Behaalotcha: The spiritual transforms the physical

 Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. -James Baldwin

God had revealed Himself to the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai where they were presented with the Ten Commandments. They spent almost a year at the foot of the mountain, sinned with the Golden Calf, got a second set of Tablets and built the Tabernacle.

Now they set their sights on the Promised Land and start their journey across the desert. No sooner are they on their way and they start to complain. They complain about the food (how little has changed over the millennia).

They want meat, they fondly remember the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic they ate in Egypt. They are dismissive and disdainful of the miraculous Manna that God provided to them daily. The Torah takes the time to describe the Manna in a little more detail, but what is truly fascinating is the description of the Manna given by the Midrash. The Midrash states that the Manna was able to take on the taste, the texture, the flavor of whatever the eater desired.

If the person eating the Manna wanted to taste a sumptuous steak, that’s what they tasted. If they wanted to taste a ripe melon, that’s what they tasted. The Manna had the unique ability of taking our thoughts and transposing them into a new taste-able, edible, physical object.

The Berdichever points out that this equation demonstrates a counterintuitive and lopsided symbiotic relationship.

In the case of the Manna, a physical substance was feeding, sustaining the nation of Israel. But it was the spirit, the thoughts of the Israelites which really gave purpose and existence to the Manna. So, at a deeper level, the spiritual contribution of the nation of Israel to the formation of the Manna was more influential than the material benefit the Manna had upon Israel.

So too, the Berdichever explains, is the relationship between a giver of charity and a recipient of charity. Superficially it would seem that the giver of charity provides a substantial, if not complete benefit to the recipient, while the benefit the recipient provides is not apparent at all. Such an analysis misses the deeper spiritual reality.

It is true that the giver provides the recipient with a clear, important, physical benefit with his charity. However, the recipient causes the giver to receive a significantly more important spiritual return.

The recipient becomes the direct cause for the giver to receive the afterlife, holiness and purity, spiritually powerful gifts that we can barely appreciate, bestowed by God for the kindness the recipient enabled the giver to provide.

May we be supporters and enablers of charitable causes.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our son Netanel, on completing high school, and the exciting path ahead.

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay and a candidate for the Knesset for the Zehut party. He is the author of three books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.
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