SALT - Friday, 2 Tammuz 5779 - July 5, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            We read in Parashat Chukat of Benei Yisrael’s complaints about their extended sojourn through the wilderness, when they protested the fact that “there is no food and there is no water” and proclaimed their disgust with the manna, which they derisively called, “lechem ha-kelokel” (“miserable food” – 21:5).
            The Sifrei, Parashat Devarim, 1) view this complaint as a grave instance of “kefiyut tova” – ingratitude.  God responded to the complaints, Chazal teach, by announcing to the people, “This favor that I granted you – about this you are arguing with Me and protesting to Me?!”  The Sifrei adds that God compared Benei Yisrael’s ingratitude regarding the manna to Adam’s expression of ingratitude regarding his wife, Chava.  After Adam partook of the forbidden tree and was confronted by God, he cast the blame on Chava: “The woman which You placed beside me, she gave me from the tree” (Bereishit 3:12).  Just as Adam complained about the precious gift he had been given – a wife – Benei Yisrael similarly complained about the precious gift they had been given in the wilderness – the manna.
            This comparison, at first glance, seems difficult to understand – and seemingly unfair to Adam.  Benei Yisrael’s complaints about the manna were completely unjustified and unwarranted.  Chazal (as Rashi cites here in Parashat Chukat) explain that the manna was fully and perfectly digested in the body, such that Benei Yisrael had no need to perform bodily functions during this period – and this is precisely what they complained about, saying that such food is not normal.  The food they received was perfect, and yet they complained.  Adam’s complaint was much different.  Chava had been given to him as a “helpmate” (“eizer ke-negdo” – Bereishit 2:18), but she misled him by bringing him fruit from the forbidden tree.  Adam had a legitimate grievance about his wife, even if he was wrong in complaining about her, rather than appreciating the benefits she provided notwithstanding the harm she now caused.  And yet, Chazal compare Adam’s accurate, even if unjustified, complaint about Chava to Benei Yisrael’s entirely unwarranted complaints about the manna.
            Perhaps, Chazal precisely seek to instruct that focusing our attention on grievances – valid as they may be – is as wrong as Benei Yisrael’s unjustified complaints about the manna.  We are to recognize that no blessing in life will ever be perfect – and we are to appreciate our blessings despite their imperfections.  Complaining about Chava’s wrongful conduct is as much an expression of ingratitude as complaining about the manna – because although Chava was not perfect like the manna, Adam was to appreciate her as much as Benei Yisrael were to appreciate the perfect food they were given.  Chazal here teach us to view all our blessings in life as “manna” even though they are imperfect, to celebrate all that is good in life even when the good is accompanied by challenges and hardships, recognizing that life will never be, and is never supposed to be, perfect like manna.