"The people took to seeking complaints;it was evil in the eyes of
In this week's parsha we are introduced to a segment of Bnei
Yisroel who are described as "misonenim" - "complainers". The Torah records
that they voiced three major complaints. Although Hashem, in His great
kindness, miraculously allowed Bnei Yisroel to complete a three-day journey
in one day in order to hasten their arrival in Eretz Yisroel, the misonenim
complained about the arduous journey that they were being forced to
undertake.1 They also voiced their dissatisfaction with the
manna, the Heavenly food supplied to them daily. Although the manna supplied
them with all their nutritional needs and accommodated any flavor that their
palates desired, they still had the gall to express their preference for the
diet they had in Egypt as slaves.2 Finally, they cried about the
relationships that became prohibited to them when they accepted the
Torah.3 What motivates a person to be an incessant complainer?
Why would a person attempt to turn all the positive that has been done for
him into negative?
The Torah records how Hashem, angered by the misonenim sent a fire to
consume them.4 Rashi cites an opinion that those who were killed
were amongst the leaders of the generation. They had sinned at the Sinaitic
revelation when "they gazed at Hashem". However, Hashem refrained from
executing them at that time in order not to mar the celebration of receiving
the Torah. It was now that the deferred punishments were meted
out.5 These complaints took place seven months after the Sinaitic
revelation. Why was it at this juncture that the leaders were punished?
In order for a person to avoid feeling indebtedness and responsibility for
the good which has been done for him, he seeks a negative perspective
towards all he has. Such a person makes himself miserable so that he will
not have to acknowledge that what he has is good. Rashi comments that the
misonenim were looking for an excuse to separate themselves from
Hashem.6 By denying the good which He had done for them, they
would not feel any responsibility to reciprocate, and were comfortable with
severing the relationship. It is at this juncture that those who "gazed at
Hashem" were punished. Their original error could have been written off as
an outgrowth of wanting to be closer to Hashem as Chazal say, "ha'ahavah
mekalkeles es hashurah" - "love distorts the boundaries of
propriety".7 However, through the complaints of the misonenim, it
became self-evident that they did not desire a closer relationship with
Hashem. It was then that they were taken to task for their inappropriate
behavior at the Sinaitic revelation.
1.11:1 See Sifri 82 2.11:4-6 3.11:10 4.11:1 5.Rashi ibid. See Rashi
Shemos 24:10 See also Tanchuma Behaloscha 16 6.Rashi 11:1 7.Sanhedrin 105b
See Rashi Beraishis 22:3
We Are Connected
"Moshe heard the people weeping concerning their family groups..."
The Talmud relates that any commandment which we initially
accepted with rejoicing, such as bris milah - circumcision, would be
performed joyously in later generations. However, any commandment that was
received with resistance, would be fulfilled in later generations with
aggravation. Specifically, since Bnei Yisroel wept over being prohibited
from marrying their family members, the result was that there would never be
a Kesubah, a marriage document that records the couple's financial
obligations to one another, written that did not involve some form of
dispute.1 Why are circumcision and prohibited relationships the two examples
The Maharal questions why, in fact, it became prohibited to Bnei Yisroel to
marry their family members; according to the Talmud, in preparation for
receiving the Torah, Bnei Yisroel underwent complete conversion i.e.
circumcision, ritual bathing, and the bringing of sacrifices.2 By Torah law,
when a person converts he severs all preexisting family relationships.
Therefore, technically, if a brother and sister were to convert, as Jews
they would be permitted to marry one another, based upon the dictum "ger
shenisgayer kikatan shenolad dami" - "A convert has the status of a newborn
child." Therefore, asks the Maharal, why did the conversion process of Bnei
Yisroel not sever all preexisting family relationships, permitting them to
marry their family members?3
The reason why conversion severs preexisting family relationships is that
when a person becomes a Jew, he disconnects himself from his previous
heritage, and connects himself with the heritage that began with our
Forefather Abraham. This is the reason for the custom of naming converts
"ben Avraham" - "the son of Abraham". The conversion of Bnei Yisroel at Har
Sinai did not sever their previous heritage; on the contrary, it reaffirmed
and reconnected them back to their ancestry. It is because of their
connection to their ancestry that they merited to receive the Torah.
Therefore, all previous family relationships remained in tact.
The misonenim were complaining that since they had undergone conversion,
they should have been permitted to maintain relationships with family
members, as is standard for the laws of conversion. Their mistake was that
Bnei Yisroel's conversion was not a standard one; rather, it was akin to the
circumcision which they had to undergo. The function of circumcision is to
reconnect us to the covenant of Abraham, as we recite in the blessing for
circumcision "lehachniso bevriso shel Avraham Avinu" - "to enter him, i.e.
the one being circumcised, into the covenant of our Patriarch Abraham".
It is for this reason that Chazal compare Bnei Yisroel's reaction to the
precepts governing prohibited relationships and circumcision. They are
alluding to the source of Bnei Yisroel's mistake; although they underwent
conversion, this process did not serve to sever their preexisting heritage,
rather to reaffirm it.
1.Shabbos 130a 2.Krisus 9a See Rashi Shemos 24:6 3.Gur Arye Beraishi
46:10 See introduction to the Shav Shmaytsah