Torah Portion Beha’alotcha (When You Set Up) Numbers (B’Midbar) 8-12
Haftorah Reading: Zechariah 2:14-4:7
There are a lot of things to talk about in this week’s study. I would like us to zero in on a couple of issues I think will be especially helpful to us in our day-to-day life.
First let us look at Numbers 11:4-6. In these verses we read of the complaints of the people about their situation If you remember this is not the first time we see them complaining about something. After only three days and after the miracle of the splitting of the Reed Sea, Exodus 15:24, we see them asking for water at Meriba. G-d does not scold them but directs Moshe on what to do to turn the water from bitter to sweet. Then, after only a short time they complain about having no food. (Exodus 16:1-3) Again, G-d provides manna. Finally, at Rephidim, in Exodus 17:1-7 they complain about no water. Here again G-d provided without rebuking the people.
So, what makes this time so different? Why does G-d respond differently? Maybe the first three times the complaints were about the very necessities of life, food and water. While here in our portion the complaints seemed to be about a lack of variety in the menu. Here they are not actually hungry or thirsty. Here, they are complaining, spreading discontent just because they did not like the provisions of G-d.
Let’s read the verses again in Numbers 11:4-6. They remembered the good old days as slaves in Egypt. They had watermelons, onions, fish, garlic and leeks and it was all free. Sounds like paradise doesn’t it? There was only one problem, they didn’t mention that in Egypt they were slaves, slaves that were worked until they dropped, and no one cared, certainly not the Egyptians.
Somewhere along the way, from the book of Exodus until here in Numbers, something changed. They may have been losing their vision or the realization that they were in the desert and Israel was a long way away. They seemed to have forgotten the miracles G-d had preformed along the way, the manna He had created just for them. All this may have contributed to their decline of faith and trust in G-d.
This is an issue we all are susceptible to in our walk with G-d. We can become dissatisfied or discouraged in our life and walk with G-d. We forget about how lost we were and if not careful we can begin to desire to return to the good old days. Here in our portion we read also where this entire process began when the mixed multitude began the complaining and then the children of Abraham joined in. This should speak to us all about how important it is to be careful of the company we keep. The people we are around affect us for either the good or the bad.
As an example, when I was in the Air Force many years ago, my language began to sound like all the other people who where my friends. It was pretty salty to use a nice word for it. One day my sergeant called me in to his office and talked to me about it. He told me that using the words I was using was not a trait that would help me in my career. In fact, he said it shows that my vocabulary is one of an ignorant person. When I left his office I changed how I spoke and tried to be around others who did not use the words I had been using. In a similar way I think our verses here are making that same point. We should be selective of who we choose as close friends. Friends can and do influence us greatly.
This also may be what G-d told Moses to choose 70 of the elders of Israel to be his helpers, his advisers. We all need close friends. The issue is who they are. Are they ones who will build us up in our faith or will they have the opposite effect. G-d was educating the people on the way to live their life, to trust Him and they were not very receptive.
If you remember our verses today happen a short time after the giving of the Torah in Sinai. Having received the Torah they now had a framework for their lives on how to live and how to relate to the world and the people around them. It put limits on what they were to do and how they were to deal with problems that arose. No longer could they just do what they pleased or what their flesh wanted. Evidently eating manna everyday did not satisfy their fleshly desires. Limits have a way of going against our egos, our human wants. Usually this feels like we are living by someone else’s rules. Guess what, we are. As believers we are called to put off our old nature and put on the new nature, the new man. What was in gone and must not be allowed to come back. We are a new creation, living by a new set of instructions. So may we not get caught up in desiring the good old days. We serve the King now, what could compare to that.