> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > Between the Lines

Passing the Test

Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1 )

by Rabbi Abba Wagensberg

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

Among the many topics discussed in Parshat Chukat, we find the story of the Jewish people's complaints about the "destructive bread" (the manna). God was displeased with the people's complaints, and responded by sending a plague of poisonous snakes to bite the Jewish people, causing numerous deaths.

The Slonimer Rebbe shares an insight into the crime of the Jewish people. According to his approach, the people resented the way God was guiding the world. Although the people realized that God was in the driver's seat, they were not happy with where He was taking them.

We learn in the Talmud (Avot 4:1) that a truly wealthy person is one who is happy with his portion. The Slonimer Rebbe interprets this to mean that a wealthy person is one who is happy with the unique set of circumstances that God has allotted to him. We find a proof to this in another place (Avot 5:3), which says that Abraham passed all 10 tests he was given.

This statement makes sense in reference to some of the tests - for example, the command to circumcise himself at an advanced age. In order to pass this test, Abraham had to take action - to take a knife to his own flesh. However, other tests did not require action. We might wonder, for example, how Abraham passed the test of "learning that his descendents would have to suffer through years of exile." Although Abraham was privy to future information in this instance, there was nothing that he could do!

The Slonimer Rebbe claims that Abraham passed these types of tests by accepting God's decisions with love. This teaches us a potent lesson. We are often pained when bitter changes occur in our lives. Obviously, the first course of action is to try to change the difficult situation. However, if we see that a particular situation is temporarily or permanently unchangeable, our test is to change ourselves to meet the challenge. In other words, we need to learn how to live with unchangeable circumstances so that we change and mature. Although the situation may be inflexible, we can change ourselves to become more sensitive, tolerant and patient people. This is how Abraham responded to his unchangeable circumstances.

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This idea applies to our parsha, as well. It seems strange that the Jewish people would begin complaining about the manna at the end of their 40 years in the wilderness. They had been eating it for this entire period of time! Couldn't they hold out just a little longer? The manna would finish in another 36 days, upon the Jewish people's entry into the Land of Israel!

We can understand a novel insight into the Jewish people's complaint based on the teachings of the Megala Amukos. According to this view, the Jews were not complaining about the manna. Rather, at the end of 40 years, they saw that there was going to be a change from spiritual food (manna) to physical food. Entry into the Land of Israel would require them to begin cultivating and eating regular food. Unlike the manna, this physical food would not be completely absorbed by their bodies - and it is this physical food that the Jews called "destructive bread," because they were dismayed at the prospect of once again excreting waste! How, they asked themselves, would they be able to maintain high spiritual levels while eating physical food? It is so much easier to maintain lofty spiritual heights when eating spiritual food!

Instead of being happy with God's decision, they complained. Instead of focusing inward to bring out their potential of changing themselves to meet this external change, they were simply disappointed with God's conduct.

May we learn to be happy with what we have, avoiding panic, frustration and complaint, in order to pass our 10 tests of life when the circumstances are unchangeable.

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