BY Rabbi Aryeh zev Saunders

In this week’s parshah the Jews complained about their lack of good food. They recalled all the delicacies they ate in Egypt and asked specifically for meat. Hashem eventually gave meat to them, but they died after a month.

Question 1:
How could the Jews be so ungrateful as to complain and ask for meat? After all, they had everything they needed handed to them on a platter (e.g. manna and a travelling well).

Question 2:
Why does the Torah use the expression (Bamidbar 11:1) “The people were LIKE complainers”? Surely they were complainers!!!!

I believe these questions can be answered as follows:
Our sages tell us that there are 13 expressions of prayer (midrash Shimoni, beginning of Parshat Va’etchanan).
Each expression denotes a different aspect to prayer, and all of them can be used. The midrash recounts all the instances where they were used in the Torah. Here are there English equivalents;-

  • Talking
  • Asking
  • Supplicating
  • Begging
  • Screaming
  • Demanding
  • Praising
  • Pleading
  • Arguing
  • Persuading
  • Reasoning
  • Extolling
  • Crying

(Explanations of these expressions is beyond the scope of this Rabbi at the moment.)

Moshe used many of these expressions to intercede with Hashem on behalf of the Jews. After the Jews made the golden calf, Moshe reasoned with Hashem not to destroy the Jews because the nations would think G-d was too weak to bring the Jews to the land of Israel.
This is what I believe the Jews were doing in this instance. They tried to reason with Hashem, saying that if in the slavery of Egypt they had meat then how much more so in the utopic situation of the desert they should enjoy the same delicacies.
The Torah uses the expression ‘like complainers’ because the Jews were not really complaining. However, due to their exalted level they still sinned, because they should have been content with their lot.
This is how we can understand all the other instances that the Jews complained. On many occasions, when faced with either no water or with oncoming enemies, they reasoned
“What was the point of leaving Egypt to die in the desert? We might as well return there.”
This was not a statement of ungrateful people but rather a plea of reasoning and persuading Hashem to answer their requests.
The rabbis in their great wisdom have advised that people should not reason with Hashem nowadays. This is because the line is so thin and it is easy to cross over to the realms of sin.