In this week’s Torah portion, Be’ha’a’lotecha, the Israelites cried out to Moses. In particular, a group described as the ah’saf’soof, or riffraff, complained that all they had to eat was manna, the Divinely provided food. Furthermore, they went on to complain stating, “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 onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!” (Num. 11:4-6).
Following this complaint, the Torah goes on to explain that people would gather up the manna, mill it, and bake it into cakes. And not only that, it had the taste of reach cream.
The question is: what is going on here? Some of the commentators like Ibn Ezra and Rashi argue that the riffraff were not really Israelites, but outsiders who were raising the commotion. Nahmanides, however, takes a different approach. He argues that the riffraff “did not ‘feel’ a craving, but ‘craved’ one. They did not suffer from want in the wilderness, for they had as much manna as they wanted and could prepare it to yield many gourmet flavors, but they imagined themselves to have all kinds of gluttonous cravings.”
What the Torah is wrestling with here is the classic part of the human condition of want versus need. It is difficult because we live in a society that strives to create ‘want.’ And as a parent, we are often bombarded with wants seemingly incessantly.
Where Judaism might differ from other religions is there is no real sense of asceticism. Only one group tried living this way, the Essenes during the 2nd Temple Period. These are the people whose written collections are now referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Instead,
Judaism always seeks balance – the balance between fulfilling one’s desires while also appreciating what one has. As humans, it is part of our nature to always want more. Yet, as Jews, sometimes we have to say, “Dayeinu,” it is enough.
We have permission to say, “Dayeinu” when it comes to things, but not when it comes to actions. When it comes to the pursuit of tzedek (justice) and shalom (peace), we are forbidden to ever say, “Dayeinu,” even if we are living in a moment of tranquility. And it is through this we can also become more aware of how the pursuit of ‘stuff’ can often override the pursuits of tzedek and shalom.
May we find a greater sense of peace and tzedek on this Shabbat as we reflect on the blessings in our lives rather than focus on the desires in our hearts.
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff