This article was originally posted at my blog
It recently occurred to me that if you want to really understand someone, listen carefully to what they complain about.
In parashas Beha'aloscha the Jewish people show their true colours
by voicing their nostalgic longing for free handouts.
Following that, the episode of the spies
showed that the people didn't grasp the fundamental nature of their relationship with God, or indeed of any meaningful relationship. By their complaints to Moses, they made it clear that they sought all the benefits of an intimate relationship with God in Eretz Yisrael, but without investing the effort needed to make it real. Only Yehoshua and Caleb understood that real love demands struggle.
That last episode sealed their fate. The generation that left Egypt would die in the Desert and only those whose character hadn't been formed yet would accompany the yet unborn generation who would inherit the Land.
Aside from Korach's rebellion, apparently the forty year period of wandering was uneventful, as the Chumash doesn't record anything of what transpired during that time. In parshas Chukas
we rejoin the Children of Israel at the end of their journeys as they make final preparations to enter the Promised Land.
However, the Chumash does give us a clear indication that the people's hearts had changed for the better and that they had acquired the necessary strength of character to fully live God's Torah in His Chosen Place. Look at what happens when Miriam dies. Her merit had provided the people with an ongoing supply of water throughout their travels and now all of a sudden it all went dry. Understandably they were quite upset and as expected they were quick to voice their complaints against Moses and Aaron.
But look at what they say! "Why have you brought us up from Egypt to this terrible place? For it is not suitable for planting, without figs, vines and pomegranates.
Wait a second, what happened to the fish we ate for free in Egypt
that they had longed for? There's been a huge shift here: before they looked back to Egypt as their point of reference, the land of free food! Now they complain about the desert in reference to the destination
! Why have you brought us here
, they ask, to a place that has no potential
for growth, for meaningful and rewarding work.
Imagine the nachas
that God has when he hears that they've finally "got it". They are raring to go and work the land, to plant seeds, trees and eat the fruit of their labours. Yes, they were still wrong to complain but look how far they had come.