Posted By The Stash

Last week I wrote about the importance of numbers when they are contextualized within a community. Mere lists of numbers are meaningless, but numbers of different family groups listed with their respective roles and designated places in the Israelite camp convey the importance of a people who took an active role in their religion. I also observed that the emphasis on the group rather than the individual starkly contrasts with the growth of self-centred narcissism we see today.

But one wonders if, despite its emphasis on the nation, there were still many individuals who cared more for themselves than society. After a number of complaints, Moses “burns out” (Rabbi Sacks) and declares angrily to G-d: ““Why have you brought this trouble on Your servant? What have I done to displease You that You put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do You tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land You promised on oath to their ancestors?” As Rabbi Sacks observes, G-d never told Moses to do this. So what is the source of this outburst?

Certainly the Torah provides plenty of evidence. In the immediately preceding narrative we have reams of complaints and, significantly, the death of Moses’ sister Miriam. Certainly she had a special relationship with the brother whose life she watched over since his birth. Her death must have been a great blow and robbed Moses of a close confidante.

But it is the selfishness of the outbursts that prompts Moses’ desperate language. The people complained that the manna was boring food, very different from the diverse diet they remembered from Egypt. And they complain they want meat!! It is all a bit much. Can they not be thrilled that in the midst of a desert, they miraculously have a food source that is there every day and somehow can be harvested in double portions on Fridays without spoiling? How can they speak of their diet in Egypt with such nostalgia—do they have similarly fond memories of building Pithom and Rameses, Pharoah’s storage cities?

Perhaps short term memories and a lack of appreciation for the good in their lives are not as modern an occurrence as we believe. Modern life features “helicopter parents” equipped with iPhones and Blackberries frantically scheduling their childrens’ lives and constantly guarding against any misfortune or misstep that could psychologically impact their young charges. This would have appalled Moses, who cannot imagine carrying these people “in his arms” and we can empathize. Israel’s desert experience was designed to mold a new people, a more self-reliant nation. But this does not happen. In fact, in our next chapter, the popular mood will continue to worsen, its symptoms being the revolt of Korach and the demand to send scouts to see if Israel was truly a suitable land. The tragic outcome of this incident would be a Divine consequence that recognized that those who were slaves could not be sufficiently rehabilitated, and a new generation bred in freedom would be the conquerors and possessors of the land.

Raising children and nations clearly requires instilling a sense of gratitude for the daily goodness of life and the ability to see the good in every situation.

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