Precise Heavenly Judgment

V’ruach nasa me’es Hashem vayagez slavim min hayam vayitosh al hamachaneh k’derech yom koh uk’derech yom koh sevivos hamachaneh uk’amasayim al pnei ha’aretz. (Bamidbar 11:31)

During their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness, the Jewish people were sustained by mann, which miraculously fell each day from Heaven. All they needed to do was go out each morning to collect it, allowing their physical needs to be met with a minimum of exertion. Moreover, our Sages teach that the mann tasted like whatever the person eating it desired (Rashi 11:5).

Parashas Behaalos’cha contains a tragic incident: A group of ungrateful complainers began to protest the mann that they were forced to eat day after day. They wailed that they missed the succulent meat that they ate in Egypt, and now they had nothing to look forward to except mann. Hashem responded to their lack of appreciation by giving them an abundance of meat.

Although this entire episode is difficult to comprehend, one detail in particular stands out as particularly curious. The Torah records that the meat was two cubits (3–4 feet) above the ground. Rashi explains that the animals floated in mid-air at this level so that the Jews who went to gather them wouldn’t have to exert themselves to bend over and pick them up from the ground.

However, we know that a mere two verses later, the Torah relates (11:33) that those who gluttonously consumed the meat died with the meat still between their teeth. If Hashem felt that their complaints and demands were inappropriate and planned to use the meat as an instrument of Divine punishment, why did He miraculously suspend the animals in mid-air to prevent unnecessary efforts on the part of such sinners?

The Darkei Mussar derives from here a beautiful lesson in how Hashem runs the world. Rashi is teaching us that Hashem’s system of reward and punishment is meted out very precisely. Even a person upon whom suffering is decreed will only experience the exact amount of pain that is coming to him, and not the slightest bit more.

This concept is illustrated in the following story. A man once arrived at the airport and checked in for his flight. After he was already in his seat and waiting for takeoff, the flight attendant approached to explain that he hadn’t paid the balance of his ticket and must deplane. The man was livid, as he knew that he had paid and he needed to be on this flight. The flight crew was insistent that they wouldn’t take off with him on board, and they suggested that he quickly sort it out at the gate.

Highly perturbed but left with no choice, the passenger went to argue with the manager. Unfortunately, by the time the manager located the source of the error, the plane had departed. The man was beside himself with anger… until he heard on the news that the plane had crashed without any survivors.

He was so overcome with emotion that it took him several minutes to realize that although his life was spared, his suitcase had been left on the plane and was destroyed. The pain he felt over lost personal items paled in comparison to his tremendous joy over his life being saved.

Although nobody enjoys suffering, the knowledge that it is precisely meted out by a loving and compassionate G-d Who won’t put him through the smallest amount of unnecessary pain can make it significantly more bearable.

Parashah Q & A

Q:Rashi writes (8:2) that there was a step in front of the Menorah upon which the Kohen would stand when cleaning out and lighting it. As the Menorah was only 18 tefachim tall (approximately 5 feet), why was it necessary for the Kohen to stand on a step to light it?

Q:The Mishnah in Avos (5:7) lists seven characteristics of a wise person, one of which is that he doesn’t interrupt another person who is still speaking. From where in Parashas Behaalos’cha is this lesson derived?

A: Harav Leib Tzintz points out that Moshe was speaking to Aharon, who was a Kohen Gadol. The Gemara in Sotah (38a) rules that although Kohanim in the Temple recite Birkas Kohanim with their hands raised above their heads, the Kohen Gadol may not do so. Rashi explains that this is because Hashem’s name is written on the Tzitz (Head-Plate), and it is inappropriate to raise his hands above this level. Just as Aharon could not raise his hands above his head for the purpose of Birkas Kohanim, so, too, was he forbidden to do so to light the Menorah, and he had no choice but to stand on a step to light it.

A:Harav Ovadiah Bartenura explains that the reason for not interrupting somebody who is in the middle of speaking is so that he shouldn’t become confused and distracted. He writes that the source for this teaching is Hashem’s request (12:6) that Aharon and Miriam please listen to his words of rebuke for speaking negatively of Moshe. In introducing His comments in this manner, Hashem was asking them to hear Him out and not to interrupt Him. If this concept applies to Hashem, Who doesn’t lose His focus, all the more so does it require us to hear out a human speaker in full before responding.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.