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   by Jacob Solomon

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Between the Red Sea and Mount Sinai, the Israelites grumbled to Moses as they hankered for eating meat within their recently-departed Egypt:

If only we would have died… when we sat by the fleshpots of Egypt… but you took us to this desert to die of starvation (16:3)./

Moses' reply to the moaning Israelites was that they had come to the wrong address. G-d was the provider, not Moses and Aaron: Who are we? Your complaints are not about our responsibilities, but about G-d's responsibilities (16:8).

Here, Moses makes clear that prayers go to G-d, not to himself and Aaron. Yet soon afterwards, Moses appears to give the opposite message. When the Israelites ran out of water at Rephidim, they confronted Moses with: "Give us water to drink!" (17:3)

But here Moses appeared to indicate that G-d was not the right address, with: "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test G-d?" (17:3)

As the text stands, it appears that Moses' reply to the Israelites was: "if the food is not sufficiently varied, complain to G-d but not Moses. But if there is no water - a much greater threat to life - complain neither to G-d nor to the leader".

This contradiction may be explained when looking at importance of meat, and the importance of water. Meat is nutritious and tasty, but not an absolutely vital part of the diet - witness vegetarians and vegans. But no water for more than a day means imminent death from thirst.

So when the journeying Israelites en route to the Promised Land reminisced about the fleshpots of Egypt, Moses responded with sarcasm. It was as though their lives had just been saved and they demanded first class travel tickets. "Not my department. Ask G-d".

In contrast, water is not a luxury, but a vital life-sustaining necessity. At the time the Israelites arrived at Rephidim, the miracle of the Red Sea was fresh in their memories; there they "had faith in G-d and in Moses His Servant" (14:31). Here, the need was not luxury, but essentials. The faith they were expected to have following the miracle of the Red Sea was that they would survive to take possession of the Land of Canaan. Indeed, when Moses cried out to G-d when they appeared to be on the verge of mutiny, his prayer was not for water, but how to come to terms with mob hysteria (17:4-5).

This is the message from a comparison of the passages. When a person prays, he should respectfully ask for essentials and for what he or she needs. And having prayed, needs to have faith that G-d will act in the best long-terms interest of the supplicant.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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