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The Crown of Halacha

Behaalosecha 5776 – Insights in Rashi – Rectifying Ingratitude

BEHAALOSECHA – INSIGHTS IN RASHI – RECTIFYING INGRATITUDE   Yehonasan Gefen

 

Bamidbar, 11:1: The people took to seeking complaints; it was evil in the ears of HaShem, and HaShem heard and His wrath flared, and a fire of HaShem burned against them, and it consumed at the edge of the camp.

 

Rashi, 11:1: sv. Evil in the ears of HaShem: they said, ‘woe to us, we have been burdened by this journey – for three days we haven’t rested from the difficulties of the journey.’

Sv. And His wrath flared: [HaShem said] ‘I intended for your good, that you would enter the land immediately.’

As the Jewish people left Har Sinai, HaShem sped up the journey so that they would arrive in Eretz Yisrael sooner; this was an expression of HaShem’s intense ‘eagerness’, so to speak, that the nation should attain its purpose.  Sadly, a number of sins impeded their progress.  One of them was that of the ‘misonenim’ (complainers) who complained about the burden of the journey.  Instead of realizing that it was an act of kindness on HaShem’s part – in that it would bring them to the land sooner – they complained about how difficult it was to travel without rest.  This particularly angered HaShem, because not only were they ungrateful for His act of kindness, but they actually focused on a negative aspect and complained about it.

This was not the only time that the people were criticized for ingratitude.  Immediately following the episode of the misonenim was the section about the asafsuf (rabble) who complained about the manna.  Again, in Parshas Chukas they criticized the manna, calling it lechem hakolkel (insubstantial food).[1]  The Gemara highlights these complaints as classic examples of the ingratitude of the worst kind: HaShem performed a kindness for them in giving them the elevated manna, and they not only did not thank Him but actually complained about a perceived negative aspect of the gift!  The Gemara further tells us that they inherited this trait from Adam HaRishon.  When he sinned by eating the fruit, HaShem asked him what happened, providing an opportunity to admit to his mistake.  He answered; “The woman whom You gave to be with me – she gave me of the tree and I ate.”[2]  The Gemara highlights Adam’s reply as a gross example of ingratitude.  Rashi explains that Adam blamed the fact that he sinned on HaShem because He gave Adam the woman who caused him to eat the fruit.  In truth, the creation of Chava was a great gift from HaShem to provide him with the partner that he desired.[3]

We have seen the severity of viewing HaShem’s hanhaga (interaction) with His people in a negative way.  This is most obvious with regards to HaShem’s gifts such as the manna, yet, in truth, even seemingly negative occurrences are also kindnesses from HaShem, and on many occasions, we merit to see how such events are for the good.[4]  The following story is a dramatic example of such a phenomenon.   As a young boy, Rabbi Moshe Sherer[5] fell ill.  His illness was diagnosed as strep throat which in those days, before antibiotics, was far more dangerous than today.  The infection could worsen into rheumatic fever and cause permanent heart damage and even death.  The doctor prescribed a very expensive medication.  His mother, Mrs. Basya Sherer gathered all the money to be found in the house in order to pay for the vital medication but doubted that it was enough.  She nevertheless rushed to the pharmacy; the owner was not in the store, so Mrs. Sherer begged his assistant to fill the prescription.  The young man agreed to do so and prepared the medicine in exchange for all the money Mrs. Sherer had.

Mrs. Sherer gratefully took the medicine and rushed home.  In her haste, she tripped over a curb and watched in horror as the bottle flew from her hand and smashed on the ground.  She retrieved the paper bag in which the medicine was placed, in order to save any remnants of the precious elixir, but most of it was lost.  Her money and medicine gone, she rushed back to the pharmacy still carrying the bag with the broken bottle inside.  By that time, the store owner had returned and he listened to Mrs. Sherer’s sobs as she offered to clean the store after hours if he would just refill the prescription.  He agreed and went to the back of the store to refill the prescription.  He returned a moment later, ashen-faced. “Angels are watching over your son,” he told her.

From the smell of the medicine absorbed by the bag, he realized that the original prescription had been incorrectly filled, and instead of the needed medication she had received medication that could have been life-threatening to the boy.  Shaken by the near tragedy, he provided Mrs. Sherer with the proper medication and even returned the money she had originally paid.  She would tell this story many times, saying, ‘When I tripped and heard the bottle breaking, I thought my life was over.  Little did I know that what I saw as an incomparable disaster was really the greatest blessing from the Ribbono Shel Olam.[6]

There are times when we will merit to see how what we thought was negative ended as positive, and there are times when we do not.  Regardless of the outcome, it is incumbent on us to focus on the positive aspects and work on the vital trait of gratitude.

[1] Bamidbar, 21:5.

[2] Bereishis, 3:6.

[3] Avoda Zara, 5a-b.

[4] Needless to say there are also many situations where we do not merit to see the positive outcome in this world.  Only in the Next World will everything become clear.  In such situations, our avoda is to accept that we cannot intellectually understand why everything happens but to realize that everything is ultimately for the good.

[5] Rabbi Sherer grew up to be the head of the Agudah Movement.

[6] Yonoson Rosenblum, Rabbi Sherer, pp.45-46.

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