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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Beha'alotcha

Mahn, Matza & Missed Chances

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G-d loves us.

Yes, I know that sounds very, well, evangelical. But it’s true, all the same. How do I know? Because over & over again, little things in the Torah indicate that Hashem is always looking out for our best interests, cheering us on to do better, & taking our needs into account.

But do we always get the message, & fully appreciate what we have?

In our Sedra, for example, we read about the Jews who complained about their lot in the desert, complaining even about the miracle Mahn, lamenting how much they missed the cucumbers, the watermelon, the leeks, the onion & garlic that they had enjoyed in Egypt. (This always reminds me of the people who wax nostalgic about the "good old days" in the shtetls of Europe, which, in reality, were among the most horrible places that we Jews have ever lived in).

But wait; didn’t the mahn taste like any food we imagined? So what was there to complain about?

Rashi explains that these particular five foods mentioned above were the exception to the rule; the mahn couldn’t mimic their taste, because they were harmful to nursing mothers. OK; so why not just warn those mothers not to eat them! Ah, but feelings count: Hashem didn’t want the inequity of some people being able to experience certain tastes, while others could not! So He declared those foods "off-limits."

A similar message is conveyed by the unusual law in our parsha of "Pesach Sheni," whereby Jews who were unable to bring the Korban Pesach in its normal time (Nisan 14) were permitted to bring it one month later. Their compelling argument before Moshe & Ahron – "Why should WE be denied the chance to perform this great Mitzva?!" – falls on receptive Divine "ears," & Hashem grants their petition.

But why is Pesach the only time that this special dispensation is given? Why, for example, can we not build & dwell in a Sukka a month after Sukkot, if we unavoidably missed the first opportunity to do so?

I suggest that Pesach is chosen for a "make-up Mitzva" for two reasons: One, it is the first holiday in our calendar, so it sets the tone for all the others. But more important, Pesach is the "Season of our Liberation." Mitzvot are not to be viewed as oppressive obligations that we do grudgingly, but rather as grand occasions that bring us closer to G-d, as stimuli that "liberate" our souls & give us purpose in life.

As such, Pesach is the perfect venue to drive home this message to the masses: Do not ask what you can do for the Mitzvot, but what the Mitzvot can do for you.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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