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Torah Commentary
B'haalot'cha (June 25, 2016)

Missy Bell,
Program Director
of Youth Learning and Engagement

There is a lot happening
in this week’s Torah portion.

The Israelites are in the midst of their journey in the desert. God gives them various rules about their travel, including instructing them to remain encamped while the cloud hangs over the Tabernacle and to break camp when the cloud lifts. The Israelites might remain encamped for days or weeks at a time. All the Israelites have to eat during the years of travel is manna, and their dissatisfaction with this diet becomes clear in this Torah portion.

The Israelites complain, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onion and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!” The Israelites are so disappointed with their food choices that they turn to remembering — fondly — their days of slavery in Egypt, where at least the food was good.

In the next few verses, we’re told that the manna was baked into cakes and tasted like cream. In a commentary on this verse, the Talmud says, “Just as the infant finds many flavors in the breast, so did Israel find many a taste in manna.” (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 75a) So why are the Israelites so disappointed in the manna that they start reminiscing on their days of slavery?

Ben Zoma teaches us in Pirkei Avot, “Who is rich? Those who are happy with what they have.” Our third, fourth and fifth grade students studied this text in the Tribes program in Religious School this year and what a terrible example the Israelites set! They are no longer slaves; they have received the Torah; and they are being guided by God to get to the Promised Land. They have so much to be grateful for, and instead they’re complaining about the food. This week, try to set a better example than the Israelites. Think about the things that make you rich — the things you already have for which you are grateful.

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