally ready as a nation to merit the Geulah.

This is why the two psukkim וַיְהִי בִּנְסֹעַ הָאָרֹן and וּבְנֻחֹה יֹאמַר are “sandwiched” exactly here in the parsha between two inverted נון letters. The first indicates embarking on a journey and the second arriving at the destination. This is the turning point at which Am Yisrael “embarked” on a 3333 year (so far) journey, with the purpose of eventually arriving at the required “destination”.

This is the reason that the Reform doctrine is so lethal. Regardless of from where it stemmed, Reform doctrine refuses to accept the restrictions and if they are so clearly written in the Torah that they are undeniable and irrefutable, then Reform doctrine seeks to undermine the Divinity of the Torah. It is undoing all the “repair work” Am Yisrael has sacrificed their lives for in the last 2000 years and repeating the sin of the complaining about the Mann, that was the start of it all!

I don’t believe that all Reform Jews are to blame, 99% of them simply don’t know better because they haven’t been taught better. They are Reform Jews out of habit and out of a sense of wanting to belong to some kind of community. There is a very small percentage of Reform Jews who are such out of deep seated belief in the Reform doctrine and they are the danger to Am Yisrael, not the millions who don’t know the difference אשר לא ידע בין ימינו לשמאלו (יונה, ד, יא) and if Mashiach were to arrive tomorrow, they would all do tshuva. That is why is important to fight the radicals and to not give up on and reach out to the masses.

And now, HKB”H has returned us to our land. We are preparing ourselves for the inevitable Geulah that is fast approaching and weeding out the last “chaff” in our nation and in ourselves that still refuses to show our gratitude to HKB”H for everything we have.  HKB”H has given us restrictions and 613 commandments because they are for our benefit - רצה הקדוש ברוך הוא לזכות את ישראל, לפיכך הרבה להם תורה ומצות. We have to learn to express gratitude while we “have a thing”, not only be remorseful after we “lose a thing”. It takes a lot of work and is the purpose of this generation, to be metaken and mekarev and save as many souls as we possibly can.

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