|This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbi’s Yissachar Frand, Akiva Tatz, Yossi Bilus, Asher Hurzberg|
Here we go again! “Why have you brought the congregation to this wilderness to die there, we and our animals? And why did you bring us up from Egypt to bring us to this evil place? This is not a place of seed or fig tree or grapevine or pomegranate tree; and there is no water to drink.” (Bamidbar 20:4-5) Yada, yada, yada. Sound familiar? The complaints are repetitive. Seemingly, it’s the same script but different place in the wilderness. Don’t these Jews ever learn their lesson? A bunch of complainers, that’s what they are. Zero tolerance and no patience, that’s the way they come across!! What happened to the miracles they saw? What happened to these great people, weren’t they were labeled, “The Generation of Knowledge?” These guys were supposed to be the greatest ever!
How can that be?
To understand why our beloved ancestors behaved the way they did and to perhaps even bring total clarity, we have to take note of a fundamental approach to, of all things, death.
Rabbi Akiva Tatz teaches us an interesting observation on what happens the seconds, the moments of death, or perhaps I should say during the transition between life and death, when one is on the threshold of leaving this world. Rabbi Tatz observes that when a person is on the verge of death, he experiences a moment of nothingness. It’s a blank screen which results in being uncomfortable, vulnerable, alone, scared, unsure. After all, he’s in limbo. At this precious moment Satan works his clever deceptive ways one last time. He thrust a great wave of deceptive falsehood in a last ditch effort for the individual to deny. As the individual feels the dark nothingness, Satan approaches and says, “Look, there is nothing here – there is no Gan Eden, there is no reward. It was all a sham. The Torah and the Rabbis fooled you, it’s one big hoax. There is no such thing as a G-d!!” At that very moment if he accepts those words for what it’s worth, Rabbi Tatz says, he will lose it all!! Such is this moment of transition, of confusion, where Satan tries to take advantage of you and seal your fate, forever!
Incidentally, for this reason one has to bury a loved one immediately. The confusion and trauma of the transition period causes the deceased tremendous hardship and great discomfort. Due to the anguish that the soul is experiencing it is highly recommended that the surrounding loved ones say Shema Yisrael as the soul is leaving the body. This helps ease the transition and reaffirm his commitment to G-d.
The game of life can be difficult at times. One of the more challenging aspects of being in this world is dealing with death, and in this week’s parsha Miriam, the beloved sister of Moshe and Aharon, passed on. We clearly see the impact she had, for in her merit the Jews were privileged to drink water in the desert. (Often, it’s not till one passes away do we appreciate what good they did or what they contributed to society and how much influence they had on us.)
Rabbi Yissachar Frand quotes Rav Simcha Zissel from his book Sam Derech who asks a very interesting question. According to the Ramban, the incident of Korach challenging our leaders Moshe and Aharon occurred right after the incident of the Spies. This means that all the events in Parshat Shlach and Korach occurred in the second year after the Exodus. However, Parshat Chukat occurred in the 40th year after the Exodus, approximately 38 years later. They were now on the threshold of entry into the Land of Israel.
All the troubles and complaints up until now occurred in the first 18 months in the desert. However, the incident at Mei Meriva, the “we want water” complaint in Parshat Chukat occurred in year 40. Rav Simcha Zissel asks, “What happened in between?” Rav Simcha Zissel answers that we see from the Mishna in Avot and the Gemara in Erachin that for the 38 intervening years they were perfect. How do we know this? The Mishna (Avot 5:4) lists ten specific “challenges” that our forefathers tested G-d with in the Wilderness and quotes a pasuk as the source text for this number, “And they tested Me for these ten times.” (Bamdibar 14:22) The Gemera in Erachin (15a) spells out what these ten challenges were: two by Yam Suf, two involving the mann, two with the quail, two with water (one in Refidim and one in Mei Meriva), one with the Golden Calf, and one in Wilderness of Paran (the Spies). These all happened in the first year and a half, with the exception of Mei Meriva-“the water incident,” which happened at the very end. Rav Simcha Zissel derives from this that in the intervening 38 years, there were no challenges, no complaints, and the Jewish people behaved perfectly!
Furthermore, during those years they were schlepping baggage on a moment’s notice with children in tow, directed by the cloud of glory. To not complain one iota is very commendable! This constitutes an immeasurable trust in G-d.
This is very much in line with our concept of “The Generation of Knowledge” (Dor Deah), the people who consumed only mann, lived within the confines of the Clouds of Glory, and learned Torah for 38 years from Moshe Rabbeinu. They did not need to worry about clothes, food, or a job. They could devote their entire lives to spiritual growth. They could make the following proclamation: “We have not done anything wrong in the last 38 years!”
If so, Rav Simcha Zissel wonders, what then happened in the first two years and in year 40 that caused Klal Yisrael to “act out” and challenge the Almighty time and again during those periods? It seems out of character compared to the 38 goodie goodie years.
What propelled them to switch from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde?
Rav Simcha Zissel offers a very important insight into human nature, something that is very important for us to know vis a vis ourselves and vis a vis our children. The first two years and the final year were times of transition. Klal Yisrael was going from one stage into the next. They left Egypt, where they were slaves, and shortly thereafter they became a Divine Nation. The journey from the 49th level of impurity to receiving the Torah was a year of tremendous spiritual upheaval and transition in their lives. And now, on the verge of entering Eretz Yisroel, they also face a traumatic transition. They were about to go from an existence of eating mann and drinking water that flowed from a rock to a normal existence, having to plant, hoe, and plow, and to make business deals and take care of their families. Again they faced transition.
When a person is in a period of transition he is not serene. When a nation goes through sudden change, they do not have peace of mind and are not at peace with themselves. This lack of calmness makes people vulnerable to making poor decisions and silly mistakes. Without serenity, people cannot make informed decisions.
The lesson Rav Simcha Zissel derives from this is that one must be extremely careful whenever entering a new situation in life, even if the change is a good change, like becoming newly married or new parents. All these phases represent major transitions in one’s life. They are wonderful transitions but the transitions can still easily cause upheaval in a person’s life. When things are changing and coming at a person from all directions, he lacks “yishuv ha’daat” [peace of mind] and in such situations, he must be particularly careful.
Perhaps one can justify the popular term “no pain, no gain” since “transition” is what elevates one in life. But Satan knows he’s being threatened and he puts his best foot forward. Throughout our Torah we see exactly this pattern of sabotaging the transition phase. When Noach came out from the Arc to start a new life in a new world, he got drunk from the grapes which led to negative consequences. When Eisav returned from Avraham’s funeral, if he even attended he committed five immeasurable sins. This was a major transition for him, as he idolized his grandfather Avraham and now he’s gone. The inauguration of the Tabernacle, a milestone, was marred by the death of Aharon’s two sons Nadav and Avihu.
As we know, it was King David who laid the blueprints for the Bet Hamikdash (Temple). However, it was under King Solomon’s leadership that it was built. King Solomon was married to the daughter of Pharaoh, one of his many wives, and on the day of the inauguration of the long-awaited Temple, she caused him to oversleep. The entire nation was waiting for their King on this momentous occasion to come and lead the ceremony, not knowing that he was out of commission. Apparently, his mother, Batsheva, had a grasp on what was taking place. She had a sixth sense that mothers possess which led to her uneasy feeling. Mothers have a certain intuition about their children. (If I sneeze, my mother, who happens to be on the other side of town, will call me up and demand that I put on my sweater.)
So Batsheva storms the King’s bedroom with the heel of her shoe in hand. She hits her son, King Solomon, scolding him, “What are you doing? Get up! The people are waiting!”
Satan is trying to spoil the fun. He doesn’t want the transition to go smoothly for he knows that transition in life is a form of elevation.
Everything has a reason. It was time for the passing of Miriam which propelled the end of the miracle waters that sustained the Israelites. In essence G-d was preparing the Jews to enter the Promised Land. It was designed that way, for them to start fetching water and food for themselves. However they still had a small weakness in their trust in G-d, and they felt that they were not ready to proceed to this next stage, of living outside the direct confines and support of G-d. This lack of trust was magnified by entering into the transition phase of their next mission in life.
One has to be careful when something positive or negative occurs in their lives, for that is a transition phase and we are vulnerable to error. Furthermore, even a vacation or a drive to the country can cause a slight confusion. There are those who are not the same people when they go on vacation or business trips. Perhaps for this reason one has to recite a special prayer, Tefilat HaDerech-the journey prayer.
One has to reaffirm his commitment to G-d and, most importantly, to himself.
HAVE A SAFE SUMMER