Thursday, June 4, 2015

Behaaloscha, Bamidbar 9:7 and 11:4. Consuming Passions

There's an interesting contrast in our parsha between two groups.  Both had their basic needs, they were missing nothing essential, and both were distraught over their frustrated passion for something better. These are the Te'meiyim (9:7) and the Mis'onenim (11:4).

The Te'meiyim knew perfectly well that they could not bring the Korban Pesach.  This is a basic halacha that they were taught in Mitzrayim, and they obviously knew it.  So if you're pattur, if you have a din oneis, then that's it.  The Ribono Shel Olam said they could not bring it.  But they couldn't stand it, they came to Moshe Rabbeinu and begged him for an eitzah, because the inability to enjoy the mitzva was so painful.

Then you have the Assafsuf, who had the Mahn, the most nutritious food in the world.  They knew that the Ribono shel Olam had made it available to them so that they could live a more spiritual life in perfect health without any patschkerai, שעשה לי כל צרכי.  But they said that their souls were dry as dust, they couldn't sleep at night, dreaming of the tasty foods they used to have in Mitzrayim.  Yes, we have all we need, but we don't have what we desire.

Two worlds.  There will always be people whose main interest in life is to travel and spend enormous sums to experience the most exotic and most rare delicacies, who smirk at those who live simple lives but derive their greatest satisfaction from being mehadeir far beyond what is necessary in halacha and mitzvos- the Chevra and the Kadisha*.

I think that this contrast is presented not only to highlight the difference, to show how high or how low a person can choose to live their lives.  I think the Torah is teaching us that the two groups have a great deal in common.  Both of these groups expressed the same human tendency, the tendency to seek something in life that excites you, a passion that fills your heart and mind.  It's human nature, but human nature is an engine, and an engine can power many different kinds of machines.  Passion can be the engine that powers the quest for purity and Godliness, and it can just as easily be used to inflame animalistic drives.

On reflection, one realizes that the "engine" metaphor actually is anticipated in our parsha.  The parsha begins with a description of Aharon's lighting of the Menora, a fire that spread enlightenment and spirituality.  But later, in the parsha of the Mis'onenim, the punishment was a fire that burned around the edges of the camp- ותבער בם אש ה' ותאכל בקצה המחנה.  The fire was meant to teach the Misonenim that they were missing the opportunity to direct their passion toward Torah and Mitzvos and dveikus, so that their experience in the Midbar would make them the angels they were capable of becoming.  They were using their fire to inflame their desires.  Unfortunately, they did not learn their lesson, and the immediate result was the episode of the Slav.  We're hungry!  We can't stand this constant perfect Mahn, we want the hedonistic experience of Taavah- his'avu Ta'ava, they wanted "desire."  It's the same fire, but Aharon used it to light the Menorah, and for the Misonenim it only inflamed their hedonistic desire for good and plentiful meat.  The Torah teaches us בהעלותך את הנרות אל מול פני המנורה יאירו שבעת הנרות.  Use the fire to light a Menorah.

*   This originally said "and the Nosei arono shel Yosef.  Rabbi Dr. Nachum J cavilled that they were Mishael and Eltzaphan.  I had chosen Nosei because I thought it sounded better.  As a compromise, I changed it to Chevra Kadisha, which covers both Mishael/Eltzaphan and the Nosei arono shel Yosef.  It sounds peculiar, but it's correct.  Either one is better than "The barbecue and the bar bei rav."

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