The Good Old Days
By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim
“But the multitude among them began to have strong cravings. Then, even the children of Israel once again began to cry, and they said, “Who will feed us meat? We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt, free of charge; the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now, our bodies are dried out, for there is nothing at all; we have nothing but manna to look at (Bamidbar 11, 4-6).” The Torah then describes how quails descended, which resulted in their demise (The quail meat was toxic.). Our Rabbis teach us that every incident recorded in the Torah has an eternal message. What is the message here?
Let us begin by breaking down their complaint. They complain that a) their life situation in Egypt, at least from a gastronomical perspective, was far superior to their current life circumstances, and b) their current food, the heavenly manna, had become intolerable. Now let us analyze whether their complaint had a basis in truth and reality. The elaborate description of their diet in Egypt hardly sounds like the diet of hard working, abused slaves? Was their life situation really as rosy as they describe it to be? Fish, cucumbers, watermelons, leeks and onions does not exactly sound the diet of a slave involved in back-breaking labor?
The Torah describes the wondrous nature of the heavenly manna that sustained the Jewish people in the desert. It was pleasing to the eye, could be gathered off the ground and was wrapped between two layers of dew. Our Rabbis add that the taste of the manna was determined by the desire of the consumer. If the consumer desired meat, it would taste like meat etc. The manna sounds like a wonderful blessing, certainly the ultimate dream of the working class. What on earth are they complaining about? They seem to be simply delusional?
We often tend to think that life at some past point was better than it is now. We feel that years ago, life was so much better, the world had much fewer problems, and humanity was far better off than we are today. We then simultaneously look at our current life situation with frustration and disdain. We find our current life situation to be empty, bland, tasteless and highly problematic. Do our thought patterns in this regard have a basis in truth and reality? I think not! When were our ‘Good Old Days?’ It certainly wasn’t the first half of the nineteenth century? So when exactly was it? Was it the cold war? Or perhaps it was the past ten centuries when Jews had fewer rights than others and were subjected to pogroms and expulsions? When was there a time in human existence that people lived with amenities like hot running water, electricity and supermarkets filled with every product one could possibly imagine tasting? I think that the Torah is warning us against falling into the very delusional trap with which our forefathers were afflicted. Yes, we human beings tend to idealize the past (to the point of delusion) while simultaneously failing to appreciate the tremendous blessing (manna) that stands before our very eyes.
Friends, the eternal message is so simple and yet so deeply profound. Do not live the delusion of an ideal, perfect past existence, and be sure to appreciate the tremendous blessings in your life right NOW. Remember, the past is gone and the future does not yet exist, only the thin slither of time termed NOW ever exists in reality. Let us live now and appreciate the manna with which we have been blessed!