The Chasam Sofer poses the following question: We see in this week’s parsha an incident repeated for the second time during the Jews’ forty years in the desert: The Jews complained about their food. However, the response that was given to them in each episode was very different. The first time (in Parshas Beha’aloscha) HaKadosh Baruch Hu responded by giving them the slav—birds to eat in excess. The second time they were punished with a plague of snakes. Why do we find vastly different responses to basically the same complaint?
Another question which must be understood: Why after forty years does this complaint suddenly arise? Was it simmering in the background, or did something happen that triggered this dissatisfaction?
In the first incident, the Torah expresses the discontent with the words (11:6)
”…בִּלְתִּי אֶל הַמָּן עֵינֵינוּ“
(we just see the mann). This time, the words used to complain are (21:5)
“וְנַפְשֵׁנוּ קָצָה בַּלֶּחֶם הַקְּלֹקֵל.“
(and our soul is at its limit with insubstantial food.)
We already see two different kinds of complaints. The earlier generation lived in a real-life situation, so they had opportunities to see different kinds of foods, and appreciated their appeal which they had to the eye. Though the mann was able to have any desired flavor, it just did not look as appetizing as the “real” foods. The later generation that was brought up in the desert never eyed those “real” foods, and therefore they did not feel a lack for the visual feast of their beautiful presentation. That is why they didn’t complain.
At this point the chumash tells us the Jews met other nations. Upon seeing civilizations outside of the ananei hakavod, they realized they were missing the visual pleasure that comes with the beauty of the food, and complained that the food was insubstantial because it was not like “the real thing.” Hashem responded by informing them that being in the ananei hakavod afforded them advantages and disadvantages: True, they didn’t see real food, but they also didn’t see the dangerous creatures such as snakes and scorpions, which the Ananei Hakavod ‘took care of’. Hashem was telling them ‘Before you complain, take the whole picture into account. Are you better off with food you cannot see, or with the enjoyment of visually pleasing food and also a myriad of desert creatures that can hurt you?’
A lesson that we have in daily life, is that many times we complain how things could be better, but we forget that those better things come with a price. This past week I was at a wedding and overheard a conversation that went more or less as follows:
Beryl: “I had to come early because I had to catch the bus.”
Shmeryl: “I came late because I had to spend so much time parking my car.”
We always think that the grass is greener on the other side, without thinking about the work that is needed to keep it up.