No free lunch…

Shabbat Kodesh Parashat Behaalotcha

We will read this Shabbat about further complaints in the desert:

וְהָֽאסַפְסֻף֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּקִרְבּ֔וֹ הִתְאַוּ֖וּ תַּאֲוָ֑ה וַיָּשֻׁ֣בוּ וַיִּבְכּ֗וּ גַּ֚ם בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ מִ֥י יַאֲכִלֵ֖נוּ בָּשָֽׂר׃

The riffraff in their midst felt a gluttonous craving; and then the Israelites wept and said, “If only we had meat to eat!

זָכַ֙רְנוּ֙ אֶת־הַדָּגָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־נֹאכַ֥ל בְּמִצְרַ֖יִם חִנָּ֑ם אֵ֣ת הַקִּשֻּׁאִ֗ים וְאֵת֙ הָֽאֲבַטִּחִ֔ים וְאֶת־הֶחָצִ֥יר וְאֶת־הַבְּצָלִ֖ים וְאֶת־הַשּׁוּמִֽים׃

We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.

וְעַתָּ֛ה נַפְשֵׁ֥נוּ יְבֵשָׁ֖ה אֵ֣ין כֹּ֑ל בִּלְתִּ֖י אֶל־הַמָּ֥ן עֵינֵֽינוּ׃

Now our gullets are shrivelled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!”

I used to read the middle verse above with a strong feeling of “fake history”. As, how can anyone refer to memories of the terrible “Gulag” of Egypt in such a positive way? Every child, thousands of years later, is still learning about the suffering and torture the Israelites have been subjected to in Egypt. How could they “rewrite” their own history so soon after the event? It sounds as if they were “happily dining” in a summer camp…

Now – in what is (hopefully) a post pandemic period in history, I do understand the description a little better; 

Looking back to the two difficult years we have experienced worldwide, we (or some of us) are keeping the “better” experiences of the pandemic in the front of our minds, while somewhat tending to “store” the sad and hard memories elsewhere in our brains…

I am probably not alone in fondly referring to the closeness we have established (or re-established) with family members and neighbours during total and semi lockdown periods. We have rediscovered praying at our own pace when synagogues were closed, and we have been spending much time finding out how friends and acquaintances are doing, as the illness was spreading. 

Now – this does not diminish at all the importance of remembering those who suffered so much, as well as the hardship that most of us went through. 

Perhaps, while selecting positive parts of our life experiences was “misused” in the context of the complaint in this week’s Torah portion, it seems to be in principle, deep rooted and a positive quality we have, built into our Neshama, our soul. 

Shabbat Shalom and warm regards

Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld