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In the reading for this Shabbat the menorah is created, the Levites are sanctified for service in the Tabernacle, the people the first Passover since departing Egypt is celebrated and the rule for those who are unclean to celebrate Passover in the second month is established. The order of march when the cloud moves is established and we are told how the people moved or remained based on the cloud over the Tabernacle. God has Moses construct the silver trumpets to be used for celebrations, announcing gathering of the people and going to war.
We read about the murmurings and complaints of the people regarding no flesh to eat and how God miraculously sent so many quails that the people all had meat for a month. God also punished them by sending a plague against them, even as they took the first bites of meat. Moses also request help from God to lead the people, specifically to handle their constant kvetching, and God has Moses gather 70 Elders, to whom God gives some of the spirit that was on Moses.
The final chapter of this parashah retells when Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses by reason of his Cushite wife. God is angry with them for this and punishes Miriam with leprosy. Moses prays for her to be healed and God relents, but she must be shut up outside the camp for 7 days.
What to say…what to say…what to say? There is, as always, so much here to talk about. Let’s talk about the quails
So the people are complaining that they have nothing but manna to eat. This parashah starts around the second year of being in the desert so if the people brought as much meat and vegetables as they could when they left Egypt, how long could it have lasted? A few days? Maybe two weeks? In the heat of the desert the vegetables certainly wouldn’t last long. That means that we can safely assume the people had been eating pretty much nothing more than manna for months.
Yes, they had sheep, goats and cows they could have slaughtered, but that would be counterproductive. A dead goat feeds you for a few days but a live one gives you milk and from milk you can make cheese, and it does that for years. Moses is overwrought with the complaints of hundreds of thousands of people and actually asks God to kill him if this is what he is going to have to deal with. God tells him to gather 70 elders who will help, and also that the people will have meat. In fact, so much meat that it will come out of their mouths and nostrils. Moses is amazed and even doubtful, but God sets him straight and says, essentially, watch and see.
A strong wind blows from the sea and millions of quails are carried right into the camp. There are so many of them that they are about 3 feet deep all around the camp for miles. We are told that the quails covered a day’s walk in all directions. The people have their meat. But no sooner do they eat it when they fall victim to a plague (could this be the first recorded case of Avian Flu?) and thousands die.
Why would God have given them the meat they asked for then caused it to turn against them? If he was really angry that they complained against him, why not just refuse to let them have meat? I don’t have the answer- God knows why he did what he did and he didn’t think it important enough for Moses to write it down. But, if I was to guess, I would say God had two reasons for doing what he did:
- He gave them meat to show he is able to supply all their needs;
- He punished them for their complaining, but not because they complained about no meat.
The punishment was because they said they had it better in Egypt. I think it was bad enough when the people showed distrust in God by complaining, but when they went so far as to say they had it better in Egypt! Oy! That really cut it. For 400 years they were wailing and crying before God for freedom from their task masters, and here they are now- free! Not just free, but God got rid of the Egyptians, is giving them water and food in the desert, is bringing them to a promised land full of milk and honey, has said he will protect them, and even gives them a cloud by day and fire by night as a sign of his divine presence.
And after all this they say they want to go back to Egypt because it was better under the taskmasters of Egypt than to have the Living God in their camp…all because in Egypt they had vegetables and meat.
These people were saying that they would rather have vegetable and meat instead of the presence and gifts of God. That’s really what it came down to, isn’t it? If they had it better in Egypt, then they are saying all that they have now is not as good. Forget the Tabernacle, forget the freedom, forget the promised land- I’ll trade it all in right now for a good steak and potatoes dinner.
Are we any different today? Do we yearn for the physical pleasures of the flesh so much that we are willing to forget about the eternal joy that comes with living a holy life? How many eat what they want to because they would rather have a ham sandwich than receive blessings from God for obeying his law about not eating pork? And even if you want to argue that Kashrut (Kosher) laws are not necessary (by the way, you’d be wrong but that is for another discussion) God promises that we will blessed if we obey his laws (Deut. 28) so whatever your feelings about Kosher laws, obeying them will gain you blessings. Aren’t blessings from God the best thing we could hope for? Yes?
Then why do so many prefer pork rinds and shrimp cocktails to blessings? This is just an example of how we may be exchanging what God has planned for us for the things of the flesh that we are used to having.
I think this Shabbat we should all look in the mirror for a few minutes, and ask ourselves: “Am I ready to leave Egypt and what it has for me to be with God?” Egypt, of course, representing the world and the desires of the flesh. God will lead us on our journey of righteousness, help us to find what we need, supply us with all we require, and deliver us to the Promised Land. But we must be willing to give up the vegetables and meat that we so loved in our slavery before we start walking in freedom with God.
It’s a tough decision to walk with God. Yeshua says we must give up pretty much everything and pick up our execution stake if we want to follow him, and following Yeshua means obeying God. That means honoring and obeying what God said we should do in the Torah. Torah obedience will not earn you salvation, but it will earn you blessings.
As for me, I prefer the blessings of God to the vegetables and meat of Egypt. What about you?