Vol 33.11 - Behaalotecha 3 Spanish French Audio Video
the cucumbers: R. Simeon says: Why did the manna change into everything except these? Because they are harmful for nursing mothers. We tell a nursing woman, “Do not eat any garlic or onion, for the baby’s sake. This can be compared to a king who gave his son over to a teacher. He sat down and ordered him and said to him, ”See that he does not eat any harmful food and does not drink any harmful drink. Because of this, the son complained about his father, saying,“Not because he loves me, but because he does not want me to eat,” as it is written in the Sifrei (Beha’alothecha 1:42:5).
Was the Fish Literally Free of Charge?
Rashi: If you want to say that the Egyptians gave them fish for free, has scripture not already stated, “You will not be given straw” (Shemos 5:18)? Now, if straw was not given for free, would they have given them fish for free?
So what does “for free” mean? Free from mitzvos.
Mizrachi: In other words, now that the Jewish people were obligated to observe the mitzvos, their sustenance was dependent upon observance, as the Torah states, “If you always listen to My commandments that I am commanding you... Then I will grant the early and late rains of your land at their proper time” (Devarim 11:13-14). In Egypt, however, they were fed regardless of whether they were righteous or not.
Why did the people desire these foods in particular? (v. 5)
Rashi: Rabbi Shimon says, “Why did the manna taste of everything except these things? Because they are harmful for nursing mothers. We tell a nursing woman, ‘Do not eat any garlic or onion, because of the baby,’” as in the analogy of a king found in Sifri.
Sifri: This can be compared to a king of flesh and blood who put a tutor in charge of his son. He sat him down and instructed him, saying, “See that he does not eat any harmful food and does not drink any harmful drink.”
Because of this, the son complained about his father, saying, “It is not because he loves me, but because he does not want me to eat!”
Talmud: Why are cucumbers called קשואים? Because they are as harmful (קשין) as swords to a person’s whole body (Avodah Zarah 29a).
The Rebbe's Teachings
One of the complaints of the Jewish people to Moshe was that “we ate in Egypt for free” (v. 5). At first glance, this would appear to mean that food was provided for the Jewish people in Egypt without their having to pay because they were slaves to the Egyptians.
Rashi, however, challenges this interpretation: “If you want to say that the Egyptians gave them fish for free, has scripture not already stated, 'You will not be given straw' (Shemos 5:18)? Now if straw was not given for free, would they have given them fish for free?”
Rashi answers: “So what does ‘for free’ mean? Free from mitzvos.”
Mizrachi explains that when the Jewish people were in Egypt the Torah had not yet been given, and a person’s sustenance from G‑d was not dependent on his observance of mitzvos. So now they complained that they were required to be G‑d-fearing merely in order to eat.
However, the concept to which Mizrachi refers, that G‑d will only “grant the early and late rains of your land at their proper time” if “you always listen to My commandments,” does not appear to be applicable in this case. For: a.) The complaint was about manna, and manna coming from heaven was not dependent on rain. b.) At this point, manna was being given to all the Jewish people regardless of whether they were good or not—as we find that even Dasan and Aviram received manna (see Rashi on Shemos 16:20).
What, then, was the meaning of the Jewish people’s argument, that in Egypt they were free from mitzvos?
A further complaint of the Jewish people was that, while the manna tasted of virtually any food that the person wished, it could not adopt certain flavors: cucumber, watermelon, leek, onion, and garlic (v. 5).
Rashi explains: Rabbi Shimon says, “Why did the manna taste of everything except these things? Because they are harmful for nursing mothers. We tell a nursing woman, ‘Do not eat any garlic or onion, because of the baby,’” as in the analogy of a king found in Sifri.
This prompts the following questions:
a.) The analogy which Rashi refers to in Sifri (as well as in the Talmud) states explicitly that these types of food are harmful in general to all people. Why does Rashi conclude that they were only harmful to nursing mothers?
b.) In most instances, Rashi does not indicate the author’s name when he cites a teaching of the Sages, which suggests that when Rashi does mention the name of a Sage, it is for a specific reason—to solve a more subtle question which the reader might ask. So why, in our case, does Rashi stress that this explanation was authored by Rabbi Shimon?
When Rashi writes that the Jewish people complained that they were “free from mitzvos” in Egypt, this was not a complaint about the observance of mitzvos in general. For, as explained above, the manna was bestowed upon even those who did not keep mitzvos. Rather, Rashi’s intention here is that the people complained that there are many mitzvos involved with the collection of the manna, e.g., that one could not collect manna from one day for the next, and it could not be collected on Shabbos, etc. (see Rashi on Shemos 16:4). The people were thus complaining that in Egypt they could eat food free of restrictions, whereas now they could not.
A further complaint was that the manna did not taste of cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions, or garlic—as Rashi explains, that this would have been harmful to nursing mothers.
Rashi does not cite the interpretation of Sifri (and the Talmud), that these foods are harmful to people in general, because at the literal level the people would not have begged for something that caused themselves harm. (Nevertheless, Rashi refers the reader to the analogy of Sifri, because the general principle of the analogy is applicable here.) What does appear to be a valid complaint is why all the Jewish people should be deprived of these five foods merely because they are harmful to a tiny minority, nursing mothers.
However, having offered this interpretation, Rashi is concerned that the complaint of the Jewish people is so valid that it deserves an answer. Why, indeed, did G‑d deprive the Jewish people of tasting these foods, out of concern for a tiny minority? Surely G‑d could have just withheld these flavors from the manna of the nursing women, and allowed everybody else to taste them?
To hint to a solution to this question, Rashi writes, “Rabbi Shimon says...,” as if to say that if we bear in mind that it was Rabbi Shimon who authored this explanation, then we will appreciate why the general public might be denied something for the sake of a minority.
Rabbi Shimon is famous for saying, “I can release the entire world from judgment” (Succah 45b). Obviously, he understood the tremendous importance of just one individual, since he felt that he, personally, could save the world.
Thus it is understood why Rabbi Shimon was concerned for the tiny minority of nursing women, that they should not see the rest of the Jewish people enjoying the flavors of cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions, and garlic, while they remained deprived. For if a small group had to be deprived, argued Rabbi Shimon, then everybody should be deprived, in order to avoid even an extremely remote danger to the minority.
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