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Behaalotcha 5762

By: Shprintzee Rappaport

This weeks e-mail shiur is by Shprinzee Herskovits:

(Note: Despite the fact that this week's Torah-reading outside of Israel
is Parshat Nasoh, since this e-mail keeps to the Israel schedule, we
discuss Parshat B'halotcha this week.)

This week's question comes from Ashara Attiah, originally from Los
but now living in Israel and learning at Midreshet Harova. In
Parshat B'halotcha, the Jews complain about not having exactly the right
type of food. They begin by saying (11:4) "Who will give us meat?"
Then they begin to reminisce and say (11:5-6) "We remember the fish we
ate in Egypt for free and melons, onions, etc. and now our souls are dry
because we have nothing except the Manna." As if in response to this
maligning of the Manna, the Torah informs us that the Manna was like
(11:7) "A Coriander seed". Based on this Ashara asks "If the Torah
wanted to defend the Manna, why doesn't it mention the fact that it
tasted like anything that a person wanted? After all, that makes it
look much better than fish, melons or onions. Furthermore, if the Torah
could have chosen any food to describe Manna, why did it settle on a
"Coriander seed"? Most of the commentaries I looked at, including Rashi
and Eben Ezra, say that term really describes the shape or color of the
Manna, or even the ease with which it could be gathered. But the Jews'
complaint seems to involve the Manna's taste, so why not compare the
Manna to some tasty food--maybe a kind of fish, which the Jews mentioned
as the main food they missed?"

Perhaps we can understand this by addressing something else that is
quite unusual here. Right before this incident the Torah has two Hebrew
letters called "", written backwards. As to why that is, the
commentaries tell us that those "" act as parenthesis and that the
verses in between, (which discuss the Aron--Ark) should have been an
entire book of the Torah by themselves. The question is: If Hashem
wanted those verses to be a separate book of the Torah, why didn't He
just write them separately? Why put them in parenthesis instead?

The more one analyzes the Jews' complaint, the more obvious it becomes
that the Jews were not really complaining about food. After all, as we
mentioned, the Manna could taste like anything they wanted. In
addition, the Jews are not even consistent, as they begin to complain
about not having meat and then they talk about fish and melons.
According to Kli Yakar (R. Shlomo Efraim of Luntchitz) the Jews were
actually complaining about the laws involving "immoral relationships"
and the backward "" hint to this. Besides being the name of a
Hebrew letter, "" is also a word for "fish". Fish are most known
for multiplying significantly. It is for this reason that the Jews are
compared to fish in Yaakov's blessing to Efraim and Menashe (Genesis
48:17). There, Yaakov says "You will multiply exceedingly in the midst
of the earth". The Hebrew word used for "multiply" is "Vayidgu" whose
root is "Dag--fish". As to why the Jews are specifically compared to
fish and not another creature which reproduces a lot, the Rabbis say it
is because just like fish need water to survive the Jews need Torah
(which is called "Mayim Chaim--live waters") to survive. So
essentially, Yaakov was telling his children that as long as they kept
the Torah, they would multiply like fish. As to why the "" here
are written backward, Kli Yakar says that the first, backward "" has
its "mouth" pointing towards the previous verses which describe the Jews
travelling (-34) "From the mountain of G-d". The mountain of
is the Har Sinai on which the Torah was given. This implies that
the Jews can travel on in life only if they "ingest" (i.e. stick with)
the Torah. The second backward "" hints to the fact that the Jews
left the Torah, which resulted in their complaint about the fish. Since
the Jews "turned their backs" on Torah, the gets turned around, and
so does the promise that we will multiply.

As to how we know the Jews "turned their backs" on Torah, further on in
this incident we are told () "And Moshe saw the people complaining
according to their families at the door of their tents." The Rabbis
say that the phrase "according to families" means that the Jews were
complaining about the laws regarding families--i.e. those dealing with
forbidden, "immoral relationships". So the complaint about not having
fish, really was a complaint about not being able to "multiply" with
whomever they wanted.

As to what this has got to do with the original question of why the
Manna is described as a "coriander seed", the Hebrew word for
'coriander' is '"Gad". If you turn those letters around (i.e. backward)
you get the word "Dag--fish". The message here is--if we keep the
Torah, Hashem sends us food which can taste like anything we want, to
ensure that we will be healthy and thus be able to multiply. If we turn
our backs on Torah, we become like "fish out of water" who cannot
multiply. Thus, one could say that the Torah (represented by the Manna)
is the "seed" that makes us grow.

Shabbat Shalom,


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