Moses gets God’s help
The people suffer God’s wrath
The difference? One word.

This week’s portion is full of complaints. The people complain, “If only we had meat to eat!” (Numbers 11:4). Moses complains, “I cannot carry all this people by myself … If You would deal thus with me, kill me, I beg You.” (Num 11:14-15). Miriam and Aaron complain about Moses, “He married a Cushite woman!” (Num 12:1).

The haiku considers the difference God’s reactions to complaints from the people and from Moses. We’ll leave Miriam and Aaron for another day.

God gives the people the meat they demand, “until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you.” (Num 11:19). Eventually, “the anger of Adonai blazed forth against the people and God struck the people with a very severe plague … the people who had the craving were buried there.” (Num 11:33-34)

But when Moses complains, God provides help. “Gather for Me seventy of Israel’s elders of whom you have experience as elders and officers of the people … I will draw upon the spirit that is on you and put it upon them; they shall share the burden of the people with you, and you shall not bear it alone”. (Num 11:16-17)

Why the different treatment? It could be a reflection of God’s special relationship with Moses, but isn’t the entire community God’s chosen people? The answer might be found in a single word included in the complaints of the people.


When the people ask for meat, they say, “We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!” (Num 11:5-6) They remember the food provided by their Egyptian taskmasters but reject the manna provided by God.

When explaining the punishment to come, God tells Moses to say to the people, “For you have rejected Adonai who is among you, by whining before God and saying, ‘Oh, why did we ever leave Egypt!’” (Num 11:20).

Moses doesn’t mention Egypt. His concern is an inability to fulfill the leadership role given to him by God. So, instead of bringing forth anger, God acts with a modicum of compassion. The elders will share the burden of leadership with Moses.

The people are two years into their journey through the desert – their transition from slavery in Egypt to being a free people in their own land. When they look backward instead of forward, they risk incurring the wrath of God.


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