Parashat Beha’alotekha

June 10, 2011 | Filed in: Bamidbar, Divrei Torah, News

By Eliana Falk

A friend of mine has a lapel button that I love. It boasts the standard red circle and slash of caution printed over the word “WHINING.”


And now that we are wandering Bemidbar, “in the wilderness,” it seems that we will hear almost nothing else from the Israelites. Indeed, Beha’alot’kha is replete with tales of disappointments, greed and desperation on the part of the Israelites, and frustration on the parts of God and Moses.

What lessons can we learn? The wisdom of walking willingly to the place God leads us, the troubles we bring upon ourselves when we cease to appreciate our blessings and allow our anxieties to motivate us and yes, learning to trust God.

The Torah tells us that while leading the Israelites through the wilderness, God taught them something extraordinary: exactly how to call for help – by blowing the shofar – and God again promises to save them from their enemies. It’s like having a police whistle – help will be on the way.

And in spite of this, we read (Num. 11:1) that the people were looking to complain. The ungrateful Israelites, who were themselves redeemed from Egypt, and who live in the very presence of God, open their mouths once more. Did they seek peace, security, healing or safe passage? No. Did they ask for God’s continuing protection of their children? No. They say they want meat. It is as if there was no satisfying them.

Their cries are so jarring when compared to their desperate calls for redemption from a morally reprehensible nation. We practically demand to know: Where is their commitment to the covenant? Just what values do they espouse? They are living right in the presence of God! Where is their simple gratitude?

So, was it really meat that they wanted? Or did they just want to complain?

People are funny that way, casting around for something to complain about when they wish to distract attention away from important spiritual matters. If they didn’t whine, they would have had to focus on pulling themselves together, spiritually and as a people. Remember, the Torah has already taken great pains to assure us that they were ready for war – so there was only one other enemy to face. The Israelites could have adopted as their motto the words of Pogo Possum: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

If we saw our own kvetching inscribed in the Torah, I think we would be astonished, and perhaps embarrassed. It sometimes seems that there is no satisfying us. I don’t think that’s because we don’t have what we need. I think it’s because we, too, tend to divert attention away from spiritually important matters by blaming external forces for our discontent. It’s as if we blow the whistle to complain about others, rather than blowing the shofar to call to God to help save us from ourselves.

But we do not need to distract ourselves by whining about how we got here, what we have and don’t have, who did this or that, or what may or may not be in our future. We don’t need to focus on material matters, or blame others for our problems, or try (usually in vain) to justify our own actions when compared to those of others.

God has brought us all right to this very day, in the way God chose to bring us here – just as we are. So everyone else is just where God wants them to be, even when they bother us, even when we bother them, because we are all here to help one another back onto the path.

We are all in the wilderness, in the presence of God. We are exactly where we are supposed to be: always perfectly poised to open our hearts and souls to the wisdom of Torah.

The Torah is asking us to see ourselves in the Israelites and to ask ourselves the same questions we would have posed to the Israelites, but in the most positive, loving way: Where is our commitment to the covenant? What values do we espouse? We are living right in the presence of God! Are we truly grateful for our blessings? And – how can we let go of our anxieties and trust God to lead us?

And we don’t have to be afraid of our honest answers, because no matter how far we stray, God is always with us, leading the way, keeping the covenant with those who were redeemed, and with us who are wandering still.


Eliana Falk, a rabbinical student at AJR, is blessed to serve as the spiritual leader of Beth El Synagogue in Southbury, Connecticut.