Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Beshalach: Why Israel sinned in the desert - childishness and immaturity.

The commentators have been pointing out that בני ישראל are compared to children when they went into the desert after the Exodus. Many, Jews and nonJews, religious and nonreligious, have used this analogy to explain what happened. In fact, that is why the term used is always translated as "Children of Israel".

As Yirmiyahu says in Chapter 2 pasuk 2

ב  הָלֹךְ וְקָרָאתָ בְאָזְנֵי יְרוּשָׁלִַם לֵאמֹר, כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה, זָכַרְתִּי לָךְ חֶסֶד נְעוּרַיִךְ, אַהֲבַת כְּלוּלֹתָיִךְ--לֶכְתֵּךְ אַחֲרַי בַּמִּדְבָּר, בְּאֶרֶץ לֹא זְרוּעָה

2 Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: Thus saith the LORD: I remember for thee the affection of thy youth, the love of thine espousals; how thou wentest after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.
For example, Dennis Prager, a modern radio talk show host used this analogy in 1996 to explain why the Exodus is unique. Only then did Hashem actively and obviously intervene on a national level with open miracles in this way. Even the open miracles of the desert and the miracles in the time of Yehoshua can be connected to this. All other miracles were either hidden or individual. Even the miracle of the altar of Elijah was relatively restricted and for a specific circumstance. Actually, the fact that the sacrifice was burnt by "the fire of Hashem" was considered a normal response by a "god" rather than a miracle. Similarly, the sins of the Bnei Yisroel in the desert from the beginning to through the  חטא העל (Golden Calf) can be attributed to the fact that as newly freed slaves they were indeed immature "children". Indeed, the חטא המרגלים (sin of the Spies) can be considered in the same way as an expression of childishness. The punishment for that can therefore be considered a necessity of our having to mature before we could progress to the next stage.

Even at the beginning of the Exodus, the actions of the not yet freed slaves show their immaturity. When Moshe first came, even though Hashem had warned him that Pharaoh would not listen, the response to his initial request stunned him. During the initial confrontation, the Hebrew Elders could not bring themselves to actually let themselves be seen by Pharaoh. Even then Moshe did not expect that things would get worse and the reaction of the Hebrew foremen shows this attitude. Dennis Prager pointed out that those purged by Stalin actually begged for the chance to explain to him the mistake that his underlings were making, when it was Stalin himself who had ordered them purged. Similarly, the foremen begged Pharaoh to rein in his servants.

Shmos Chapter 5:

טו  וַיָּבֹאוּ, שֹׁטְרֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיִּצְעֲקוּ אֶל-פַּרְעֹה, לֵאמֹר:  לָמָּה תַעֲשֶׂה כֹה, לַעֲבָדֶיךָ.
טז  תֶּבֶן, אֵין נִתָּן לַעֲבָדֶיךָ, וּלְבֵנִים אֹמְרִים לָנוּ, עֲשׂוּ; וְהִנֵּה עֲבָדֶיךָ מֻכִּים, וְחָטָאת עַמֶּךָ.

15 Then the officers of the children of Israel came and cried unto Pharaoh, saying: 'Wherefore dealest thou thus with thy servants?
16 There is no straw given unto thy servants, and they say to us: Make brick; and, behold, thy servants are beaten, but the fault is in thine own people.'

The Medrash says that the lesson that the Hebrews learned from the plague of blood was to open up kiosks to sell water.

There are those who say that one reason that they were forbidden to go outside during the Plague of the First Born is to avoid the possibility that they might wind up gloating and showing themselves as not worthy of beeing freed.

Indeed, Ann Coulter actually pointed out the difference between the Exodus and other events when she contrasted the American and the French Revolutions. The American Revolution was a revolt by adults who carefully set up a system that was oriented to justice. The French Revolution (like the Bolshevik Russian Revolution) was one of mob action that swiftly devolved into terror to put the "new elite" firmly in the saddle. The Torah set up the model for bringing בני ישראל to maturity.

The first crisis after the left occurred at the sea. At the beginning of Beshalach, We see them leaving just like a mob of students who are pretending that they defeated Pharaoh and are ready for anything. But even here, we see that this is a facade and they are ready to break down. In fact, we see from the famous Rashi that וַחֲמֻשִׁים implies 20%, that even after all the plagues and the overt miracles that only a tiny minority were ready to go free. Of course, some commentators say that the 80% includes all those who died during the 210 years in Egypt and did not survive to go out, but the implication is still there.

The psukim in Beshalach chapter 15 say:

17 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said: 'Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt.'
18 But God led the people about, by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea; and the children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt.

יז  וַיְהִי, בְּשַׁלַּח פַּרְעֹה אֶת-הָעָם, וְלֹא-נָחָם אֱלֹהִים דֶּרֶךְ אֶרֶץ פְּלִשְׁתִּים, כִּי קָרוֹב הוּא:  כִּי אָמַר אֱלֹהִים, פֶּן-יִנָּחֵם הָעָם בִּרְאֹתָם מִלְחָמָה--וְשָׁבוּ מִצְרָיְמָה.
יח  וַיַּסֵּב אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָעָם דֶּרֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּר, יַם-סוּף; וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.

Even here, we see from the Hebrew that it is not, as in the English, that "Pharaoh let them go" but that "Pharaoh sent them". That is he forced them to leave, and unlike most times in using that term, it does not say where he sent them to. He just wanted them out of the country. This brings to mind the famous scene in the Cecil B. DeMille move "The Ten Commandments" when Edgar G. Robinson is forced to join the Exodus even though he wants to stay in Egypt. Similarly, in spite of their marching so proudly with their weapons, Hashem is careful not to actually see what war is really like. They avoid any area where someone with a real army might be.

As soon as they actually face a problem at the Reed Sea, they again show their immaturity by immediately breaking into factions that do not understand what to do. They knew that Hashem had caused them to turn back at Pi Hachiros in order to lure Egypt to its destruction. However, when they actually saw the Egyptian chariots they panicked. Perhaps it is because only the G0d fearing Egyptians (who kept them out of the fields as instructed by Moshe before the cattle plague, דבר) had horse. The Hebrews did not believe that they would actually give their horses to the army for the pursuit. Just as children would they split into factions. Some wanted to surrender immediately, lik Shalom Achshav today. Some wanted to run panic stricken into the desert, like some of the other leftists. Some began crying to G0d. Some wanted to try to fight, like many secular Israelis today, even though they had no chance. They actually believed their own propaganda. Moshe had to quiet them and Hashem had to tell Moshe that it was already taken care of.

After they are saved at the sea, Moshe has to force them to leave. As I explain in Why were Bnei Yisroel reluctant to leave Yam Suf they were still not ready to accept responsibility for their actions and could not bring themselves to leave the site of "their triumph". The next occurs just three days later. As Rabbi Sorotzkin explains in דאזנים לתורה (Insights in the Torah) in Beshalach chapter 15 verse 22:

After journeying for three days, they still had their own water with them. Yet they were so confounded that new water had not been miraculously provided, that they began to doubt whether G0d was still with them on the journey.

There are meforshim who say that the water was sweet before they arrived but, as a test, was turned into a bitter spring when they complained. Others say that it was always supposed to be bitter because it was not supposed to be their source of water. The actual source of water was supposed to at the following stop. As it says in Beshalach chapter 15.

27 And they came to Elim, where were twelve springs of water, and three score and ten palm-trees; and they encamped there by the waters.
 כז  וַיָּבֹאוּ אֵילִמָה--וְשָׁם שְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה עֵינֹת מַיִם, וְשִׁבְעִים תְּמָרִים; וַיַּחֲנוּ-שָׁם, עַל-הַמָּיִם.

The preceding sentence is another situation in which an immature understanding can be dangerous.

26 and He said: 'If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in His eyes, and wilt give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon thee, which I have put upon the Egyptians; for I am the LORD that healeth thee.' 
 כו  וַיֹּאמֶר אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע לְקוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינָיו תַּעֲשֶׂה, וְהַאֲזַנְתָּ לְמִצְו‍ֹתָיו, וְשָׁמַרְתָּ כָּל-חֻקָּיו--כָּל-הַמַּחֲלָה אֲשֶׁר-שַׂמְתִּי בְמִצְרַיִם, לֹא-אָשִׂים עָלֶיךָ, כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה, רֹפְאֶךָ.

 Rabbi Sorotzkin explains that this was required here because the Hebrews were afraid that there would be lingering problems from the water at Marah. Perhaps the water was bitter because of poison and the effects would linger even though the taste had become sweet. Additionally, he explains that Hashem promised that He would not bring any illnesses upon them through miraculous means as He did the Egyptians during the plagues. The end is because he is promising them that he would take care of them in the desert and protect them from common non-miraculous diseases during there trip. This does not mean that someone who (G0d forbid) gets a heart attack or a disease has somehow sinned. This is a mistake made by some religions that refuse to go to a doctor because "G0d will heal us". It is G0d that allows the doctor to be successful (or not) in healing a person.

This is my we must not make the mistake of assuming that we will never get sick or that someone who gets sick has somehow "sinned".

The story is told (in multiple versions) about a man who is in a flood and refuses to be evacuated. "G0d will save me", he says. The National Guard truck comes by and he refuses to go. "G0d will save me". the water rises and he is forced up to the second floor. A rescue boat comes by and he again refuses to go. "G0d will save me". The water continues to rise and he is forced to the roof. A helicopter flies over and a rescue line is dropped. He refuses again. "G0d will save me". Finally he drowns.

When he gets before G0d, he complains, "Why didn't You save me".

G0d responds, "I sent the National Guard truck, the rescue boat, and I even caused a helicopter to deviate from its scheduled flight plan to save you. You did not want to be saved."

After Elim, the Hebrews go into the wilderness and complain about the lack of food. They nostalgically remember the pots of meat that they sat near (not that they got to eat any) while serving their masters, while they ate "bread". Hashem tells them that they will receive the Manna and the Quail. They are commanded not to leave any of the Manna over to the next day as Hashem plans to give them enough for each day at the beginning of that day. Just as poor people and slaves would do today, may of them cannot stop themselves from hoarding. They are like children who will put some of their candy or cookies under their pillow because they cannot bring themselves to trust that they will have more the next day. They gather and try to hoard as much as they can so that it requires a miracle to ensure that every one gets the proper ration. I am sure that you can imagine the way this would be seen in the movie with some of them running around and gathering as much as they can, while others move slowly and with dignity to pick up what is available.

Even though the miracle of precisely one omer each should be enough to tell them not to hoard, there are still those who try. The fact that first it rotted and then developed maggots drives home the lesson.

Even though they have been told that there will be a double portion on the sixth day, they still panic when they find a double portion on Erev Shabbat. They must be told again that this is because they are not going to receive a ration on Shabbat. While some may have gone out to show their children, look you see the miracle that Hashem has not sent any Manna today, others specifically went out to collect. The fact that the Manna did not appear on Shabbat underscores the realization that it is a miracle and not some unusual "natural phenomenon". This is even though a natural occurrence could not have fed the entire people and given everyone precisely the correct ration. This again shows the childish nature of the Hebrews and the need to raise them out of their slave mentality. The Medrash says that this is Dasan and Aviram who have been giving Moshe nothing but trouble from the day that he stopped them from fighting with each other in Egypt (probably about 60 years before) and that they were the same ones who tried to hoard the Manna earlier. Rabbi Sorotzkin points out that they took their baskets to try to collect Manna without even bothering to look if there was any Manna there to be collected.

Dennis Prager imagines the scene when they come back with empty baskets and begin complaining, as if it is Moshe's fault.

Hashem commands Moshe to take an Omer jar and fill it with Manna in order to keep it in the mishkan (and later the Bais HaMikdash) as a testimony as to what happened in the desert. This is in and of itself a miracle because, unlike every other particle of Man, it does not melt or turn rotten. Instead it stays as fresh as the day if fell onto the dew. This teaches us that we must always remember what happened while we were children and how our parents took care of us even though we are now adult and are not fed by our parents.

They finally come to Rephidim and are "smitten with thirst". Rabbi Sorotzkin says that this teaches us that now that they had a constant supply of food in the Manna, they wanted a constant supply of water. They realized that they could not bring themselves to wait until they got to an oasis. They wanted it now. They forgot the lesson of Elim, where the water whose lack they complained about was waiting at the next stop. Moshe became afraid that they would stone him and Hashem tells him to "take the rod" and pass before the people. The rod is a symbol of the power that Hashem gave to Moshe as his messenger. Not only are the people afraid to attack Moshe (who is carrying the rod that brought the plagues) but they realize that he is about to do something.

Hashem tells Moshe to go to the next stop, at Chorev, in order to take care of the matter. This emphasizes the lesson that they were going to get the water there in any event. The Bnei Yisroel are not correct in complaining and their complaint is being shown to be without merit. Moshe goes to Chorev where Hashem is waiting to show him which rock to hit. Moshe Rabbeinu does so and the permanent supply of water is created.

The Medrash describes how the Bnei Yisroel panic and run helter skelter from Rephidim to Chorev. As a result, the protective cloud is now in Chorev and the people are strung out along the entire route from Rephidim to Chorev. That is why the next sentence in Beshalach 17 is

8 Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.
 ח  וַיָּבֹא, עֲמָלֵק; וַיִּלָּחֶם עִם-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בִּרְפִידִם.

They took advantage of the childish nature of Bnei Yisroel  took attack those who were left behind in the scramble for the well at Chorev. This is why the pasuk explicitly states that hey attacked at Rephidim. Had they remained together and traveled as a unit, just as they had been traveling until now, Amalek could not have attacked.

Moshe must now teach them how to deal with this attack. Indeed, it is similar to the way children are bullied in school. Just as parents must teach their children how to deal with bullies, Moshe must teach them how to fight back. In fact it is only when they see Moshe with his hands raised that they can bring themselves to fight. This mirrors the behavior of many children who take self defense lessons. Often the hardest lesson to learn is to hit the opponent and not pull back.

This could be part of the reason that we are told "wipe out the memory of Amalek" and "never forget what they did to you". One of the hardest lessons to learn as a child is how to deal with the tension between "remembering" the lesson learned and not carrying a grudge on the person who taught you the lesson by being evil. Similarly, we must learn that Amalek must be wiped out utterly so that he can not longer bring evil into the world and torment people, but we must never forget that it is the deeds that are evil and not (necessarily) the people. In fact, an Amalekite is allowed to convert just as any other nonJew is allowed to convert. We might have thought that they were to be wiped out and treated as Moav and Ammon in not being able to join our nation. However, they are not even restricted as much as the Egyptians. An honest and sincere conversion is treated as having fulfilled the command "wipe out the memory of Amalek". In fact we are told that the descendants of Haman studied Torah in Bnei Brak.

We now jump ahead to the עגל הזהב (Golden Calf). Here too we see the essential childishness of the Bnei Yisroel. They were warned that Moshe would be gone for 40 days (Daddy is going on a business trip and will bring you a fantastic present when he comes back). They miscount the number of days and immediately panic. They start pressuring Aharon and Chur who have been left in charge for a "replacement". They cannot take responsibility for themselves or leave matters up to the one who is really in charge (Hashem). They should realize that they have to stay where they are as long as the cloud has not moved. The cloud has not moved and is still protecting them, they still get the Manna every day, the water from the Well of Miriam is still flowing. Even if Moshe does not come back "on time" there is nothing to worry about or for them to do. After they kill Chur, Aharon tries to delay them so that Moshe will have time to get back.He tries all the tricks to delay them. He thinks that they would be reluctant to give up their most precious treasures. He tells them to take the treasures from their wives and children, knowing that they will object . He figures that while they are fighting over this, Moshe will have time to get back. Instead, they strip themselves of their jewelry. He tries making the calf in the most inefficient way possible. Finally, he declared the next day a "festival for Hashem". Not only would this delay them to the next day, but it gave them the opportunity to realize that an idol was not an appropriate item to bring to a festival to Hashem. After all Hashem had forbidden this explicitly in the Aseres Hadibros. None of this works.

Moshe Rabbeinu gets back just in time to see what is going on. Again they are treated like misbehaving children. He destroys the"present" that they were going to get. He smashes the idol and forces them to drink the powder in water. Actually, consider that the only water source that they had was the miraculous Well of Miriam. That means that he is emphasizing that it is Hashem that provides anything. He then rubs in that had those who objected to this actually stood up and tried to stop it, they would have been able to. After all only 3,000 out of 600,000 (half a percent) actually are killed as a result. This means that had the Children actually backed Chur, the entire affair would have been stopped before it got too far. This realization is internalized by the tribe of Levi, which leads to their appointment to serve Hashem.

Finally, we get to the last sin that seals the fate of this generation, the חטא המרגלים (sin of the Spies. Here the spies were the chosen ones of Bnei Yisroel. They could be considered the "eldest brothers" of the "family" and the most mature. The rabbis discuss what their motive was in bringing back such a report and causing the death over the next 38 years of the entire generation of the Exodus. They realized that the nation would actually have to support itself as a normal nation. They would not be able to rely on the Manna and the Well. They would no longer be "in school" spending all their time studying Torah and worshiping at the Mishkan. They would actually have to go out and earn a living. They could not take that prospect. They had to stay in the "ideal conditions" of the desert. They are like the "perpetual student" who continues to live in his parents' basement while continually taking courses to "prepare" him for the real world while never able to actually move out and join the real world. In fact, the "OWS" (Occupy Wall Street) protesters and the super leftist baby boomers epitomize this attitude today.

It is this that seals the fate of the generation. It is only a generation that has been raised in freedom that can continue and enter the land. Those who were under 20 at the time of the Exodus are young enough to internalize the lessons being taught and unlearn the habits of slavery. Those over 60 are old enough and beaten down enough to regard themselves as "retired" and to go along with whatever the new generation will set up as a society. They are willing to allow themselves to be "taken care of". It is the active generation between 20 and 60 that has the habits of slavery too deeply ingrained to be uprooted but who are too young to allow the next generation to just take over that cannot be allowed into the land. The "baby boomers" who are causing so much of the trouble in our current society are indeed this age. The problems that they are causing are like the problems that the Hebrews caused in the desert.

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