A Love For Food is Very Dangerous!
Our Parsha recounts one of the sins that the Children of Israel committed in the desert, which we term chet ha-mitonenim (“the sin of the complainers”). While in the desert, the Children of Israel merited having Hashem provide them with everything they required. They had no need to go looking for food during that time, for everything came to them directly, to the door of each person’s tent. In the desert they had spiritual nourishment, the manna, which was completely absorbed by all their bodily members (Yoma 75b), and in this food they tasted every flavor that existed.
Yet therein lay their great sin. For 40 years they ate the same nourishment, the same kind of food, yet they wanted something else. What did they say? “We remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt for free, the cucumbers and the melons…” (Numbers 11:5). This was extremely serious. In the manna they tasted every possible flavor, including obviously the taste of cucumbers, melons, and so on. Therefore why did they suddenly want to eat such food? The answer is that those who complained about the manna were certainly not among the tzaddikim of the generation. Those evildoers certainly did not task all the flavors in the world when they ate the manna, and even if they tasted a little in it, they complained for another reason: We don’t want to eat food with spiritual flavor! We want to taste material food; we want to see onions, cucumbers and melons with our own eyes. We don’t want to believe that there’s the taste of melons in the food we’re eating. We want real melons! Why? Our physical innards are incapable of containing spiritual food.
Let us think for a moment: What is the difference between someone who devotes himself to Torah and his entire being is oriented toward spiritual endeavors, and someone who is completely immersed in a material life? The one occupied with Torah is not at all worried about his sustenance. He does not even remember what he ate the previous day, and if he does remember, he will not give much thought or ascribe importance to it. Such is not the case for one who is immersed from head to toe in the desires of this world, especially in a love for food. This person deeply contemplates dinner plans, from appetizers to desserts, and perfectly remembers what he ate the previous day, and knows what he will eat on the next day. Such a person constantly demands and asks for material things, for material nourishment. He wants to see it with his very eyes.
It is not without reason that there have been tzaddikim – and we find such people even today – who when eating during the week would say, “I’m eating to acquire strength to serve the Creator.” Then on Shabbat, with each mouthful they consume, they would say, “I’m eating in honor of the holy Sabbath.” Such people only speak and concern themselves with spiritual matters, with elevating themselves spiritually.
As for other people, their conversations and concerns revolve around food, around various dinner plans. These people are even capable of selling everything that is precious and holy for “a good meal that is worthy of the name.” They are even capable of complaining about the spiritual nourishment that existed in the desert, the “bread of the mighty.”
Therein lay the sin of those who complained in the desert, and it was not by accident that they ended up sinning. The same people who complained about the manna in the desert had certainly absorbed the faults of the Egyptians. They were certainly among those who mixed among the Egyptians, going to their theaters and circuses (Yalkut Shimoni, Shemot 1), and there they certainly saw the “good food” of the Egyptians. This is why, when they arrived in the desert, they saw that there was nothing there. Where had all the good food gone? Where were all the dinner plans that served to feed the body? This is why they arose to demand the same kind of food they had seen in Egypt, for it was only that kind of food that they were inclined to eat.
To our great shame, it is possible to find such people today as well. There exist people today in whom a love for food burns like poison. Base faults, deeply rooted within such people, lead them to focus their full attention on meals, nourishment, dinner plans – on various kinds of food – everything except spiritual matters.
At this point things truly become disgraceful. All 248 limbs and 365 sinews of such people are invested in the food before them, and with what obvious desire do they discuss it! If that were not enough, they seek out appetizing food from morning till night, and if they cannot find it in a certain place, they will unfortunately risk going elsewhere to find such food, which may easily turn out to be unkosher.
Furthermore, even people who care about outward appearances, who are important in their own eyes, are liable to become ensnared by the evil inclination. Do they not remember the last wedding they went to, when they saw how honorable people “pounced” on the best food? It may be that they had not seen such eating habits in a long time, since the time when poverty was prevalent in society.
We must learn a lesson from the sins of those who complained in the desert. First of all, we must realize that our glory does not depend on material sustenance. We must not expend all our energies on material food, nor should we think about it excessively. Instead we must take the decision to follow in the footsteps of the generation of the desert, the ways of the tzaddikim, whose purpose in life was the holy Torah. At that point the food we eat will be like the manna, bread from Heaven. Amen, may it be so.