The Israelites have been showered with benefits — and now the complaints begin.
The Jewish people are in possession of a perfect and comprehensive system of laws which is destined to have a tremendous positive influence on their spiritual, intellectual, and cultural development. Livelihood is no problem; all their physical needs are provided, and their food descends miraculously from the heavens daily. And then “it came to pass that the people were like complainers, evil in the ears of G-d.”
The verse doesn’t specify what their complaint was; in fact it implies that they didn’t say anything specific. They were “like complainers,” murmuring discontentedly under their breath, showing vague feelings of dissatisfaction. They felt what they had was no good anymore; they wanted more, although they themselves had no clear idea of what “more” exactly they wanted. Whatever the case, this state of mind indicated a lack of gratitude, giving rise to a sense of deprivation. To put it bluntly, they were whining.
What caused them to whine? The Sages’s answer is incisive:
“They weren’t complaining; rather they were resentful. They were looking for an excuse to break away from G-d” (Yalkut Shimoni, Bamidbar 732).
Several verses later, we see another outbreak of grumbling:
“And the riffraff among them started having strong cravings.”
Again, we aren’t told what they craved. They were experiencing discomfort; they felt something was lacking, but didn’t know what. One thing was clear: they were not satisfied.
Only after this mood of discontent spread, encompassing a larger portion of the people, did their demands take on a definite form:
“And the Israelites, too, sat down and wept, and they said, ‘Who will give us meat to eat?’”
At that moment, the craving for meat became the central goal, the be-all and end-all for the people of Israel, those same people whom G-d lifted out of Egypt in order to bestow a unique, eternal legacy. But they talked themselves into a craving, and to fulfill that craving, they needed to agitate with all their might. This became their raison d’être, revealing their weak nature.
The craving for meat distorted their mental function; it clouded their memories, causing them to make claims that a person would be ashamed to voice under normal conditions. What were they saying?
“We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt for free, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.”
What sort of mechanism was at work here? Is there a logical explanation for their behavior?
The secret of all this is found in the world chinam – “free.” It was a Freudian slip, pointing to what was really bothering them on a deeper level, the real complaint they were ashamed to talk about. The truth was that they were complaining about the yoke of Torah and mitzvos that had been placed on their shoulders, a yoke meant to restrain their wild human impulses, which had run riot in Egypt, even as they were being enslaved and oppressed. The transition from external subjugation to a state of freedom that required character training and self-restraint was too much for them. It made them feel rebellious and conjured up fanciful memories of the delights of Egypt and the fish they ate there for free.
Yes, it was absurd of them to be demanding meat when they had manna from the heavens, offering them the taste of every food in the world. But when the source of their rebellion, the subconscious rationale underlying it, is revealed, then their behavior becomes comprehensible — and considering where they came from, even understandable.
Perhaps we can see something of ourselves here, something of the permissive society that never stops demanding meat, and destroys all that is good in our world.
Read Rabbi Grylak’s full article here.
Thank you, Glenn Garvin, for paying attention. The Miami Herald columnist reports what the rest of us were too preoccupied to notice:
In an order to the University of Montana that they labeled “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country,” Obama’s Justice and Education departments created a sweeping new definition of sexual harassment as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct.”
(Or, as those more familiar with the English language call it, speech.)
Who gets to define “unwelcome”? The listener and the listener alone — no matter how high-strung, neurotic or just plain pinheaded that person is. The feds’ letter is quite explicit: the words don’t have to be offensive to “an objectively reasonable person” to be considered harassment.
Given that standard of guilt, it’s perhaps not very surprising that the government says anybody accused of harassment can be punished even before he or she is convicted.
Mr. Garvin goes on to identify a partial list of authors whose provocative works stand in danger of censorship under these new edicts: Shakespeare, Harper Lee, Tennessee Williams, Robert Frost, and Anne Frank, to name a few. He then continues:
But surely, you say, surely nobody will take the letter of the law to such absurd extremes. And surely you are wrong: They already have. Brandeis University went after a professor for uttering the word “wetback” during a lecture — no matter that he was criticizing its usage.
A janitor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis was disciplined for reading a disapproving book on the Ku Klux Klan. Marquette ordered a graduate student to remove a “patently offensive” quotation by Dave Barry from his door: ”As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.”
So what do we have here? If someone takes offense, even where any “objectively reasonable person” would see no cause for offense, the perpetrator is guilty without recourse to due process or appeal.
In a land of political correctness run amok, feelings are the ultimate currency of social interaction. Reason, logic, intellectual discipline, objective reality — none of these mean a thing if there is the slightest risk of hurt feelings.
Or perhaps there is a deeper fear. Not the pain of hurt feelings, but the pain of having to think, the pain of developing a work ethic, the pain of personal accountability. Apparently, the truism of no pain, no gain applies only in the gym and not in the halls of academe.
Is this really what we want for our children? Is it really what we want for ourselves? Or are those questions simply too painful to think about?
Read Glenn Garvin’s full article here.
In his letter of resignation to the Superintendent of Westhill Central School District in Syracuse, New York, vetern teacher Gerald Conti describes a litany of problems arising from the unwillingness of administrators to defend educational values against the relentless pressure of ideology and political correctness. But the problem does not begin with administrators; it begins with parents, parents with egos so utterly dependent on the perception of success that they prefer to cripple their children for life rather than hold them accountable for living up to standards that will prepare them for genuinely successful lives and careers.
It is difficult to fathom the lengths to which people will go to tear down educators and their institutions when, by doing so, they can deflect from themselves responsibility for their children’s poor performance, attitudes, or behaviors. No form of malicious gossip, character assassination, or outright slander is taboo, even from individuals occupying the highest levels of communal leadership.
History offers tragic examples of the damage inflicted on individuals and whole communities through irresponsible speech. Innuendo, exaggeration, and outright lies, repeated often enough, seep into the consciousness of even the most well-intentioned people, until the damage eventually becomes irreversible.
Read the whole article here.
An elaboration of remarks made this week at the l’chaim for my son Yaakov and his kallah, Amanda:
It’s especially fitting to celebrate an engagement this week, when we will observe Shabbos Shira. It’s difficult for us to imagine what it was like for the Jews of Egypt when, after watching the systematic and miraculous obliteration of the empire that had oppressed them for generations, after witnessing the death of four-fifths of their brethren who refused to trust in the hand of heaven, after setting forth into the forbidding desert with great wealth and fanfare, after finding themselves trapped between Pharaoh’s advancing chariots and the unyielding sea – after all that, to launch themselves forward between towering walls of water may have been the only option available to them but was by no means a simple act of self-preservation.
Panic, desperation, terror, relief, and disbelief – all these emotions caromed back and forth through their collective consciousness as they raced forward into uncertainty. And, as they came out soundly on the other side, the cacophony of thoughts and feelings coalesced into a divinely inspired harmony we call the Shir Shel Yam – the Song of the Sea.
For all that, the commentaries all question the syntax of the opening phrase, Oz yoshir Moshe u’vnei Yisroel – contextually translated as, “Then, Moshe and the Children of Israel sang,” but curiously rendered in the future tense rather than the past. Explains the Sfas Emes: although the people were inspired to sing as they passed through the sea, their preoccupation with the practical business of fleeing for their lives demanded that their lyrical expression of elation would have to wait until their salvation was completed.
And so we learn that Hashem is closest to us not during those times when we have already connected with Him, but rather when we are seeking Him with the sense that revelation is nearly within reach. Naturally, we express our deepest gratitude after we have been saved. But our most intimate connection with the Almighty comes during those moments when salvation is imminent but not yet complete. Only then can we experience the spiritual intensity of absolute dependence upon divine intervention even as we see our redemption unfolding before our eyes.
Indeed, the Zohar tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu felt humbled when he beheld prophetically the generation before the coming of Moshiach. For Moshe, who lived in an era of open miracles and divine revelation, it seemed a simple matter to trust in Hashem and His providence. But to live in a generation of such spiritual darkness that even the faintest glimmer of divine light seemed to have vanished, and to retain nevertheless even the smallest shred of faithfulness to Hashem and His Torah – that was something the Moshe himself could not fathom; that was the source of his profound humility.
We find ourselves in such a generation, so much so that it’s easy for us to reckon ourselves like King Louis XV of France who said, “Things may last my time, but after me – le deluge.”
It’s terrifying to contemplate the world in which our grandchildren will grow up and the storms our children will have to navigate. But on the occasion of this l’chaim, I’m filled with hope.
After two decades of trying, by constant teaching and imperfect modeling, to instill in my children the primacy of middos tovos, after laboring to impress upon them by any means that qualities such as honesty, integrity, loyalty, modesty, and respect are the foundations of Torah life and Torah society, I thank the Ribono Shel Olam that my son has chosen a young woman whose impeccably fine character testifies to the quality of her parents and her upbringing. I look with nachas at my own son, whose maturation into a ben Torah and a ba’al middos testifies to the inscrutable power of tefillah.
And looking at them, I feel as the Jews must have felt when they were passing through the Yam Suf – I want to sing shira. For as frightened as I am for them and all the challenges they will have to face, they give me hope for the future and inspire me with confidence that very soon we will all merit the final redemption and the coming of Moshiach.
Originally posted at Beyondbt.com.
Unfortunately, Jewish schools and educators have not been immune to the lunacy sweeping the educational enterprise—suppression of competition, safeguarding students’ feelings at all costs, promoting self-esteem over academic achievement and dumbing down coursework to the level of the least-capable student. What has been lost is the insistence on excellence, an aggressive curriculum of core subjects (both Jewish and secular) and devotion to hard work.
The truth is that this is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it goes back to nearly 2,800 years ago and, in a very real sense, it lies at the heart of all the problems that have plagued the Jewish people ever since.
Read the whole article here.
Consider the Egalia preschool in Stockholm, Sweden, where staff avoid such culturally loaded words as “him” and “her,” addressing the children as “friends” rather than “boys and girls.” According to the AP, “breaking down gender roles is a core mission in [Sweden's] national curriculum,” and many preschools have hired “gender pedagogues” to devise strategies for eliminating “stereotypes.”
An open letter to the St. Louis Jewish community
And Adam knew his wife…
Why does the Torah employ an expression of “knowledge” as a euphemism for intimacy? Because emotional and psychological intimacy is impossible with intellectual familiarity. Similarly, the term for “gratitude,” hakoras hatov, translates literally as “recognition of the good.” One cannot feel gratitude without first seeing the good; with that recognition, gratitude results naturally and inevitably in a morally healthy mind.
The Me’am Loez explains that the character trait of ingratitude underlies the Torah command to destroy the nation of Amoleik. Having become free from the Egyptian sphere of influence in the wake of the Ten Plagues, the Amolekites used their newly acquired freedom to attack the nation responsible for the overthrow of their former overlords. A nation so indifferent to how it has benefitted from another is similarly incapable of attaining even the most minimal level of human virtue. Just the opposite, such a nation will rebel pathologically and unceasingly against any moral or legal structure imposed on it by the Ultimate Authority. Consequently, its continued existence cannot be tolerated upon this earth.
With this in mind, I feel it incumbent upon me as a member of the St. Louis Jewish community in general, and as a teacher and parent of Block Yeshiva High School in particular, to express my most heartfelt and sincere gratitude to an individual who has gone above and beyond in support of our school.
Every private educational institution has been suffering through the current economy, and Block Yeshiva has been no exception. As the financial crisis has steadily worsened over several years, a few persons of note have devoted themselves to the school’s survival. They have had, and continue to have, our deepest appreciation.
Nevertheless, as the situation continued to deteriorate and the viability of the school became increasingly uncertain, one individual stepped forward to address the problems head-on, with passion and energy drawn from her increasing familiarity with Block Yeshiva and the school’s extraordinary contribution to the community. As the twelfth hour drew near, one person made all the difference. I therefore take great pleasure in publicly offering this small expression of gratitude and appreciation to Ms. Shu Simon.
Ms. Simon has not always possessed such enthusiasm for Block Yeshiva. Over the last few years, however, she has learned how the school strikes a harmonious balance between Torah studies and secular knowledge, how Block students develop academic discipline, Jewish awareness and commitment, refinement of character, and international distinction, how Block serves the greater Jewish community, and how Block graduates are sought after by the most prestigious yeshivas, seminaries, and universities. The more she learned about Block, the more intimately connected Ms. Simon felt to the school and the more prominent role she shouldered in support of our mission.
While many around her indulged in hand-wringing, finger-pointing, and strategic astigmatism, Shu Simon demonstrated the singular purpose and tenacity that are the signs of true leadership. (I know nothing of the details of what she did – my job it is not to address the business operations of the school but to attend the academic and spiritual welfare of the students, per my training and experience.) But amidst an atmosphere in which ideology and personal bias have frequently overshadowed Torah values and objective achievement, Ms. Simon has won a place in the hearts of all those who have sacrificed their time, energy, and tranquility on behalf of Block Yeshiva.
Any individual or institution that aspires to high standards and ideals will inevitably acquire detractors. On the other hand, attempting to be everything to everybody results in becoming nothing to anybody. Those who know the Block faculty and administration well have already recognized their invaluable contribution to the community. Those who haven’t are not paying attention.
Tragically, we live in a culture where educators often feel unappreciated for their labors, and so we would be especially delinquent if we missed this opportunity to show our appreciation for Shu Simon. May her efforts serve as a call to action for others, as well as a reminder that the crisis is far from over. At best, we have gained a little time to rally our forces.
If you don’t know Block Yeshiva, it’s worth your time to find out who and what we are. If you do, then you already know Block’s value. Don’t remain silent, lest the voices of cynicism and ingratitude create an illusion of discontent and carry the day.
And again: thank you Ms. Simon.
Rabbi Yonason Goldson
Here are some old thoughts about what is becoming America’s most popular holiday.
It was the first day of school after summer vacation.
The kids had all arrived in the high school sophomore English class, and were chatting away, making new friends. Then… in walked a very stern looking English teacher and a hush fell over the room as the kids scurried to their seats.
The stern teacher silently panned his gaze across all the kids. After about a minute or so, he spoke:
“From the outset, I want you all to know that there are two words that are absolutely unacceptable in this classroom.
You may not use them as you recite, or in any of your papers, tests, or homework. Using these words even once will earn you a failing grade for that quarter.
The first one is gross.
And the other one is cool.
Are there any questions?”
After a few moments of silence, this gawky teen at the back of the room raises his hand, and the teacher calls upon him.
In a pubescent croaking voice, the kid asks…
“So, what are they?”
Hat tip: Dave Weinbaum