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Parshas BeHa'aloscha 5770

Rabbi Siegel

Parshat B'haalosecha

May 27, 2010

There are a number of inter-related passages and events in the parsha that bear examination. The Torah states, Vayis’u me’Har Hashem.

The Bnei Yisroel fled from Mount Sinai, as a child flees from his house of learning, fearful of additional requirements that would be laid upon him. (1)

The Aron HaBris, the one containing the fragments of the first Luchos, arose and traveled before the Bnei Yisroel to prepare the place of the next encampment, securing it from snakes and scorpions. (2) The Gemora tell us that this verse is out of place. It was only inserted here to separate between the two sins – fleeing Har Sinai and complaining of the weary journey. (3)

The nation complained from the efforts of the weary journey. A fire broke out among them and killed the wicked and the seventy elders who led them in Mitzrayim. (4)

The Egyptian converts slandered the manna that Hashem miraculously provide for them in the desert. They sorely missed the fish they had eaten freely in Mitzrayim. They pined away for meaty flesh. (5)

The nation cried over the laws of morality that they were restricted with. (6)

Moshe cries out to Hashem. He cannot bear the Bnei Yisroel alone.

Hashem prophetically provides Moshe Rabeinu with a new group of seventy elders. (7)

Miraculously, s’lav (quails) appear. Enough to satiate all, and then some. The passionate consumers die with the flesh of the quails between their teeth.


The nation just underwent the process of Kabbalas HaTorah, including the universal recital of Na’aseh VeNishma, followed by the Sin of the Golden Calf, and the process of sincere repentance that followed. How could they possibly depart as a tinok haborayach mibeis hasefer (a child fleeing his house of learning)?

Of what benefit is there to insert a group of verses out of place to separate between two sins. If the sins were done consecutively, why not leave them as they were?

They complained of the weariness of the journey. There was no weariness. The Clouds of Glory ensured that there travels through the desert were comfortable and without incident. (8)

What is it about meat in general and specifically Egyptian fish that is so attractive? Why would this desire lead to crying over the laws of arayos (immorality)?
And finally, why must new Elders be in place before Hashem punishes the Bnei Yisroel for their misplaced passions?

Background/Deeper Understanding

The Kli Yakar explains that people absorb the properties of the food they ingest. One who subsists on meat will absorb the passion of an animal. In regards to fish, fish procreate and multiply at a mind- numbing rate. The Mitzri’im are known as shtufei zimah (flooded with immorality). The fish of Mitzrayim had the capability to imbue the consumer with the strongest, deepest passions. (9)

The manna, on the other hand, did not feed the passion in the least. It directly nourished the soul, and it’s nourishment spread from the soul to the body. (10)

Those of us who are consumers of meat and fish need not fear any unpleasant repercussions. The animalistic effects that result only develop in one who eats to fulfill his animalistic passion. If the eating is an eating of mitzvah, to sustain one’s life, then the food one ingests is likened to the manna bread. (11)

On another note, the passion for illicit relationships comes from an impure source. Hashem’s purpose in creating the world is to have an environment where two soul-mates, who were once one, prior to descending to this world, find each other, complement each other, each filling in what the other is missing. Then utilizing their perfect union to unify whatever is within their unique sphere of influence. Immoral practices are the furthest one can stray from this divine purpose. It is totally pointless and animalistic. In place of filling the world with life, it severs it from the source of all life, bringing a spirit of death into the world.

The Jews were subject to the influence of Mitzrayim for 210 years. They were enslaved by this counter-culture. And even though Hashem broke them free before the final moment, it had a lasting effect upon them.

Why did the Elders of Mitzrayim die along with the mis’oninim (complainers). It was a long overdue debt. The Medrash Tanchuma (12) tells us that when they gazed at the sight of the Heavenly revelation at Har Sinai, they did so in a spirit of kalus rosh (light headedness), as one who would speak to his king while in the midst of biting off a piece of bread. While what this means is not entirely clear, we may glean from the words of the Medrash that the Elders, however great they were, still had not cleansed themselves of the impact made upon them by Mitzrayim. They looked at Matan Torah through the perspective of one who still is in the grips of the jaws of ta’avah (physical desire). For one who has not yet attained the level of an angel, it would have been better not to look. And so they died along with the “complainers”. However slight, they share something in common with them.

What were the “complainers” complaining about? They went three days without stopping. This was due to Hashem’s will, to bring them to Eretz Yisroel without further delay. (13) Thus, it emerges that they were complaining that they were being rushed towards Eretz Yisroel. Hashem wished that there be an unbroken chain between their miraculous existence in the desert, where they were totally dependant upon a connection to Him and their existence in Eretz Yisroel, where the illusion exists that one can be self sufficient.. That would serve to pierce the illusion. They didn’t want this. What did they want?

In one word, they wanted “freedom”. Not freedom from serving Hashem, chas veshalom. But freedom from the dependency on Hashem. They wanted their crops to grow due to the effort they invested in them, rather than based on their ma’asim tovim. (14) It is highly likely that they themselves were not aware of the root of their discomfort. They complained of the journey, the lack of “real” food. But underneath runs the fear of giving up one’s independence for the sake of a higher purpose.

Another point. The Medrash tell us that Hashem gazed into the Torah and he created the world. (15) Which tells us, that if something is in the Torah, it is a reality within the world. The Parshah dealing with the Aron HaBris is quite poignant. The broken pieces of the first Luchos were contained within. The significance of that is striking. The actual stone of the first Luchos were not natural stone. It was fashioned directly by Hashem. It had other-worldly properties. By giving us the Luchos in this form, and by us accepting them, we enable our physical selves to rise up from amidst the passion that enslaves us. The Aron HaBris would forge ahead of the Bnei Yisroel to prepare the way for them, securing the area from snakes and scorpions. The actual presence of the Aron and its Luchos would have an effect on the future camping place of the Bnei Yisroel. It would transform it to a place that is worthy of those who are committed to freeing themselves from the influence of the original snake.


The two sins under discussion – Fleeing Har Sinai, and resisting the swiftness of the journey towards Eretz Yisroel, are deadly ones. And they forge a deadly combination. Running away from Har Sinai represents the urge to be one’s own master, unencumbered by the “invasion” of mitzvos throughout all the different areas of one’s life. Resisting the progress towards Eretz Yisroel, represents the desire to stay I one place, being complacent, and in no need of further work towards perfection. When these two flaws combine, there is no longer any hope. The Ben Sorer Umoreh (iniquitous son) is the perfect example of this. He is a baal taavah (driven by passion), who doesn’t listen. Hence he is rotten, without any hope of getting better. (16)

Prior to the creation of the world, when Hashem expressed the words of his holy Torah, He placed the Parshah of the Aron Habris in between these two human flaws, so that in the nature of the world that would emanate from these words of Torah, the two flaws would never completely join with one another. Even one who seemingly went past the point of no return, would be prone to the tugging of the heart beckoning him to come back. (Indeed, Chazal have told us that the Ben Sorer Umoreh never was and never will be). (17)

The sin of seemingly running away from Har Sinai was a result of still being under the spell of the Egyptian passions. Even the 70 Elders who were in Mitzrayim were not free of it totally and completely. They assumed, mistakenly,  they were free of the influence of sin. They failed to detect the flaw within themselves. Moshe asked Hashem how is he supposed to provide meat for 600,000 people. There were actually 603,000 people at the time. Rav Moshe Hadarshan (see Rashi) explains, the surplus 3,000 were born in the desert. They were never in Mitzrayim. Hence, they weren’t subject to the allure of Mitzrayim. (18)

Before Moshe Rabeinu brought about the destruction of those who were imprisoned by their passions, a new assemblage of 70 Elders was required. They represent the true nature and potential of the Jewish Nation. They would assist in rebuilding from amidst the destruction, and provide a bond, a connection with a higher existence.

From whence came these elders? They were the “police force” in Mitzrayim, set up by the Egyptians to ensure, by force, that the slaves were given no slack. (19) They failed, miserably, in their duties, and were, instead beaten by the Egyptians for the compassion they showed their brethren. This is the ultimate rejection of the Egyptian pursuit of selfish pleasure. This is the level of the first Luchos, that the body is not to meant to be self-gratified, but brought up to the angelic level of total ratzon Hashem.

(1) Tosafos, Meseches Shabbos 116a
(2) Seforno, Perek 10, Posuk 33
(3) Meseches Shabbos 116a
(4) Medrash Tanchuma, Paragraph 16 (Rashi – Perek 11, Posuk 16)
(5) Perek 11, Posuk 4
(6) Sifri 11, 10  (Rashi – Perek 11, Posuk10)
(7) Perek 11, Posuk 16
(8) Rashi – Perek 10, Posuk 34
(9) Kli Yakar, Perek 11, Posuk 1
(10) Sefer Tehillim, Perek 78, Posuk 25, Rashi
(11) Medrash Tanchuma, Parshas BeShalach, Perek 20. Sefer HaShalah, Shaar         
       Ha’Osios,Emek Bracha, Se’if 2
(12) Medrash Tanchuma, Paragraph 16. Rashi – Perek 11, Posuk 16
(13) Rashi – Perek 11, Posuk 1
(14) Rashi, Perek 11, Posuk 5, Sifsei Chachamim 70
(15) Medrash Breishis Rabbah, Parsha 1, Paragraph 1
(16) Devarim, Perek 21, Posuk 18
(17) Meseches Sanhedrin 71a
(18) Rashi – Perek 11, Posuk 21
(19) Rashi, Perek 11, Posuk 16
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