This week the Torah tells us that the Children of Israel once again
complain. This time they want meat in the desert. They recall what they now
consider a better time in a better place. Like many of us who are
discontented with the world we live in, they talked about the good old days
— in Egypt of all places!
“The rabble that was among them cultivated a craving, and the Children of
Israel also wept once more, and said, "Who will feed us meat? We remember
the fish that we will eat in Egypt free of charge; and the cucumbers,
melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now, our life is parched, there is
nothing; we have nothing to anticipate but the manna!" (Numbers 11:4-6) The
commentators are bothered by two simple questions; the first a grammatical,
the second, a historical one.
The words that the complainers used were “zacharnu es hadagah asher naochal
we remember the fish we would eat or actually will eat.” They did not use
the pure past tense “achalnu, we remember the fish that we ate.” Why do
they complain of remember fish that was to be eaten in the future, instead
of fish to be eaten in the past?
Second, the Talmud and later commentaries ask, “Straw for bricks was not
given to them, how was it possible that they had free fish?”
The Talmud indeed implies that there was no fish, and the implied freedom
refers to freedom of the yoke of mitzvos. So, if that was the case, what
were they truly complaining about? Why mention non-existant fish?
Yankel would spend a few of his precious kopeks each week to by a lottery
ticket. And every week he would come home from work that much poorer.
his wife got wind of his habit, she repeatedly implored him to stop. She
said his efforts were futile and it would be impossible for him to win.
was, however, to no avail. Yankel would keep on betting the almost
impossible odds that one day he would win.
One day she could take it no longer. She shlepped him to the rabbi who was
going to make him assure them that he would no longer waste his money on the
When he finally acquiesced, his wife put her hands on her hips and reminded
him of her predictions. “For the last five years, you did nothing but lose
the lottery. What a waste!”
Poor Yankel shrugged. “My dear wife he sighed, you don’t understand. Every
night before the big lottery drawing, I went to sleep winning the lottery! And that my dear was surely no waste!”
The Sefer Shalal Rav brings quote the following interpretation: Sometimes,
it seems, people think that it is better to think of the world that would be
instead of the world that is. They refuse to revel in the good realities of
life and instead would rather fantasize about a better world that was not to
be. The Jews in the desert, talked about the fish they dreamt of in Egypt.
To them, like to many of us, the imaginary fish was more appealing than real
Manna. In the world of wishful thinking, it seems that obsessing about
imaginary dreams may be more appealing than reveling in the real good that
G-d has given us and the mitzvos that we are able to relish. And that is
more than fishy. It’s scary.
Dedicated in honor of Hannah and Ronnie Hershman
on the occasion of their 20th Wedding Anniversary
from their friends at Hollow Lane.