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On running before you can walk – Parshat Behaalotacha 5774

To download a printable PDF click here: Parshat Behaalotacha – On running before walking

The startling complaints

Sefer Bamidbar is probably my favourite book of the Torah because it always possessed a kind of mystery to it, in the sense that it was a book that was never meant to be. The people are destined to enter the land immediately following Sefer Vayikra, and yet their inability to mature and become truly free prevents them from doing so.[1]  Hence the book is a study in the transition of ideal to real, childhood to adulthood, dependence to independence and direct Divine revelation to Divine contraction.  In this week’s parsha we see the beginning of a downward spiral for the Jewish people. Freed from slavery and having received the Torah, they are ready to journey to the land that God promised them.  At the start of this week’s Parsha, Moshe invites Yitro to accompany the people on their journey towards the land (chapter 10:29).  We are told of all the preparations that are undertaken to embark on this journey- the trumpets, the encampments around the Mishkan, the korban pesach and pesach sheni.  The people are about to fulfil the dream of nationhood, they are about the enter the land as a nation, ready to fulfil their Divine mission.  In the famous verse that is inverted by two upside nuns ‘ויהי בנסוע ארון’ We are informed that their entering the land will be done in an almost miraculous fashion.  It describes the people being led by the Aron, and their enemies being defeated by God.  It is a reality that never happens. As Chazal note, the upside nuns suggest that the verse is out of place.[2]  Rabbi Menachem Libtag suggests that the inverted verse expresses an ‘ideal reality’ that never occurred.[3]  The Torah employs a literary tool to convey the profound dissonance between ideal and real.  Ideally the people should have entered according to a certain Divine vision, in actuality because of events that unfold, a new reality emerges.

In the following paragraph we read a disturbing and almost painful account of the people’s complaints.  About to enter the land, all set to journey, murmurings of complaints begin to start in the camp:

לד וַעֲנַן יְהוָה עֲלֵיהֶם, יוֹמָם, בְּנָסְעָם, מִן-הַמַּחֲנֶה

] לה וַיְהִי בִּנְסֹעַ הָאָרֹן, וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה:  קוּמָה יְהוָה, וְיָפֻצוּ אֹיְבֶיךָ, וְיָנֻסוּ מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ, מִפָּנֶיךָ.  לו וּבְנֻחֹה, יֹאמַר:  שׁוּבָה יְהוָה, רִבְבוֹת אַלְפֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.    ] 

א וַיְהִי הָעָם כְּמִתְאֹנְנִים, רַע בְּאָזְנֵי יְהוָה; וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה, וַיִּחַר אַפּוֹ, וַתִּבְעַר-בָּם אֵשׁ יְהוָה, וַתֹּאכַל בִּקְצֵה הַמַּחֲנֶה.  ב וַיִּצְעַק הָעָם, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיִּתְפַּלֵּל מֹשֶׁה אֶל-יְהוָה, וַתִּשְׁקַע הָאֵשׁ.  ג וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא, תַּבְעֵרָה:  כִּי-בָעֲרָה בָם, אֵשׁ יְהוָה.  ד וְהָאסַפְסֻף אֲשֶׁר בְּקִרְבּוֹ, הִתְאַוּוּ תַּאֲוָה; וַיָּשֻׁבוּ וַיִּבְכּוּ, גַּם בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיֹּאמְרוּ, מִי יַאֲכִלֵנוּ בָּשָׂר.  ה זָכַרְנוּ, אֶת-הַדָּגָה, אֲשֶׁר-נֹאכַל בְּמִצְרַיִם, חִנָּם; אֵת הַקִּשֻּׁאִים, וְאֵת הָאֲבַטִּחִים, וְאֶת-הֶחָצִיר וְאֶת-הַבְּצָלִים, וְאֶת-הַשּׁוּמִים.  ו וְעַתָּה נַפְשֵׁנוּ יְבֵשָׁה, אֵין כֹּל–בִּלְתִּי, אֶל-הַמָּן עֵינֵינוּ. ז וְהַמָּן, כִּזְרַע-גַּד הוּא; וְעֵינוֹ, כְּעֵין הַבְּדֹלַח.  ח שָׁטוּ הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ וְטָחֲנוּ בָרֵחַיִם, אוֹ דָכוּ בַּמְּדֹכָה, וּבִשְּׁלוּ בַּפָּרוּר, וְעָשׂוּ אֹתוֹ עֻגוֹת; וְהָיָה טַעְמוֹ, כְּטַעַם לְשַׁד הַשָּׁמֶןט וּבְרֶדֶת הַטַּל עַל-הַמַּחֲנֶה, לָיְלָה, יֵרֵד הַמָּן, עָלָיו.

34 And the cloud of the LORD was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp 35 And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said: ‘Rise up, O LORD, and let Thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee.’ 36 And when it rested, he said: ‘Return, O LORD, unto the ten thousands of the families of Israel.’

1 And the people were as murmurers, speaking evil in the ears of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and devoured in the uttermost part of the camp. 2 And the people cried unto Moses; and Moses prayed unto the LORD, and the fire abated. 3 And the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burnt among them. 4 And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting; and the children of Israel also wept on their part, and said: ‘Would that we were given flesh to eat! 5 We remember the fish, which we were wont to eat in Egypt for nought; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all; we have nought save this manna to look to.’– 7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and the appearance thereof as the appearance of bdellium. 8 The people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars, and seethed it in pots, and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was as the taste of a cake baked with oil. 9 And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it.—

The narrative here is perplexing, failing even to communicate the content of the people’s complaints. We are simply told that they ‘complain, speaking evil in Hashem ears and His anger is kindled against them’.  The message is clear; it is less the complaints than the mindest of the people that is important, for even if the complaints were justified, this is neither the time nor the place to bring them up.  It demonstrates a distinct immaturity of the nation, an almost childlike inability to understand the magnitude of their circumstances.  The narrative is littered with very compelling and vivid imagery, most notable that of the food that they imagine they received in Egypt and that which they receive in the midbar.  There is much to be discussed here – Moshe’s uncharacteristic response and crisis of leadership; God’s act of putting His spirit on the seventy elders as a solution to the situation;  The prophesising in the camp of Eldad and Meidad.  The motifs of leadership and crisis, younger and older generations, looking forward and backward are stark and relevant.  But I am going to take one theme and motif that I believe gives us an insight into all the events of the Parsha and the book of Bamidbar as a whole.

What we are witnessing in this narrative is a people who are responding like a child would.  Their startling inability to see the bigger picture, to break out of their parochial existence and see the totality of their destiny is sad to the point of disturbing.  The unknown makes them revert to patterns of fear and nostalgia.  Instead of facing the challenge head on in a mature and dignified manner, befitting of God’s people, they bury their heads in the sand, complain about the status quo and turn back to their past in an attempt to romanticise and idealise their time in Egypt. But their complaints if studied carefully uncover a mindset of a people that in reality are not ready to become independent.

On the Nursing Mother:

Before analysing the passage above I want to take a short tangent in which we will analyse the motif of the nursing mother and that will ultimately lead us back to Behaalotacha with a better understanding of the people and their complaints.

The very first time we encounter  a nursing mother is in Sefer Bereshit:

א וַיהוָה פָּקַד אֶת-שָׂרָה, כַּאֲשֶׁר אָמָר; וַיַּעַשׂ יְהוָה לְשָׂרָה, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֵּר.  ב וַתַּהַר וַתֵּלֶד שָׂרָה לְאַבְרָהָם בֵּן, לִזְקֻנָיו, לַמּוֹעֵד, אֲשֶׁר-דִּבֶּר אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים.  ג וַיִּקְרָא אַבְרָהָם אֶת-שֶׁם-בְּנוֹ הַנּוֹלַד-לוֹ, אֲשֶׁר-יָלְדָה-לּוֹ שָׂרָה–יִצְחָק.  ד וַיָּמָל אַבְרָהָם אֶת-יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ, בֶּן-שְׁמֹנַת יָמִים, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה אֹתוֹ, אֱלֹהִים.  ה וְאַבְרָהָם, בֶּן-מְאַת שָׁנָה, בְּהִוָּלֶד לוֹ, אֵת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ.  ו וַתֹּאמֶר שָׂרָה–צְחֹק, עָשָׂה לִי אֱלֹהִים:  כָּל-הַשֹּׁמֵעַ, יִצְחַק-לִי.  ז וַתֹּאמֶר, מִי מִלֵּל לְאַבְרָהָם, הֵינִיקָה בָנִים, שָׂרָה:  כִּי-יָלַדְתִּי בֵן, לִזְקֻנָיו.  ח וַיִּגְדַּל הַיֶּלֶד, וַיִּגָּמַל; וַיַּעַשׂ אַבְרָהָם מִשְׁתֶּה גָדוֹל, בְּיוֹם הִגָּמֵל אֶת-יִצְחָק.

1 And the LORD remembered Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as He had spoken. 2 And Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him. 3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. 4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 And Abraham was a hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him. 6 And Sarah said: ‘God hath made laughter for me; every one that heareth will laugh on account of me.’ 7 And she said: ‘Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should nurse sons? for I have borne him a son in his old age.’ 8 And the child grew, and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.[4]

The pasuk speaks about Sara nursing ‘sons’. The midrash, in trying to understand the incongruence in the text, imagines a fascinating scenario:

Our mother Sara was exceedingly modest, so that our father Avraham had to say to her, ‘this is not a time for modesty.  To hallow God’s name uncover your breast, that all may be aware of the miracles the Holy One has begun to perform.’ Sarah uncovered her breast, and her nipples poured out milk like two jets of water.  Noble ladies came forward to have their children suckled by Sarah, saying ‘We do not merit having our children suckled on the milk of such a righteous women’. [5]

The Midrash portrays a powerful and poignant idea. Nursing is so much more than just something physical. The word להעניק in Hebrew emanates from the root הנקה which means  to provide for or to give help. When one nurses one gives a child not just physical sustenance but also a spiritual, psychological and deep rooted attachment.  Through the act of nursing the child, the child becomes a reflection of the mother’s countenance. The Gemara in Masechet Brachot speaks about when David Hamelech wrote various songs.  His son Shlomo speaks about the five mizmorim that parallel the five worlds he inhabited.[6] For each ‘world’ that he encountered he sang a song- in the womb of his mother, when he entered the world and saw the stars and when he nursed at his mother’s breast.  In essence the Gemara is relaying to us that the experience of nursing, in the child’s imagination encompasses an entire world.  It is a stage that is all embracing, since the child is aware only of his mother and is completely dependent upon her.

Thousands of years after Chazal noted this relationship between mother and child, most significantly at the time of nursing, a renowned psychoanalysist and paediatrician named Donald Winnicot built an entire human psychology on this stage in the child’s life.  He writes:

The mother, at the beginning, by an almost 100 per cent adaptation affords the infant the opportunity for the illusion that her breast is part of the infant. It is, as it were,

under the baby’s magical control. The same can be said in terms of infant care in general, in the quiet times between excitements. Omnipotence is nearly a fact of experience. The mother’s eventual task is gradually to disillusion the infant, but she has no hope of success unless at first she has been able to give sufficient opportunity for illusion…..

The mother gazes at the baby in her arms, and the baby gazes at his mother’s face and finds himself therein…provided that the mother is really looking at the unique, small, helpless being and not projecting her own expectations, fears, and plans for the child…….psychologically the infant takes from a breast that is part of the infant, and the mother gives milk to an infant that is part of herself[7]

According to Winnicot the experience of the nursing child and mother is a stage that allows the child to feel that he is part of his mother, that both she and heare omnipotent.  Slowly the mother must ‘disillusion’ the child of her omnipotence, and if done in the correct way and progressively, then the child will learn to be a healthy independent being.

In Hebrew the word for breast – Shad, is very similar to one of the names by which we describe God – Shaddai.  This name of God is used primarily to describe a God that is the source of all sustenance and provider of the world.  He is the one להעניק to provide and sustain the world and humanity. Whne used in Tanach the term ‘shadai’ expresses the revelation of God as the ‘life source’ of the earth that sustains and resuscitates it, like a dynamic creation that never stops.

The מן as milk of the breast:

With this in mind let us return to our narrative in this week’s parsha and try to understand the nature of the people’s complaints. As we mentioned earlier their complaints seem disingenuous. How can they ‘remember’ the various fruits and fish they had in Egypt in such a romantic and fantastical manner.  Surely they remember the hardship, the slavery, the fear?   However if one studies the text carefully one sees that their complaint is focused more towards the inadequacy of the food they are receiving than the food they are ‘missing out on’.

“וְעַתָּה נַפְשֵׁנוּ יְבֵשָׁה, אֵין כֹּל–בִּלְתִּי, אֶל-הַמָּן עֵינֵינוּ. ז וְהַמָּן, כִּזְרַע-גַּד הוּא; וְעֵינוֹ, כְּעֵין הַבְּדֹלַח.  ח שָׁטוּ הָעָם וְלָקְטוּ וְטָחֲנוּ בָרֵחַיִם, אוֹ דָכוּ בַּמְּדֹכָה, וּבִשְּׁלוּ בַּפָּרוּר, וְעָשׂוּ אֹתוֹ עֻגוֹת; וְהָיָה טַעְמוֹ, כְּטַעַם לְשַׁד הַשָּׁמֶן.

And now our souls are dry and there is nothing but this manna in front of our eyes.  The Manna resembled corriander seed and its eye like the bedellium (white seed droplets). The people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars, and cooked it in pots, and made it into cakes; and the taste of it was like the taste of breast oil. (own translation)

The people complain that they have nothing but the manna in front of them.  They are sick of it, they want to rid themselves of it, they crave meat.  So they take the manna grind it, cook it and make it into cakes and they eat it and it tastes like the oil of the cream of the ‘shad’.  In other words – its tasted like breast milk! Through the poignant imagery and the detailed description, the Torah is imparting a clear message about the people’s grievances.  Rather than being about ‘meat’ and ‘manna’ the essence of their complaint concerns perceptions of ‘dependence’ and ‘independence’.  The people resent their absolute dependency on God.  The manna represents this dependency.  There was no need for the people to be active in receiving the manna each morning.  There was a passivity inherent in the manna.  It’s very essence represents the period of the midbar or in Winnicott’s words – the period of omnipotence.  God’s presence and relationship to the people was one of complete omnipotence.  And yet the people craved more.  They wanted to be active, they wanted to ‘process’ the manna – grind it, mould it, bake it.  They wanted a reality in which they were independent beings, who played a central role in the process of their destiny.  They wanted to be ‘hunters’ who went out in the field to find meat, not infants who waited for the ‘milk’ to be bought to them.  They no longer felt they needed Moshe’s leadership and they craved the independence they had supposedly believed they would receive after being set free.  In its usual wisdom and development of textual nuances the midrash unfolds this idea beautifully.  In noting the taste of the Manna it notes:

It tasted like the juiciest לשד.. cream (11.8)

Just as the breast provides one food which has many flavours, so too did Yisrael taste of the manna continually different flavours.

…The cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic…(11.5)

Why are these the only tastes that the manna could not provide? Because they are bad for nursing mothers..[8].

The things the people craved from Egypt were the foods of independence.  The fish, the meat, these are all foods that whilst instantaneous to some degree (unlike bread that needs time process and both divine and human interrelationship) are not dependent on God like the manna.  The manna was like the milk of a nursing mother, it provided exactly the right amount of sustenance and tasted as one would wish, but it was deeply intertwined with its provider.  Receiving the manna meant being tied inexorably to God and Moshe.  Breast milk is meant for a certain stage in an infant’s development.  It is for when the infant cannot digest things, is not ready for ‘processed’ foods.   In choosing to complain about meat and fish etc. the people are revealing an obvious immaturity.  Like a ten year old who wants to stay out all night, or a teenager who thinks he is more mature than he is, or even a child who wants to run before she can walk, the people of Israel believe they are ready to leave the nursing arms of Moshe and God.  They believe in their ability to progress to a mode of independence, and yet they are neither cognitively, spiritually or physiologically developed enough to do so.  God needs to ‘disillusion’ the people, but it must be done progressively and carefully or else everyone will suffer.

Employing exactly the same motifs and imagery we have been developing, Moshe’s response to the people’s complaints now make perfect sense.  Here is how the Torah describes it:

י וַיִּשְׁמַע מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הָעָם, בֹּכֶה לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָיו–אִישׁ, לְפֶתַח אָהֳלוֹ; וַיִּחַר-אַף יְהוָה מְאֹד, וּבְעֵינֵי מֹשֶׁה רָע.  יא וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-יְהוָה, לָמָה הרֵעֹתָ לְעַבְדֶּךָ, וְלָמָּה לֹא-מָצָתִי חֵן, בְּעֵינֶיךָ:  לָשׂוּם, אֶת-מַשָּׂא כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה–עָלָי.  יב הֶאָנֹכִי הָרִיתִי, אֵת כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה–אִם-אָנֹכִי, יְלִדְתִּיהוּ:  כִּי-תֹאמַר אֵלַי שָׂאֵהוּ בְחֵיקֶךָ, כַּאֲשֶׁר יִשָּׂא הָאֹמֵן אֶת-הַיֹּנֵק, עַל הָאֲדָמָה, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לַאֲבֹתָיו.  יג מֵאַיִן לִי בָּשָׂר, לָתֵת לְכָל-הָעָם הַזֶּה:  כִּי-יִבְכּוּ עָלַי לֵאמֹר, תְּנָה-לָּנוּ בָשָׂר וְנֹאכֵלָה.  יד לֹא-אוּכַל אָנֹכִי לְבַדִּי, לָשֵׂאת אֶת-כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה:  כִּי כָבֵד, מִמֶּנִּי.  טו וְאִם-כָּכָה אַתְּ-עֹשֶׂה לִּי, הָרְגֵנִי נָא הָרֹג–אִם-מָצָאתִי חֵן, בְּעֵינֶיךָ; וְאַל-אֶרְאֶה, בְּרָעָתִי

10 And Moses heard the people weeping, family by family, every man at the door of his tent; and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly; and Moses was displeased. 11 And Moses said unto the LORD: ‘Wherefore hast Thou dealt ill with Thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in Thy sight, that Thou layest the burden of all this people upon me? 12 Have I conceived all this people? have I brought them forth, that Thou shouldest say unto me: Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing-father carrieth the sucking child, unto the land which Thou didst swear unto their fathers? 13 Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they trouble me with their weeping, saying: Give us flesh, that we may eat. 14 I am not able to bear all this people myself alone, because it is too heavy for me. 15 And if Thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray Thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in Thy sight; and let me not look upon my wretchedness.’

In one of the most emotive outburst of Moshe’s life we see a leader on the brink of despair. A leader whose love for his people knows no bounds, but yet cannot carry the burden of them any longer.  Utilising the imagery of the nursing mother -“Have I conceived these people? Did I give birth to them?  How can you ask me to carry them in my breast like a nursing father carries his sucking child”- Moshe understands too well the fundamental nature of the peoples complaints.  He knows they are not ready to be, in Winnicott’s words, ‘disillusioned’ and knows if they are to be, they will lose not just faith in God but also in themselves.  His despair emanates from his position as the nursing father, who understands his people better than they understand themselves. He knows that to grow up and become independent requires an awareness of responsibility and due process.  It requires a radical cognitive readjustment, that the people are simply not ready to undertake.  Hence Parshat Behaalotach is what I call the ‘turning point’ in Sefer Bamidbar.  From here forth we see the downward spiral of

events that eventually lead to the decree against them entering the land.

When the people eventually do enter the land, they do so in a more natural, less miraculous way than imagined originally.  They enter a stage on from this generation.  They are people who have progressed past the ‘weaning’ phase.  Successfully ‘disillusioned’ the people understand that to attain true independence requires a covenantal relationship with our creator and sustainer, who cannot always be openly present.

Upon entering the land they must work the שדה  – the field.  The word unsurprisingly contains the same root as the word shad.  The stage of שד-nursing – is when God is omnipotent, a constant – there is no question of His existence and our dependency on Him. When we enter the land and the שדה becomes the source of our nourishment, we have to play a crucial part in that process.  In doing so there is of course a danger that our independence will lead to arrogance and visions of self grandeur.   As we mentioned last week part of bringing the first fruits and the harvest offering to the Temple reminds us that even though we are independent from the שד and we have the שדה, we need to remember that there is an interdependency – a brit man and God working together.

This theme plays out evidently in the book of Ruth that is read most years around the time of Parshat Behaalotacha .The terms א-ל שדי and שדה are prolific in the book (the term שדה is repeated 18 times).

כ וַתֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶן, אַל-תִּקְרֶאנָה לִי נָעֳמִי קְרֶאןָ לִי מָרָא, כִּי הֵמַר שַׁדַּי לִי מְאֹד. כא אֲנִי מְלֵאָה הָלַכְתִּי, וְרֵיקָם הֱשִׁיבַנִי ה’. לָמָּה תִקְרֶאנָה לִי נָעֳמִי וַה’ עָנָה בִי, וְשַׁדַּי הֵרַע לִי. כב וַתָּשָׁב נָעֳמִי וְרוּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּה כַלָּתָהּ עִמָּהּ הַשָּׁבָה מִשְּׂדֵי מוֹאָב; וְהֵמָּה בָּאוּ בֵּית לֶחֶם, בִּתְחִלַּת קְצִיר שְׂעֹרִים

20 And she said unto them: ‘Call me not Naomi, call me Marah; for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me back home empty; why call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?’ 22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned out of the field of Moab–and they came to Beth-lehem in the beginning of barley harvest.[9]


The שדה is where man and God work together to achieve perfection and tikkun – the שדה is the place of brit. It is the place where Ruth and Boaz, through acts of pure altruism ensure the ultimate redemption.  We read Megillat Ruth on Shavuot because it is a book that shows us the ultimate paradigm of the God-man relationship through the motif of the שדה.  In the interdependence of man and א-ל שדיwe take the embrace of our mother – the dependence of our youth as the foundation on which to build our independence.

יז וַתִּקְרֶאנָה לוֹ הַשְּׁכֵנוֹת שֵׁם לֵאמֹר, יֻלַּד-בֵּן לְנָעֳמִי; וַתִּקְרֶאנָה שְׁמוֹ עוֹבֵד, הוּא אֲבִי-יִשַׁי אֲבִי דָוִד.[10]

The son that is born to Ruth is called ‘Oved’ – to work.  In a place where man works he will achieve the ultimate redemption.  But ‘work’ means that nothing is instantaneous.  ‘Work’ involves a maturity to appreciate not just the results but the process undertaken to get there.

It is the absolute dependence as manifested in the nursing mother, that gives the child the ability to lead a life of independence.  The שדprovides the basis to becoming a people that work the שדה .

There is a very strange juxtaposition  in Sefer Shemot of the law of Kashrut with the bringing of the Bikkurim- The First Fruits.  It bothered me for many years, and now finally in the context of these ideas it makes sense:

טז וְחַג הַקָּצִיר בִּכּוּרֵי מַעֲשֶׂיךָ, אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע בַּשָּׂדֶה; וְחַג הָאָסִף בְּצֵאת הַשָּׁנָה, בְּאָסְפְּךָ אֶת-מַעֲשֶׂיךָ מִן-הַשָּׂדֶהיז שָׁלֹשׁ פְּעָמִים, בַּשָּׁנָה–יֵרָאֶה, כָּל-זְכוּרְךָ, אֶל-פְּנֵי, הָאָדֹן יְהוָה.  יח לֹא-תִזְבַּח עַל-חָמֵץ, דַּם-זִבְחִי; וְלֹא-יָלִין חֵלֶב-חַגִּי, עַד-בֹּקֶר.  יט רֵאשִׁית, בִּכּוּרֵי אַדְמָתְךָ, תָּבִיא, בֵּית יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ; לֹא-תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי, בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ.

16 and the feast of harvest, the first-fruits of thy labours, which thou sowest in the field; and the feast of ingathering, at the end of the year, when thou gatherest in thy labours out of the field. 17 Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord GOD. 18 Thou shalt not offer the blood of My sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of My feast remain all night until the morning. 19 The choicest first-fruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.[11]

In bringing our first fruits from the שדה, we are attesting not just to the fruits of our ‘labour’ but also to the stage that came before that to the period of the שד.  We are recognising the value and strength given to us by God and his role as א-ל שדי and so at that moment when we revert back to memories of the nursing mother’s milk we are reminded of the cruelty of killing a child in its mother’s milk.   Because who can think of anything crueller, than to take the milk that has nursed, cared for and fostered an environment of omnipotence and kill a child in it.

Parshat Behaalotacha tells the story of a people who want so desperately to be independent, they reject the manna – the milk of dependency and yet, like a child who wants to run before it walks, both God and Moshe know they are not ready for this step, for if they were to take it they would surely falter.  So instead, they are destined once more to journey in the desert, to prove to themselves and God that they really are ready to enter the land in the independent manner they wish to.  And yet, as we the readers already know, the dream of independence tragically will only transpire forty years later, when their children will fulfil the vision of a reality they could only dream of.  The move from the שד to the שדה requires a ‘disillusioning’ that happens in the forty years they are given to ‘grow up’.

Shabbat Shalom

[1] This attitude manifests itself in many events throughout the book.  Chazal suggest that it was the incident of the spies that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and in studying that incident in a few weeks time we will show how it was paradigmatical of the mindset and outlook that typified the first generation.

[2] See Talmud Shabbat 115b–116 a

[4] Bereshit 21

[5] Midrash raba 53:9

[6] Talmud Brachot 10a

[7] Donald Winnicott: Playing and Reality p8

[8] Sifrei 89/87

[9]Rut 1:20-22

[10] Rut 4

[11] Shemot 23

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