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Parashat B’Halotekha

June 9, 2009

Be Careful What You Ask For
By Gary A. Kabler

In this week’s portion the people complain to Moses that the manna
that G-d has provided so abundantly for them to eat no longer satisfies them. Like
petulant children, the people whine, “If we only 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. 11:1-6)

Obviously the people have forgotten that to get the foods that they
were whining and complaining about they had to do back-breaking slave labor in Egypt, but
apparently that was seen as a triviality when compared to actually having the
food. Apparently it was far easier to recall the meager struggle of walking
freely towards a place that Moses has assured the people was, and would
eventually be, again their homeland, than it was to remember just a short time
further back when whips were being slashed across their backs to haul the items
needed to build Pharaoh’s cities.

Moses, for his part, like any other exhausted caregiver, had his last
button pushed in hearing such childish whining and he asked G-d what to do
about it. As an avid fan of the 1977 movie Oh, God, I picture best George
Burns standing with Moses (arguably Charlton Heston) with his cigar in one hand
giving out the following advice to Moses:

“Okay, they want meat? I’ll give them meat! But not just a little
meat; they’re going to get meat for a full month! So much meat that they’ll never
beg for meat again. How does that grab you, Moses?”

But rather than just have Moses suffer the forthcoming backlash that
would happen, seventy of the tribal elders were called to the Tent of Meeting
to sit with Moses to observe just what happens when “children” actually get
what they want. (Num. 11:16-17)

Soon the people ate meat. And they ate meat. And they ate more meat.
They ate so much meat they got sick of eating meat, but they couldn’t stop
eating meat for an entire month, for that was how long G-d continued to make
meat come to the people.

But George Burns, oops, sorry, G-d, was not without a sense of irony, or
humor. (Biblical humor must be scrutinized very cautiously!) Now that the
people were satiated, arguably over-satiated with their fill of meat, G-d
decides to kill a vast majority of the meat-gorged people. G-d does this to
once again remind the people of their place – as opposed to G-d’s place – in
the vast scheme of things! While this may seem drastic, it drove home the
point to the people – that they needed to remember, not the cucumbers of Egypt, but that
they lived in relation to G-d.

What the people discovered was that sometimes, if you ask for
something that might seem mundane, you might actually get it. And if you ask
for something big, bigger than you actually expect, you might get that, too,
and they discovered that too much of anything is never a good thing!


Gary A. Kabler is a cantorial student at AJR.