The Wrong Way to Prepare for Combat
This Torah portion is a grab bag full of spiritual insights. We find the concluding instructions for how the Tabernacle/Temple should be set up (Numbers 8:1-10:10). Where did Moses get the blueprints with all the fine details? The L-rd showed him a pattern of the heavenly Temple when Moses was on Mount Sinai and based on this pattern, the Tabernacle was built (Numbers 8:4; Hebrews 8:5).
Now that the L-rd had finished giving them their instructions, the people of Israel were ready to march northward toward the land of Moab, and from there to Canaan (Numbers 10:11-36). The lack of spirituality that they demonstrate at this stage makes us wonder if they are truly prepared for the intense combat that awaits in Canaan. First comes their murmuring at Taberah [literally, "the burning”, Numbers 11:1-4]. As we have seen before, the people of Israel had legitimate reasons for discontent—traveling in the heat of the Sinai desert without much water could stress even the greatest of saints. Yet, the next episode (vv. 5-10) gives us some additional details that explain why the L-rd and Moses were so angry with the people of Israel.
First, they forgot the bondage they experienced in Egypt and how miraculously the L-rd delivered them from this bondage. (We, too, have very short memories when it comes to answered prayers.)
Second, we are told that they craved (NIV, v. 5) other foods. The Hebrew word "to-evah" conveys a much stronger emotion, meaning "lust" or "uncontrolled passion.” The Israelites rejected the food that the L-rd provided for them and, in fact, rejected the L-rd, Himself (Numbers 11:20).
Third, they wept in despair and unbelief that the L-rd could and would give them relief from the monotony of the manna (Numbers 11:10). Even though they experienced the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon some of their elders (11:24-30), this "revival" did not spread to the rest of the people who continued in their attitude of unbelief. That explains the L-rd's severe response: He sent a plague among them.
Does the L-rd tolerate our k'vetching (complaining)? Moses certainly does his share of complaining in this passage. The crucial question is this: Is our complaining based on faith, in the L-rd's ability to change it, or is it based on unbelief?