Beha'alotcha - Thou Shalt Not Complain; Shlach - Checking out the land

Two divrei Torah for the two readings this week, one in the Diaspora and the other in Israel.

Torah MiTzion ,

Torah scroll
Torah scroll

Parashat Beha'alotcha - Thou Shalt Not Complain

By Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Nagen, Ra'm at Yeshivat Hahesder Otniel

What is the sin that ruins it all? Even the sin of the Golden Calf – an idolatrous lapse at the holiest moment in the relationship between God and the Jewish people – was not beyond atonement and rectification. What could be worse? What sin cannot be atoned for?

Our parasha and the ones that follow chronicle a series of negative events: the complaints of the people who lust for meat, Miriam speaking ill of Moses, the spies and the defamation of the land, and the challenge to Moses and Aaron’s leadership. All of these events can be summed up with a single word: complaints. But what is so bad about complaints? There is no commandment in the Torah “Thou shalt not complain.” Furthermore, what can be more human than complaining? In order to answer that question, let us examine the complaints. It will become apparent that they are not the problem, but rather what motivates them.

Past, Present, and Future
The Israelites’ complaints do not begin in Numbers: as far back as Parashat Beshallaĥ the people moan about a lack of water and food (Ex. 15:17). However, as Elchanan Samet points out, in Bashallaĥ the complaints appear justified – there is indeed a dearth of food and water at the outset of the journey. Even if the people could have dealt with it in a more positive fashion, the complaints are understandable. In our parasha, on the other hand, the complaints are of an entirely different nature.

“The people were as murmurers, speaking evil in the ears of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled” (Num. 11:1). “Murmuring” in this context signifies a complaint of sorts. But we are not told what the people complain about. That omission, it seems, conveys something that is true of the other complaints as well: the thing that the people complain about is not the source of the complaint, but at best a pretext. An inability to recognize this truth can generate the delusion that if only the complainer were to receive his “heart’s desire,” everything would sort itself out. It is a delusion shared by both the complainer and the party that wants to help him.

But the truth is that some people’s basic outlook on life is negative. This negativity underpins their entire point of view, coloring their perception of reality. They walk around with the conviction that others want to harm them, and are blind to the many opportunities for a blessed improvement to their lives. They see only what is missing and never what there is. They are always wanting, always miserable.

This skewed perspective, sadly, is not a thing of the past. Hoshea Friedman Ben Shalom, who heads Beit Yisrael, a pre-military academy geared toward contributing to Israeli society, likens our present times to the generation of the Exodus. We are fortunate to live in a time where great things are happening, the most important century for the Jewish people in the last two thousand years, but people are caught up in squabbles and petty complaints.

Complaints are not a one-off occurrence or a temporary lapse. They are an expression and reflection of the people’s life, and characteristic of a general atmosphere. A distorted perception of reality can put negativity center-stage, no matter how good things are. The sin of the Golden Calf can be overcome, but there is no overcoming a fundamentally warped worldview. Formulated in terms of “doing” and “being,” if a sin is in the realm of “doing” – it can be transcended. But when its root is in “being,” it manifests a deep inner world, and God’s forgiveness will solve nothing, because it does not catalyze inner change.


Shlach - Lecha

By Rabbi Benjy Rickman

Former shaliach in Capetown (1998- 99), currently Head of Kodesh Studies in King David High School, Manchester and Assistant Rabbi at Holy Law Shul

Written L’ilui Nishmant my son, Naftali Meir Z’’L

We all have our favourite Parashiot. Some shine light on great personalities whose lives inspire and guide us to this very day. Others fill us with joy as we read about the downfall of an enemy. This Shabbat, the Torah story is a tragic one. Chazal saw in the tears that were shed after the spies reported back the roots of crying throughout history.

Where did things go wrong?

One of my favourite commentators, the Kli Yakar, presents a number of interesting insights that offer a different perspective on this well-known narrative.

I am going to focus on the opening three words “שְׁלַח־לְךָ֣ אֲנָשִׁ֗ים” 'Send for yourself men'.

We know from the beginning of Lech Lecha that the additional word “lecha” means that there will be a benefit to the subject of the text , in our case Moshe. Sending spies will not help the nation. They will not find answers to their questions, doubts and anxieties.

Moshe Rabbeinu, though, will benefit. The decree forbidding Moshe entry to Eretz Yisrael was already in place. The fiasco with the spies unintentionally resulted in Moshe living for an additional forty years. I am not sure what impact that would have had on Moshe. Imagine hearing that you will survive but thousands will perish during your life time because of a choice you made! It is possible that at this stage Moshe was simply being told that the mission won’t succeed in assuaging their concerns and not that it would be a colossal failure resulting in a generation of men dying.

The Kli Yakar presents another interpretation. Hashem specifically asked Moshe to choose the men for the mission using his Ruach Hakodesh to determine how genuine each person was. It is easy to get confused and assume someone with physical presence or financial clout are worthy of important tasks. So Hashem says “Shelach lecha anashim” send people who are lecha anashim, men of integrity in your opinion. Again, how Moshe would have felt after they came back with their report is a real concern. Did he inadvertently get it so wrong?

This is where the third peshat comes in. This time the Kli Yakar splits the text. ”Lecha anashim,” only you, Moshe, think they are men of upstanding ethics, morals and spirituality. They were at that moment. However, Hashem knows that they are on a path of self-destruction. This idea might mitigate the negative feelings Moshe might have felt. After all what could he have done?

According to the Kli Yakar, Moshe should have sent women and not men. The women loved the land more than the men and had they been sent they might have thought differently- Lecha anashim, But I, Hakadosh Baruch Hu would send “Nashim” who look at the land differently.

There are many ways to explain this Parasha, common to many is the enduring love, respect and attachment we must have for the land. This Shabbat is a perfect opportunity to contemplate what we might have said had we been sent to check out the land.