Biha’aloscha – The Negative Effect Physical Desires for Food Have on Faith

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There are two episodes in the Torah which seem to mirror each other but had vastly different outcomes. In this week’s Torah portion Biha’aloscha the Jews complained that they were not given meat to eat which they desired, as the Torah states, “But the multitude among them began to have strong cravings. Then even the Children of Israel once again began to cry, and they said, ‘Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now, our bodies are dried out, for there is nothing at all; we have nothing but manna to look at’” (Bamidbar 11:4-6).  Hashem responded, “And to the people, you shall say, ‘Prepare yourselves for tomorrow and you shall eat meat, because you have cried in the ears of the Lord saying, ‘Who will feed us meat, for we had it better in Egypt.’ [Therefore,] the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat it not one day, not two days, not five days, not ten days, and not twenty days. But even for a full month until it comes out your nose and nauseates you. Because you have despised the Lord Who is among you, and you cried before Him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt’” (11:18-20)? In the end, “The people rose up all that day and all night and the next day and gathered the quails. [Even] the one who gathered the least collected ten heaps. They spread them around the camp in piles. The meat was still between their teeth; it was not yet finished, and the anger of the Lord flared against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very mighty blow” (11:32, 33). The Jewish people were in the desert for a couple of years at that point, and were on the way to Israel to possess their Promise Land, before they sent the spies. They had been eating nourishing manna all this time, yet the Ralbag in this week’s Torah portion says that they didn’t lust for something they required, they were simply running after their desires, since the manna was technically enough for them. But there was a group of lowlifes that left with the Jews out of Egypt who had convinced many of the Jews to cry and say that they very much desired that Hashem give them meat to eat, and even though they had a surplus of cattle, as it says, “And also, a great mixed multitude went up with them, and flocks and cattle, very much livestock” (Shemos 12:38), yet they wanted to find some excuse to have Hashem give them meat.

In a similar vein, right after the Jewish people witnessed all the miracles of the Exodus from Egypt and the splitting of the sea, when their belief and trust in Hashem reached such a peak that Hashem testified, “so said the Lord: I remember to you the loving kindness of your youth, the love of your nuptials, your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown” (Yirmiyahu 2:2), an expression of endearment for the Jewish people following blindly Hashem out of Egypt into a barren desert. Yet the Torah relates, “The entire community of the children of Israel complained against Moses and against Aaron in the desert. The children of Israel said to them, If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat, when we ate bread to our fill! For you have brought us out into this desert, to starve this entire congregation to death…And Moses said, When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and bread in the morning [with which] to become sated, when the Lord hears your complaints, which you are making [the people] complain against Him, but [of] what [significance] are we? Not against us are your complaints, but against the Lord… And Moses said to Aaron, Say to the entire community of the children of Israel, Draw near before the Lord, for He has heard your complaints.…It came to pass in the evening that the quails went up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. The layer of dew went up, and behold, on the surface of the desert, a fine, bare [substance] as fine as frost on the ground” (Shemos 16:2-3, 8-9, 13-14). They just left Egypt with such wonderous miracles as eating from fruit trees miraculously grown and producing succulent fruit as they were walking through dryland in the splitting of the Red Sea, as well as drinking fresh water from the walls of salty seawater on either side of them, plus much sheep and cattle which left with them out of Egypt. Yet when they got to the desert of Cin their physical desire of hunger caused them to complain to Hashem. Yet at that point Hashem listened to them but did not punish them; on the contrary, he began giving them manna and quail.

What was the difference between these two episodes? Both times it would seem that the Jewish people were at such great height of belief and trust in Hashem that they should have trusted in Hashem to feed them at first, and later what Hashem had been feeding them; yet they complained that they wanted to go back to Egypt, as the Ralbag in the Torah portion of Bishalach says, since meat was found there in plenty. Both times Hashem listened to their complaints and gave them what they wanted. But the second time they were punished, and many died; what changed?
The Ralbag in his Toaliyos learns a very important lesson from here in this week’s portion, “this is to inform us that it is not befitting of a person to run after his physical desires, for we see what happened to those who ran after their desires and many of them died. However, the Almighty Hashem wanted to fulfill their request to show the nation that the hand of Hashem is not shorthanded so that they will strengthen their faith in the Almighty Hashem. He showed them the He brought for them such an abundance of meat to last a month, for even the least amount a person gathered was ten laden donkeys full. Now, behold The Almighty Hashem did not punish when they asked for meat and bread in the Desert of Cin because then they did not have manna and it was appropriate for them to ask for bread and sustenance. However, now, when they had manna the problem was, they were running after their physical desires or their intent was to test The Almighty Hashem if he can give them meat in such abundance.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We first learn from here that one’s physical desires, at the very least for food, can cause someone, even at such lofty levels of belief and trust in Hashem, to question their faith.
We also see how two episodes, which at first glance look exactly the same, can have drastically different results. For in the first case in Bishalach, all they wanted was a much-needed well-balanced diet, which Hashem patiently provided when they asked for it, though they did so in the form of a complaint. But in this week’s portion of Biha’aloscha their complaints stemmed from running after a desire that they wanted but did not need. Therefore, even though Hashem did fulfill their request, just to teach them a lesson in strengthening their faith, it came with deadly consequences.

It is very important to get to the root of an issue and to see the subtle differences before concluding that two things might look the same.

Biha’aloscha – Competition

Towards the end of this week’s Torah portion of Biha’aloscha we have the mysterious episode of Eldad and Meidad. Why was there such a reaction from Yehoshua? Did they do anything wrong? The Medrish Tanchuma sheds light on this episode in the desert and it will also clarify an issue I have had for many years, of what is the similarity between jealousy and zealotry, which both have the same Hebrew word, kinah.
This episode took place within the first two years of the Jews’ freedom from Egypt, before the episode of the spies, right after Yisro gave the advice to Moshe to delegate his responsibilities among many courts, shortly after Yisro had left. Hashem told Moshe to gather 70 elders who would help him with taking care of the needs of the people.  The Medrish Tanchuma begins with deliberation on how to choose the elders. There was going to be lots drawn, but each tribe was to be equally represented, and 6 multiplied by 12 is 72, not 70. The Medrish Tanchuma writes: “So what did they do? Rebbe Nechemia said this is what Moshe did. He took 72 tickets, wrote the word ‘elder’ on 70 of them and two of them were left blank. They were mixed up and thrown into a ‘hat’ and he told [each one of the candidates] come and pick your ticket. If it says ‘elder’ on it you know you were chosen and if it is blank then you know you were not chosen. [There was actually someone appointed over the drawing to pick out each ticket. He would then read the ticket and give it to the next person in line.] The appointee would say [to the one standing before him,] ‘Here is one ticket which says ‘elder’ because you are befitting to be picked that is why you received this.’ In this way all the elders were appointed. Eldad and Meidad were there and they excluded themselves. They said ‘we are not worthy to be appointed as elders.’ And for excluding themselves they were given five qualities over the elders. The elders only prophesied the next day as it says ‘And to the nation you shall say you will sanctify them the next day.’ But they prophesied about what will happen at the end of forty years, as it says “And there were left two men etc.” What was their prophesy about? Some say it was about the downfall of Gog. Others say they prophesized and said that Moshe will die in the desert and Yehoshua will bring the Jews into the land. Proof that this was what they prophesized about, for this is what Yehoshua said to Moshe. ‘Yehoshua bin Nun, the servant of Moshe…’ and it writes ‘The youth ran and told Moshe…’ Who was this? Gershom ben Moshe, (Parenthetically on a historical note, the Etz Yosef points out that “the youth” must be referring to someone well known and not some random kid so it must be Gershom, Moshe’s firstborn son, because Eliezer was born on the way back to Egypt after the burning bush so he would only be 3 or 4 at the time of this episode. Also from the fact that Gershom is delivering the news must be that the prophesy was about Moshe’s death.) The elders did not enter the land but Eldad and Meidad did. Eldad is Elidad ben Kislon and Meidad is Kamiel ben Shiftan. We don’t know the elders’ names but we know their names. The elders’ prophecy was temporary for it stemmed from Moshe, as it says that Hashem told Moshe, ‘And I will delegate some of the spirit that is upon you and I will place it on them.’ But these two had prophesy [directly] from Hashem, as it says, ‘And the spirit rested upon them.’ One shouldn’t be mistaken to think that since the elders’ prophesy stemmed from Moshe then he was lacking a bit, for it can be comparable to a candle that was lit and many other candles were lit from it but the flame is not diminished in any way, so to Moshe, even though the prophesy of the 70 elders came from him he wasn’t lacking at all in his level of prophesy as it says, ‘There was no one that ever got up again like Moshe with in the Jewish people’ (Devarim 34:10).” (Click here and here for Hebrew text)
In summary, the Etz Yosef surmises that Eldad and Meidad were better off than the elders in five ways: (1) They prophesied about the future. (2) They entered the Land of Israel. (3) Their names were identified.  (4) There prophesizing did not stop. (5) There prophesy was directly from Hashem.

In explaining Yehoshua bin Nun’s concern and Moshe’s response, the Etz Yosef says that the elders only delegated prophesy from Moshe in order to work with him in taking care of the burdens of the nation. So Yehoshua didn’t have any kinah (jealousy or zealotry) for Moshe’s sake, since the prophesy was delegated from Moshe’s spirit and that is why their prophesy was temporary. But by Eldad and Meidad it writes: “that it rested on them,” the spirit from Hashem Himself. We know this since it does not write: “his spirit rested on them;” therefore it must be that they merited to have prophesy just like Moshe, straight from Hashem. About this very matter Yehoshua was jealous (or zealous) of them (for Moshe), for making themselves like Moshe. Moshe answered Yehoshua: “Why are you jealous (zealous) for me? Am I jealous of you? [Of course not] because you are my student… and who cares if all the nation of Hashem are prophets like me to go around and prophesize like Eldad and Meidad that Hashem chose to rest His spirit among them and not my spirit, to make them as important as me? I am not jealous of them because every one of them are my students and no one is jealous of their students!”

We see from this medrish that Eldad and Meidad were in fact very righteous people who emulated their teacher, Moshe, in the attribute of humility and merited to receive prophecy straight from Hashem instead of it being delegated through Moshe. It seems apparent that the kinah discussed in the Etz Yosef is not zeal but rather jealousy as inferred from Moshe’s response to Yehoshua of why Yehoshua should not have kinah on behalf of Moshe. This is because there is no reason for it because Moshe himself did not feel it since there is a psychological rule that teachers don’t feel jealousy towards their students. (Unless one can say that Yehoshua was being zealous for Moshe and Moshe is saying I have no jealousy of Eldad and Meidad because they are my students). In any event, we have to ask ourselves: what is jealousy and what is zeal?

Normally we think of jealousy as desiring something that someone else has. But in this case it is clearly not so, for Eldad and Meidad had the same type of prophesy as Moshe did, directly from Hashem, and Moshe even had a higher level of prophesy, face to face; so why is this jealousy? It would even seem that if not for the fact that they were his students Moshe would have felt kinah against them, albeit on his high level of humility, and the feeling would have been very miniscule. So what is this jealousy?
It must be that part of the attribute of kinah is competition and it might even be the underlying reason of kinah as we will see in the Orchos Tzadikim. In this way we will also see a commonality between jealousy and zeal.

In excerpts of Orchos Tzadikim in the Gate of Envy it writes: “Envy is a branch of anger, and no man escapes from it completely. For we see that among men each one tries to keep-up with one’s neighbor. For when he sees that his neighbor acquires food or clothes, or a home or amasses money, then he too endeavors to attain the same, thinking, “My fellow has all this; I must also have it.” And concerning this matter, Solomon hinted: “Again, I considered all labour and all excelling in work, that it is a man’s rivalry with his neighbor” (Eccl. 4:4)… Envy is the result of a feeling of inferiority. If one envies another’s beauty, strength or wealth, then he is unhappy with what the Creator, blessed be He, has decreed for him. This is similar to a servant who complains concerning the deeds of his master, and is not pleased with his master’s matters. Such a one is not a faithful servant. All the more so, ought he not to complain against the Creator, may He be Blessed, for all His deeds are righteous and proper, and one ought never to dispute them… Even though jealousy is a very bad quality, there are instances where it can be a very good quality and, in fact, it can be a most noble quality, — when one envies those who revere God, as it is said : “Let not thy heart envy sinners, but those that fear the Lord all the day…” (Prov. 23:17). And in the same way our Sages said : “that the jealousy of wise men increases wisdom” (Baba Bathra 21a)… The Holy One, Blessed be He, said : “Be jealous for My sake, were it not for envy, the world would not stand. A man would not plant a vineyard, marry a wife or build a house (Shoher Tob 37a)… One ought to be zealous against sinners and the wicked, to strife with them and to rebuke them. As our Sages said : “A man who cohabitates with a heathen woman, the zealous ones should smite him” (Sanhedrin 81b). Moses was jealous of the Egyptian, as it is said, “And he smote the Egyptian” (Exod. 2:12). And so we find in the case of Elijah, when he said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant” (I Kings 19:10). And so is it said, “In that he was very jealous for My sake among them” (Num. 25:11), and the Lord, may He be Blessed, gave him his reward for this as it is said: “Behold, I give unto him My covenant of peace!” (Num. 25:12).  (Click here for Sefaria’s translation in its totality.)
In summary, the Orchos Tzadikim says the trait of jealousy, or envy, is a natural innate trait that everyone has and it is needed for the world to exist. However, if one gets carried away with being jealous of what others have, it can be very, very bad. He also discusses cases of zealotry like that of Pinchas, or the incident where Moshe killed an Egyptian to save a poor Jewish slave.  The Alay Orech, a commentary on the Orchos Tzadikim, points out that this type of kinah does not stem from strife or, G-D forbid, a bad attribute. Rather, zealotry stems from the perfection of man and his desire to make peace between the Jews and their Father In Heaven.  It would seem that jealousy and zealotry are two totally different  attributes, but are both called the same thing in Hebrew, kinah, and are both discussed in the same chapter of envy in Orchos Tzadikim. So how are they under the same umbrella?

Based on this Medrish Tanchuma and Etz Yosef we can say that all types of kinah boil down to competition. It doesn’t make a difference if someone has something you don’t have, or they have the same thing as you, or even similar to you, or whether it’s competing for the good of mankind, who will win good or evil, and being zealous to wipe out the evil. For good or for bad competition is the underlying impetus of all kinah.

Good Shabbos,
Rabbi Dovid Shmuel Milder