“Vayehi ha’om kemisonenim – and the people took to seeking complaints”
Even a simple reading of the parshiyos of Bamidbar leaves one struggling
to understand the perplexing string of complaints leveled by the Bnei
Yisroel against Moshe Rabbeinu. Shortly after being recipients of a
miraculous deliverance from Mitzrayim, the splitting of the Sea and
accepting the Torah, they took to complaining about the mon - the Heavenly
Bread, the lack of meat, and mourned the unflattering report of most of
the meraglim (spies).
How do we understand this lack of gratitude to Hashem and Moshe Rabbeinu –
especially coming so soon after the incredible miracles they witnessed?
THE MEANING OF THE WORD MISONENIM
The Torah introduces the topic of the complaints of the Jews by describing
them as “misonenim.” The loose translation of this word would perhaps
be “complainers.” However, this is not a word used often in the Torah, and
many meforshim attempt to explain the exact meaning of misonenim in the
context of this phase in the development of the B’nei Yisroel – as they
expressed their unhappiness to Moshe.
· Rashi explains misonen (singular of misonenim) as similar
to ‘misLonen’, which would mean ‘aliylah’ a [baseless] complaint.
· The Rashbam explains that the Jews were in pain from the difficult
journey and were therefore complaining about various aspects of logistics
of their travels. This seems to be a more sympathetic view of the B’nei
· The Ibn Ezra feels that the word misonen is similar to an ovon’ – a
spiritual misdeed (in this case, the aleph and ayin would be exchanged, as
the Ibn Ezra notes another instance of this in Navi). Hence, the Jews
sinned by complaining to Moshe.
THE TRANSLATION OF THE KLI YAKAR
I would like to focus this week’s Torah Thought on the interpretation of
the Kli Yakar. He maintains that the term ‘misonenim’ comes from the word
onen, describing one who has just heard about the death of an immediate
According to this explanation, the Jews were ‘mourning’ the fact that they
were now restricted from many previously acceptable activities now that
they had received the Torah. Therefore, they were in a short-tempered
mindset that produced the many complaints against Moshe.
However, according to the Kli Yakar, why would the Torah not use the
term ‘aveil’ instead of ‘onen?’ An aval is a more general term for a
mourner, one that is used to describe a person throughout the seven-day
shivah period. The Torah could have said that the Jews were mourning in a
more general sense, rather than use the specific term ‘onen’ that
describes a person whose close relative has just died – and has not yet
A POSSIBLE ALTERNATE VIEW
I would humbly like to suggest another possible interpretation, one that
would explain the background behind the litany of complaints against Moshe.
An onen is one who is in shock over the death of a relative. He or she has
not had the time to properly process this information and deal with the
event that has just occurred. That is one of the reasons that halacha
relieves the onen from the performance of any mitzvos during this short
period of emotional overload.
A RAPID TRANSITION
The B’nei Yisroel went from being slaves who were mired in the depravity
of Egypt to dizzying spiritual heights in a very short period of time.
They saw the presence of Hashem at the Sea and received the Torah. They
were also showered with material blessings during that period of time,
leaving with the spoils of Egypt and collecting the gold from the Egyptian
troops after the Splitting of the Sea.
I would like to suggest that as the Torah begins the tragic chapter of the
complaints of the Jews to Moshe, an introductory and explanatory note is
“Vayehi ha’om kemisonenim.” The nation was similar to mourners – on the
opposite side of the spectrum. Just as a mourner is in a state of shock by
the sudden death of a loved one, so too, the Jews in the desert were
stunned by their meteoric rise from penniless slaves to a prosperous group
of noble men and women who were given the sacred mission of becoming
Hashem’s Chosen People.
It is interesting to note that Hashem had to plead with Moshe (Shmos 11:1,
see Rashi) to instruct the Jews to take the gold and silver from the
Egyptians – in order to keep His promise to Avrohom. Many meforshim
(commentaries) explain that Moshe was concerned that the sudden riches
would be harmful to the spiritual well being of the B’nei Yisroel.
A study was recently conducted on lottery winners – five and ten years
after they had won million-dollar-plus jackpots. A shocking percentage of
the people reported that their lives had disintegrated. It happened too
quickly, they said, and they simply were not prepared to deal with their
great fortune. It was like a thirsty person drinking from a fire hydrant
with the water running full force.
The B’nei Yisroel were severely punished for their complains and for their
lack of gratitude to Moshe. But, as a loving Father, Hashem may be
pointing out a possible defense for His children by explaining that they
were ‘k’ misonenim’ – like people who were adjusting rapidly to a new
Every parsha in our Holy Torah has important lessons to impart to us.
These critical parshiyos are certainly no exception. One of them may be
the importance of yishuv hada’as (thoughtful reflection) as we change and
As we transition from adolescence to adulthood, we form our identities and
develop our core values. Often that means change – hopefully all for the
better. Even in the case of spiritual growth, however, yishuv hada’as is
required. All too often, very rapid changes and improvements that are too
much too fast do not withstand the test of time.
ACQUIRING A REBBI OR MORAH
It is of such importance to find – and maintain an ongoing relationship
with – one’s parents and a spiritual mentor. As we grow and develop there
are so many challenges and issues with which we need guidance .
Getting ongoing hadrocha (direction) from your parents and a rebbi or
morah is an excellent way of seeing to it that your growth will be
measured – and sustained.
Rabbi Horowitz is the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey, NY, as well as the founder and Program Director of Agudath Israel's Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services), which helps at-risk teens and their parents. He is a popular lecturer on teaching and parenting topics in communities around the world, and is the author of several best-selling parenting tape and CD sets. For more information on Rabbi Horowitz's parenting tapes, visit http://www.rabbihorowitz.com/ or call 845-352-7100 X 133.