“We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” — Numbers 11:5–6
The Torah portion for this week is Behaalotecha, which means “when you raise up,” from Numbers 8:1–12:16, and the Haftorah is from Zechariah 2:14–4:7.
The manna that fell from heaven was miraculous. It fell daily, with the exception of the Sabbath, when no work was permitted. There was exactly enough, even on Friday, when two times the amount needed fell so that there would be enough for the Sabbath. The Jewish sages teach that the manna tasted exactly like the person eating it wanted it to taste.
Pretty amazing! So how is it possible that the Israelites complained about it?
The truth is that the manna could taste like anything, except for three things— leeks, onions, and garlic— because those things aren’t good for pregnant or nursing mothers. The other limitation of the manna was that no matter what it tasted like, it always looked the same. Still, as outsiders, we can appreciate that the manna was a wonderful gift. The Israelites were in the desert, where most people would die of thirst and starvation, and they were perfectly provided for. How could they complain?
There is a saying from the sages that goes like this: “Who is happy? The one who takes pleasure in what he has.” Happiness is not about what we have; it’s about enjoying what we have. The sages didn’t give us a prescription for misery, but if they did, I suppose it would go something like this: “Who is miserable? The one who focuses on what is missing.”
This was the mistake of the complainers in the desert. They had so much – manna from heaven, protective clouds on all sides, and countless other miracles. Yet they focused on what they lacked – the tastes that the manna couldn’t provide and the fact that while it tasted like fish, it didn’t look like fish.
It is our mission to rectify the mistake of our ancestors by making gratitude a part of our lives and training our minds to focus on our blessings instead of what we lack. Try this: Keep a “gratitude journal,” writing down each day three things we are grateful for. Start out every day, thanking God for His blessing and provision for the day. Then end the day with thanks. In this way, we can “train” our minds to be grateful.
After all, you can’t focus on the rain in your life when you are enraptured by the beauty of the flowers!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President