Beha’alotekha 5771

Posted on June 14, 2011

by Josh Seed, 2011 USY Religion/Education International General Board

A poor Jew went to his rabbi for advice. “Holy Rabbi!” he cried, “Things are in a bad way with me, and are getting worse all the time! We are so poor, that my wife, six children, in laws, five grandchildren and I all have to live in a one room hut. We get in each other’s way all the time. Our nerves are frayed and, because we have plenty of troubles, we quarrel all the time. My home is so terrible that I’d sooner die than continue living this way!”

The Rabbi pondered the matter gravely. “My son,” he said, “promise to do as I tell you and your condition will improve. Go home now and bring all of your animals into your house to live with you and God will help you. Keep them in the house for two days. At the end of the two days, let them go.”

The poor man was dumbfounded but since he trusted the Rabbi, he went home and brought all of the family’s animals into his house.

At the end of the two days, he let all the animals out of the house. A miraculous transformation took place. Not a day had passed before he came running again to the Rabbi. “Rabbi!” cried the poor man, his face beaming, “With all the animals out, the house is so quiet, so roomy and so clean! What a pleasure! My house is a treat. Thank you Rabbi you have made my life sweet.”

This coming Shabbat we will be reading Parashat Beha’alotcha. Among a number of topics that are discussed in the portion is B’nai Yisrael’s constant complaining. This can first be seen in the sixth aliyah. “The people took to complaining bitterly before the Lord. The Lord heard and was incensed: a fire of the Lord broke out against them, ravaging the outskirts of the camp.” (Bamidbar 11:1-2)

What were they complaining about? The commentators point us to the answer found just a few verses before. “They marched from the mountain of the Lord a distance of three days.” (Bamidbar 10:33) It appears that B’nai Yisrael was complaining about this three day journey. If not for the prayers of Moses, God’s fire would have likely killed everyone.

The next incident of complaining occurs shortly after. The people begin to grumble that all they have to eat was manna. They reminisced about their time in Egypt when they supposedly had fish, cucumbers, melons, onions and garlic to eat. Their complaining again brings a punishment from God. Quail fell outside the camp and whoever ate of it was stricken and died.

As the poor Jew in the story realizes, things can always be worse. Your house could be smaller, a terrible fire could devastate your people and you could be eating nothing but quail instead of manna which supposedly tasted like anything you want it to be! Parashat Beha’alotcha serves to remind us that we should be thankful for what we have. At a time when there are many people throughout the world who don’t have enough to eat, we must always be sure to consider our blessings before opening our mouths to complain.

This week’s mitzvah is to learn Torah and to teach it. (D’varim 6:7) Although the holiday of Shavuot does not carry any particular mitzvot like eating matzah on Pesach and dwelling in a sukkah on Sukkot, the holiday is special nonetheless. Shavuot celebrates the giving of Torah to the Israelites and it is therefore customary to spend the holiday studying Jewish texts into the wee hours of the night.