Friday, June 01, 2007

DVAR TORAH S2: Behaalotecha ("...until it comes out of your nostrils!")

One of the fun angry rants of our God. In this portion a lot happens, enough to comprise three books. As I mentioned last year, this portion contains two inverted nuns (not upside-down brides of christ, but the hebrew letter) between which is contained passages that we include at the beginning and end of our Torah service, both the words and the inverted nuns literally are bookends as many consider these two verses to be a completely seperate book of the Torah, or perhaps misplaced.

What I will discuss today happens at the very beginning of the Third Book of Numbers, a very interesting and disturbing account of people longing for meat. This account happens to be one of the rare strikes against meat-eating (my somewhat humorous halachic polemic against vegetarians will be transcribed at some point) in the Hebrew scriptures. The people tire of manna, they long for the cucumbers, melons, leeks, the fleshpots of Egypt they partook from "for free" (Yeah, kinda forgot that you were slaves, right?) At the initiation of the asafsuf, the riff-raff (etymologically, by the way, words like asafsuf are interesting as they have the same type of word extant in English: riff being the same as raff, asaf being the same as suf, anyway it means a collected collection or something like that, the bottom of the barrel, scum of the earth, the Egyptians and other non-Jews that decided to follow the Jews out of Egypt, known in Exodus 12 as eruv rav, a mixed multitude (and for some reason is a pun referring to students in Rabbinical school, "the eve of becoming a rabbi") but were insincere in becoming righteous strangers that dwelt among them), these incited the people to reminisce about the food in Egypt.
Memory is an interesting thing, it is not a recording of actual event, but is somewhat romanticized. Perhaps events in your childhood weren't as vivid as you remember them, but wistfulness takes over and suddenly you want to relive them. This seems to be what happened here. They had crappy lives in Egypt! They probably didn't get to sit around the fleshpots of Egypt. What do we eat in memory of our time spent in Egypt? We eat bitter herbs, not cholent! The Egyptians basically worshipped all of their livestock. When would we have had meat until that hallowed eve in which we took their g0at/lamb-god and made it the centerpiece of our Passover seder?

I also find it a little peculiar that they are lacking meat in the desert. Remember Exodus 16:8, 12-13 in which they previously complained about not having food and God guaranteed them manna during the day and meat, specifically quail, at night? And once again they test God. This time God says that they will have meat. Not just one day, or two days, or seven days, but thirty days, until it comes out of their nostrils. And yet some of the people eat and they are destroyed by plague.

Within this story is the calling of the seventy elders to commute with God, six from each of the twelve tribes. For those of you good with math, 6x12 does not equal 70 but 72. Therefore two men, Eldad and Medad were excluded from the group. Yet they too were possessed with the word of God and prophesied in the camp. Joshua, who was the sgan Moshe (Moses-pro-tem) while he wasn't there freaked out and brought them to Moses who said that they too were prophets and that there should be more people like them.

That's it for this portion for now. Perhaps next year we will discuss Miriam's leprosy.

Shabbat Shalom.


Anonymous said...

Wasn't the disease that Miriam had just roughly translated as leprocy but was in actuality something else?

Matt said...

Yes, for lack of a better term translators call it leprosy. However, there is currently a trend to leave the word untranslated throughout the Torah, leaving it rendered as tzaras or a variant. I should mention that the word doesn't only mean some sort of skin disease, but has come to define troubles of all sorts, tzurus as Yiddish speakers tend to say. If I had a say in how to translate the word I would call it God Pox.