Anachnu t’mei’im l’nefesh adam lamah nigara (Bamidbar 9:7)
At first glance, Parashas Behaalos’cha appears to discuss a number of unrelated topics. However, Rabbi Yissocher Frand suggests that upon further examination, an important theme emerges.
At the time of the offering of the korban Pesach in the wilderness, there was a group of men who were unable to participate due to the fact that they had become ritually impure through contact with a dead body. Instead of passively accepting their fate, they approached Moshe and challenged him: “Why should we be deprived of the chance to offer the korban Pesach with the rest of the nation?” Moshe consulted Hashem to receive a reply to their argument, and he was instructed to respond by teaching the mitzvah of Pesach Sheini, which is a make-up opportunity for those who were ritually impure or too far away to participate in offering the korban Pesach.
The Sifri comments on this incident that these individuals were chareidim al hamitzvos — they trembled to do the mitzvos. Rabbi Frand explains that these men were legitimately exempt from the korban Pesach due to their impure status. As such, they were rightfully excused from the mitzvah and had absolutely no obligation to take part in it, nor was there any logical reason to be upset about it. However, the Sifri tells us that these were not ordinary Jews. They were exceedingly righteous men, who yearned to perform mitzvos and therefore challenged Moshe, “Why should we be deprived?” Instead of viewing mitzvos as obligations or burdens, their saw them as opportunities, and their philosophy was that missing out on a mitzvah is a form of deprivation to be avoided at all costs.
Parashas Behaalos’cha begins with the laws governing the lighting of the Menorah in the Mishkan. Rashi explains (8:2) that this topic is juxtaposed to the offerings of the tribal leaders at the end of Parashas Naso because Aharon felt disheartened when he saw so many offerings in which neither he nor his tribe took part. Hashem responded by reassuring him with the laws of lighting the Menorah, which was performed by Kohanim and was an even greater merit.
Nevertheless, we can again question: Why was Aharon upset to begin with? During the 12-day consecration of the Mishkan, each of the princes of the 12 tribes was responsible to bring an offering on each of the successive days. As Aharon was not a tribal prince, and his tribe had their own unique function in the Mishkan, why was he discouraged to be left out? The answer is that just like the impure men on Pesach, Aharon similarly felt deprived by being excluded from an opportunity to do a mitzvah and come closer to Hashem.
Rabbi Frand notes that while some pious individuals become distraught when they are unable to perform a mitzvah, there are unfortunately, other people who become depressed over far more mundane matters, such as when their stock portfolio takes a hit, or even when their favorite sports team is mired in a losing streak.
Along these lines, later in Parashas Behaalos’cha, we find another group of people who were depressed, but not about their inability to perform a mitzvah. They felt deprived because they missed the delectable cucumbers and watermelons that they used to eat in Egypt, and they were disturbed by the unchanging menu in the wilderness (11:4–6).
The message of Parashas Behaalos’cha is that we must examine what makes us upset, and what makes us happy, which will reveal to us what we have chosen as our priorities in life. Do we follow in the footsteps of Aharon and the impure men and view ourselves as unfairly deprived whenever a mitzvah opportunity does not pan out as we had hoped, or do we elect to complain about the food we are served?
Q: Rashi writes (11:5) that the mann tasted like whatever the person eating it desired, except for five tastes that it couldn’t take on because they are unhealthy for nursing women. Was one permitted to think that the mann should taste like a mixture of cooked milk and meat, or on Pesach that it should taste like chametz??
Q: The Torah testifies (12:3) that Moshe was humbler than any person on the face of the earth. Was this true only in relation to those in his generation, or even in reference to those from earlier generations such as the Avos?
A: In his commentary on the Medrash Pliah, the Binas Nevonim maintains that it was both possible and permitted to cause the mann to taste like otherwise “prohibited” foods. However, the Shaar Bas Rabbim writes that it was forbidden to do so, and suggests that refraining from doing so is the “test” of the mann to which the Torah refers (Shemos 16:4).
A: The Sifri quotes a dispute about this issue. One opinion maintains that the verse only intends to compare him to his contemporaries, but not to those who lived before him, as the Avos were indeed even more humble, which is also the opinion of the Avos d’Rav Nosson.
A second opinion argues that he was humbler even than the Avos. Interestingly, both sources write that the comparison is only to other humans, but not to angels, which are indeed humbler than Moshe.
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.