The People’s Complaints

May 31, 2015

וַיְהִי הָעָם כְּמִתְאֹנְנִים רַע בְּאָזְנֵי יְהֹוָה וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהֹוָה וַיִּחַר אַפּוֹ וַתִּבְעַר־בָּם אֵשׁ יְהֹוָה וַתֹּאכַל בִּקְצֵה הַמַּחֲנֶה׃

The people took to complaining bitterly before Hashem. Hashem heard and was incensed: a fire of Hashem broke out against them, ravaging the outskirts of the camp.

Numbers 11:1

מִקִּבְרוֹת הַתַּאֲוָה נָסְעוּ הָעָם חֲצֵרוֹת וַיִּהְיוּ בַּחֲצֵרוֹת׃

Then the people set out from Kibroth-hattaavah for Hazeroth. When they were in Hazeroth,

Numbers 11:35

Here begins a dark chapter in the Israelites’ journey, foreshadowing worse to come next week. The Torah tells of not one, but two complaints the people level against God and Moses. The first is left to the reader’s imagination, and we are only told that God becomes angry and a fire spreads through the edge of the camp. The people cry out and Moses prays to God, and then the fire stops. They name the place Tav’erah, meaning “burning”.


The second incident begins with the mixed multitude of people who had left Egypt with the Israelites lusting for meat. Rejecting the miraculous Manna which fell daily from Heaven, the people cry out for the “luxuries” they remember from Egypt: fish, cucumbers, watermelon, leeks, onions and garlic. This ingratitude incenses both God and Moses.


Moses turns to God, asking why He has inflicted this people upon him. God tells him to gather 70 wise men from the tribes to help him bear the burden of the people. He likewise says He will give the people the meat they crave until they are sorry they asked for it.


Moses cannot conceive of finding that much meat in the desert, but God reminds him that He is the Almighty and there is nothing He cannot accomplish.


Moses gathers the elders as requested, and God rests His spirit upon them, rendering them temporarily capable of prophecy. Meanwhile, two others who were not present also receive the spirit of God from within the camp, and begin to recite prophecies as well. Moses’s faithful student, Joshua, wishes to incarcerate the two, as he sees their actions as rebellious, but Moses admires their righteousness in being conduits for prophecy and tells Joshua to stand down.


When Moses and the elders return to the camp, a wind begins to blow, covering the camp in quail. The people spend two days and one night gathering the quail. While the people are still eating the quail, God lashes out at them in anger. They name the place Kivrot Hata’ava, meaning “the graves of lust”.


From there, they travel on to Hazeroth.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

Why do you think the substance of the first complaint is not provided, when the second complaint is described in such detail?

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