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Adapted from a lecture by Moreinu v'Rabbeinu HaGaon HaTzaddik Rav Zeidel Epstein, zt"l, 5758.

Onions and Garlic

And when the people were like complainers of evil in Hashem's ears, and the Lord heard it; and His anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed those who were in the outlying parts of the camp…. And the mixed multitude that was among them had a strong craving; and the people of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us meat to eat? (Bemidbar 11:1,4)

Rav Zeidel pointed out that numerous questions arise from these possukim. First of all, what does it mean, "the people were like complainers"? Were they complainers or not? Why say, "they were like complainers"? The Siforno draws attention to this problem and comments that they really did not have anything to complain about; they were merely trying to complain.

Next, we have to understand the phrase "evil in Hashem's ears." Was it evil, or not? Why does the Torah specify that it was "evil in Hashem's ears"? The implication is that really, it was not evil, but the Ribono Shel Olam heard it as evil. What exactly was this "complaining"? The commentaries do not really explain this. From the Siforno and others it appears that they were "like complainers." They lacked the joy they should have had from the unending supervision of the Ribono Shel Olam. The Torah seems to be trying to give us this message: we have to feel joy that Hashem is here with us; He is taking care of our every need. Their lack of joy stemmed from a small hidden attitude of complaint, and "in Hashem's eyes" this was considered a sin.

The Torah does not explain what exactly they complained about. However, a little later on we find that those who survived the incident of "the fire of the Lord burnt among them," were still complaining. They whined about the lack of meat, and they missed the cucumbers and onions they had in Mitzrayim! It was much better for us there! What was so bad about Mitzrayim? We remember the fish we ate in Mitzrayim - free! They didn't want to journey any further.

This monologue is totally incomprehensible. We are talking about people who for over two hundred years were not just slaves, but slave labor. The Egyptians gave them some fish and onions to eat so they should keep on working. But which fish did they get? According to one commentary, they received the Egyptians' leftovers; fish that had already been out five days and were beginning to rot. These were the fish the Jews received. And now they're nostalgic about some rotten fish?

They complained that they remembered the onions and garlic of Mitzrayim. How many people were lacking onions and garlic? Most of them could taste onions and garlic in the Mann if they wanted to. The whole Klal Yisroel has to make a tumult just because a few individuals couldn't taste onions and garlic in the Mann?! They made a demonstration, they went on strike. "We are not going until everyone gets garlic and onions!" This was Klal Yisroel's nisayon? It doesn't make sense. The rest of the Yidden should have argued back, "What are you complaining about? What do you want? For a few onions you want to go back to Mitzrayim?"

It seems that the best of the Jews, even the leaders, were "like complainers." Not that they complained. They were only "like complainers." They didn't protest, "Kinderlach, what is bothering you? Why are you making such a ridiculous protest? You're talking nonsense. You want to stop because of rotten fish with some onions and garlic?" We should have heard something from them. But we do not hear anything. This acquiescence made them "like complainers," and this was considered "evil in Hashem's ears." The Ribono Shel Olam wanted them to rise above this petty quibbling, and they failed.

Until now, we thought we understood why the Creator gives a nisayon. The recipient now has a choice whether or not to do Hashem's will. If he chooses correctly, then he develops a close relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam. This then elevates his stature, consequently granting him an even stronger attachment to Ruchnius. Here, however, we observe a nisayon that doesn't make any sense. There isn't any reason for a sensible person to think like this. They should have discarded the complaints right away. "What is all this nonsense about onions and watermelons?" It seems that the essence of this nisayon was to see if their joy would resist this complaint. Or would their inner doubts prohibit their ability to feel simcha?

* * *

Chazal tell us that the mann had all the possible flavors in the world. Whatever the Jews wanted to taste, they tasted in the mann. Even the way it fell was miraculous. First, there was a layer of dew underneath like a tablecloth. And then on top of it was another layer to cover it like a challah cover. They were served like kings! HaKadosh Baruch Hu could have just thrown them a package of mann for everyone to grab. No. He gave each one special delivery. A simple person, not of such a high spiritual standing, received his delivery in the field, slightly far from his tent. The tzaddik received his delivery to his doorstep. Everyone received his delivery exactly according to who he was.

So the seventy elders probably received their mann in the most honorable fashion, special delivery. What more did they want? No. "We remember the fish with the onions and garlic." This is astonishing! But as absurd as it is, this is the lesson the Torah has revealed to us. There is a boundless inclination in the person toward pettiness. But we do not understand this. Do not think they were the only ones who felt connected to onions and garlic. Each one of us has similar bonds.

The Five-Dollar Baby

At a Pidyon Ha-Ben the Kohen asks the father a totally inconceivable question. The father declares to the Kohen that this is his firstborn son. Then the Kohen asks the father, "Which do you prefer: to give me your firstborn son or to redeem him for five shekels?" Did you hear what was just said?! We take this new father, and ask him which is more important to him, his son or five shekels! You must be surprised that we can ask him such a question. I've always wanted to know what would happen if someone told the Kohen to take the baby. We've never come across such a case. Of course, everyone knows that the father wants his baby. And even if he wanted to say it, he wouldn't. What kind of question is that, to ask him, "Do you want your child?" But everyone stands there respectfully, with the Rabbi and all the honorable guests, and the Kohen takes his money, and we have never heard anyone ever question the ceremony. Someone should speak up, "What's going on here?! You're making fun of this new father by asking him such a silly question."

The answer is that it is not so simple that all we are doing is asking him a question if he wants the baby or the five shekels. We are telling him, "Listen, you, new father, you're now entering a new stage of your life. You've just become a father. You've just become a teacher. You now have to run a household. The first thing you have to know is that there is a very important question: which do you want more? Do you want the child more, or do you want the five shekels more?" This question accompanies the father and mother the whole day, the whole year, their whole life.

There comes the day they have to choose a kindergarten. But there are two kindergartens. One has good children from good homes, and the other is okay, but not as good. So what is the question? How much does the better kindergarten charge? They take five dollars more each month. The other one is cheaper. "Five dollars! Oy vey. Five dollars isn't really that much money. But it adds up. Every month five dollars! What does he need the kindergarten for anyway? He's only going to play. He can stay at home and play. Five dollars is money. I'll take the cheaper one." What was the deciding factor? Five dollars. Then they have to move. They have to buy a house. There are two homes to choose from. One is in a better neighborhood, a religious section. But it costs $5,000 more than the other one. What is going to be the deciding factor? The chinuch of the children or the price? "Which do you prefer more? Your child or the gelt?" And so we inform this new father: Yungerman! Now you're entering life as a father. You have to remember this very basic principle: you are constantly being asked, "Which do you want more?" And this decision that you have to make now at the Pidyon Ha-Ben you'll be making for the rest of your life. So you see that this question of whether the new father wants the five shekels or not is not such a simple one. We are asking him a very deep question that he has to internalize into his very being and remember his whole life. In the end, as simple as it appears, it is a nisayon. "Which do you really prefer?" If a person can give his freedom away for some onions and garlic, he can give away even the greatest things. He sees in front of him a few onions and garlic. He doesn't know what is going to be. What does the future have in store? He only sees what is in front of his eyes: the onions. Right now, he's a bit nearsighted. And if he's nearsighted now what happens a year later when his wife gives birth to another child? He doesn't think into it so deeply. What is going to be? And it all started with the decision about kindergarten. He asks himself this lifelong question, What is going to be? How am I going to make it? And he makes his decision in favor of the five dollars.

Gut Shabbos!

© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rosh Yeshiva
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.

Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers) and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop - Lakewood).

Rabbi Parkoff is in the final stages of publishing "CHIZUK," a sequel to Trust Me. If you would like to help in sponsoring this upcoming book, or would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff please contact him: or 732-325-1257

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