Beha’alot’cha Drash

by Donald Armstrong and Stan Satz

I planned to start preparing today’s drash on Beha’alot’cha last Sunday, with the goal of completing it before Shabbat on Friday evening. I did my research on Sunday, organized my thoughts on Monday, prepared an outline on Tuesday and began drafting my drash on Wednesday. Sandy said it was too bad that Stan Satz wouldn’t be able to give his drash on Becha’alotcha because of his hospitalization in the ICU.

Thursday morning I had gotten no further than developing some bad puns for the opening of my drash:

1. Oh woe is no meat and only mana to eat.

2. Eat meat today and mana manana.

3. New news: blue Jews wanna eat sweet meat          treats of iguana, not ohana mana

Sandy gave me the look and shook her head; my anxiety was rising as my drash deadline was receding.

Then, Baruch Hashem, the miracle happened. On Thursday, Stan’s wife Marie called Sandy to say that Stan had finished his drash on Becha’alotcha.  Since he was still in the hospital, would someone be so kind as to deliver his drash on Shabat? I was delighted to do this mitzva for Stan, especially since I could now avoid the work and stress that would be necessary for me to create a whole drash of my own from scratch.

Please note that I have edited Stan’s drash to make it shorter; however, Stan’s original, unedited drash is also available on request. Take it away Stan!

Let’s get right to the meat of my drash. After schlepping in the wilderness for many years the disgruntled, grumbling Israelites demanded a better diet than the boring, bland mana that they had consumed for so long. The wailing rabble whined, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt. Now we have lost our appetite on this monotonous diet of mana. Moses heard their pitiful cries. The Lord became exceedingly angry and Moses was distraught.

Moses asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? Where can I get meat in the wilderness for all these discontented people? I am alone and helpless. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now—but if I have found favor in your eyes– do not let me face my own ruin.

The Lord directed Moses  “Tell the people: Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat!  We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat and you will eat it. You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month– until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it– because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and you rebelled saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”

But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot and you say, “I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!” The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

A wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea…All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. They spread the quail out all around the camp.

But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the most selfish, greedy people and he struck them with a plague at a place called Kibroth–Hattaavath, which means “the graves of the craving ones”. The Lord taught the ingrates a lesson by offering them so much quail that they gorged themselves and went belly up.

On a gut level, there is a feast of wisdom for all of us in this drash: when we discount our blessings and abandon what nurtures us now for what we once craved, we get our comeuppance. We must never take our blessings for granted.

Many midrashim contend that the meat the rabble rousers desired signifies all the voracious pleasures of the flesh: unbridled self indulgence, sexual promiscuity, gluttony, greed, envy, indolence and indifference or violence against those who are most vulnerable in society. Just as the malcontents’ stomachs burst from eating quail, so do our souls become emaciated by our self-absorption and our indifference to our fellow humans beings.

In contrast to flesh, mana is a blessing from the Lord that nourished the children of Israel, thereby instilling within them not only trust in and loyalty to the Lord, but also the seeds of righteousness so that caring for others becomes more natural than caring only for one’s self. Moreover, the mana, which is eaten communally, reminds all of us that we should share our bounty and blessings with others.

May we all appreciate and delight in how the Lord’s providence has sustained us to value our relationships with ourselves, with others and with Hashem. No matter what our circumstances, we should all recognize, appreciate and delight in all the blessings that Hashem has bestowed upon us. This Hebrew prayer, Shehecheyanu, thanks Hashem for giving us the gift of life. I pray that we will say this prayer daily and not just on holy days or special occasions. Please join me in this prayer: Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu laz’man hazeh.

 Amen and Shabat Shalom.

Don Armstrong and Stan Satz

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