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Parshas B'Haalos'cha - Jewish Guilt                 20 Sivan 5783

06/09/2023 10:20:46 AM


Our modern world is inundated by non-stop information, good and bad, accurate and false, transmitted continuously by the media. There is no doubt that people throughout the world are over influenced by the media. Our opinions and biases are formed by what we see, hear and experience. Unfortunately, this is all too often the case for people who never established their own sense of right and wrong. In my humble opinion, the Torah is the absolute truth; issues of society need to be viewed through the lens of the Torah and Chaza”l. I cannot speak for other religions, but I would imagine that the same truth would hold up - those who are more learned and deeply committed to religion will be less influenced by their surroundings. Part of being knowledgeable and having a sense of right and wrong is the formation of a deep sense of obligation, responsibility, and caring. For better or for worse (probably worse), if a situation arises which causes a caring person to try to to make something right but falls short of this attempt, that good and caring person will end up feeling guilty. On the other hand, someone who cares marginally and messes up will still claim innocence. To summarize this idea,  “the innocent tends to feel guilty, while the guilty typically feel innocent”.  

In the following excerpt the Torah clearly relates  about the persistent complaints expressed by Jewish people.  Now, I hope we all agree that at this point in Jewish history, the people should not be complaining, revealing a side of them that is less than to be desired. Nevertheless, Moshe Rabbeinu, who always wants to try to help,  davens for the people and literally puts out the fire. This is immediately followed by more complaining…

The Torah in this week’s parshas B’Haaloscha states in Bamidbar 11:1,2,4 "ויהי העם כמתאננים רע באזני ה' וישמע ה' ויחר אפו ותבער בם אש ה' ותאכל בקצה המחנה. ויצעק העם אל משה ויתפלל משה אל ה' ותשקע האש. והאספסף אשר בקרבו התאוו תאוה וישבו ויבכו גם בני ישראל ויאמרו מי יאכלנו בשר".  “The people began to complain, and it was evil in God’s ears. When God heard it, He displayed His anger, and God’s fire flared out, consuming the edge of the camp. The people cried out to Moshe, and when Moshe prayed to God, the fire died down. The mixed multitude among [the Israelites] began to have strong cravings, and the Israelites once again began to weep. “Who’s going to give us some meat to eat?” They loudly demanded. The people who were complaining are identified as the eirev rav, a group of people with questionable lineage who may not have been Jewish. Nevertheless, their influence on the mainstream was very powerful and accepted by the Jews. The eirev rav could potentially be viewed as the voice of everything that is wrong with the world, refusing to see the goodness that lies within the world. The goodness of Moshe is revealed, despite Moshe’s understanding that they are in the wrong. In fact, Moshe may have felt guilty for the situation. Moshe had done everything possible with the greatest and purest of intentions, and still he went to bat for them by davening to stop the plague that ensued with a fire burning around the camp.  After Moshe helped the wicked ones who felt entitled to complain, they immediately resumed their crying and complaining a second time. Even though they were wrong, they felt they were innocent and were being mistreated.

One must ask a simple question, ”Why did the people complain”?  If one takes into account what life looked like in the desert, wouldn’t it be hard to find anything wrong or to have any reason to complain? Reb Yosef Zvi HaLevy* explains a key point regarding why the complainers are referred to as “the people” and not Bnei Yisrael: the “complainers” were from the common nation and not the important Jewish people. It was only the common people who were not satisfied with their life situation. These people were used to working in an all-physical capacity, but the desert conditions didn’t call for physical labor at all. The only “work” the Jewish people needed to do in the desert was to sit in the Ohel Moed or the Beis Midrash to hear the Torah being taught directly from Moshe Rabbeinu. The commoners, not trained or accustomed to sitting to learn,  complained in their hearts about their situation.  They found it difficult  to sit in peace and tranquility to just daven and learn Torah and not to work a physical job for the body.

Rav Shamson Raphel Hirsch zt”l in his commentary explains that all complaining is a result of a lack of spirituality. When an individual, a family, or a community does not have enough Ruchniyus/spirituality,  complaining that the Gashmiyus/physicality is lacking ensues. On  the other hand, when there is an infusion of Ruchniyus/spirituality, then even when there is a true lacking of some physicality, it is overlooked and viewed with satisfaction rather than a lacking.

Every person needs to assess his or her physical and spiritual needs knowing full well that they will only be satisfied in the physical sense if they are being nourished spiritually. If we are drying up and lacking our spiritual growth, then we will never be satisfied with our physical lot in life, always feeling the need for more. As individuals, we need to look beyond our personal space, seeing and acting upon this lesson with regards to the greater community, working together to create and facilitate a stronger spiritual place to live. A community where there is more Tefillah, more Torah, and more Gemilus Chasadim to truly build not only a Bayis Neeman B’Yisrael but also a Kehilas Beis Yakov, a congregation of the house of Jacob will grow together, deepening its individual and communal growth. Individually and collectively, we look forward to building our physical places through the fulfillment of our communal obligations of learning Torah and davening Tefillah B’Tzibbur - together as a congregation!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky


*Rav Yosef Zvi HaLevy (1874-1960) was an Israeli rabbi and head of the rabbinical court for Tel Aviv-Yafo. HaLevy was born in 1874 in Vilijampolė, Kaunas, Lithuania, then part of the Russian Empire, and was the son of Rabbi Avraham HaLevy. He obtained his rabbinical ordination (semicha) from Slabodka Yeshiva. Rav HaLevy emigrated without his family to Ottoman Palestine at the beginning of 1891 and shortly thereafter married the daughter of Rabbi Naftali Herz Halevy, the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa. In 1894 (or late 1893), he moved to Jerusalem, but returned to Jaffa in about 1897. HaLevy was later appointed to serve as the head (Av Beit Din) of the Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court.

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