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ONIONS AND GARLICAdapted 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.
"…and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed those who were in the outlying parts of the camp." The possuk does not explain who these people were in the "outlying parts of the camp." But they cried out to Moshe, and Moshe came and davened for them, and the fire died down, and then all was forgotten. We move on to a new parsha and a new problem. The Torah was so terse here, not describing what happened, and to whom it happened.
Rashi mentions a disagreement as to who were the "outlying parts of the camp." Some say it was the worst of the people, the erev-rav, the great multitude of Egyptians that accompanied the Jews out of Mitzrayim. R. Shimon ben Menasia disagrees. He says that really it was the best of the people, the leaders, the officers of rank.
Nevertheless, the Torah was so secretive about what exactly they said, and what was wrong with it. If this incident is discussed in the Torah it most certainly was mentioned to teach us something. These people were guilty of a crime punishable by death. And yet we do not even have any inkling of what they did! Very puzzling.
If we do some research, we can discover who these "leaders" were. Later on in possuk 16, it states, "And the Lord said to Moshe, Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Yisroel, whom you know to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you."
Rashi asks why Moshe had to gather a new seventy elders. Where were the elders who led the people out of Mitzrayim? They had died in the fire that consumed the people. Rashi here tells us that the "outlying parts of the camp" were the best of the best of Klal Yisroel. They were the leaders in Mitzrayim, and they were the ones who helped Moshe Rabbeinu during the entire Exodus until now!
However, Rashi explains, they were punished with the death penalty due to a previous incident.
"Then went up Moshe, and Aaron, Nadav, and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and they saw the God of Israel; and there was under his feet a kind of paved work of a sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. And upon the nobles of the people of Israel He laid not His hand; and they saw God, and ate and drank." (Shemos 24:9-11)
At the time of the giving of the Torah the elders went up to Mt. Sinai with Moshe Rabbeinu and they gazed at the Divine Vision. What does it mean that they "ate and drank"? What does eating and drinking have to do with gazing at the Divine? Chazal explain that these leaders were granted a vision and "saw the God of Israel." This means that they had attained a very great and lofty level of prophecy. However, being on such an elevated plane, Hashem found a blemish, a tiny, miniscule critique. During the vision, they had a slight lightheadedness as if "they ate and drank." They did not take the situation seriously enough. It was considered as if they were standing in front of a mighty king, eating and drinking and having a good time. They couldn't find a better time than the occasion of the Giving of the Torah to, so to speak, grab a sandwich and have lunch? On their lofty level of being able to view Hashem, they were criticized for the attitude which was labeled "and they ate and drank." There was too much joy at this very serious and earth-shattering event.
However, the Torah explains that Hashem waited, "And upon the nobles of the people of Israel He laid not His hand." They deserved the death penalty. They should have been stricken down immediately. But Hashem held Himself back, so as not to spoil the joy of the Giving of the Torah, and waited for a different opportunity to mete out justice.
But what was the connection of the above transgression to the incident of the complainers? Here also we do not really understand. Perhaps in the event of the "complainers" there was also a very slight repetition of "they ate and drank." So slight, we do not know exactly what it was. Nevertheless, it was enough to allow the Divine justice to use this opportunity to mete out the previous decree. (We shall offer an explanation of the connection further on.)
Joy - Not Complaint
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.
This transgression of "complaining" was not isolated to the leaders; it involved the whole Klal Yisroel. Here it does not explain what exactly they complained about. However, a little later on we find that those who survived this incident 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 did not 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 the Divine. 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?
Sacrificing for Hashem
Heard From Rav Shimshon Pincus zt'l
The concept of making certain sacrifices in order to pursue a specific path and direction is nothing new and is as old as the human race. It also transcends barriers of faith and religion. People make sacrifices for a myriad of reasons, including family, career and the like.
"Mesiras Nefesh" however, is something entirely different.
Mesiras Nefesh is the act of sacrificing a piece of yourself, for the sake of Hashem!
Mesiras Nefesh is where you make a concrete decision to uproot something which has become an intrinsic part of yourself or your lifestyle, in order to move closer to Borei Olam.
For some of us, it takes the form of throwing out the TV. For others, it means installing a filter on a computer or smart phone. Maybe for some, Mesiras Nefesh is more subtle and involves a commitment to abstain for a period of time from reading secular newspapers, magazines and tabloids.
In all instances, any pro-active desire to effect positive spiritual change in our lives can be considered Mesiras Nefesh. Each Jew on his or her own individual level is Moser Nefesh, when they decide to better themselves in any way.
Rebbe taught us that Hashem cherishes these sacrifices because they come from within us.
'Yeshikeini Mi'neshikos Pihu' - When we give a Kiss to Hashem, we receive one in Return.
What will you do today for Borei Olam?
Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!
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