Parshas Behalosecha-Likkutei Torah-The story of the Slav

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Parshas Behaalosecha


“Behaalosecha Es Haneiros…”

[Likkutei Torah p. 62]


Parshas Behaalosecha discusses a most peculiar episode that occurred with the Jewish people in the desert. As is known, during various journeys of the Jewish people in the desert, they faced lack of food and drink and made their complaint well heard before Moshe. In this Parsha, the Jewish people complained before Moshe that they did not have meat. They lamented over the luxurious foods they ate in Egypt, having to now suffice with only the Mun for their daily food. In response, Hashem told Moshe that He would supply them with meat for thirty days. Moshe replied to Hashem with disbelief, expressing doubt in Hashem’s ability to provide so many people with meat in the desert. Hashem chastised Moshe, telling him, “Do you believe My Hand is limited?” The above reply of Moshe is not only puzzling, but seems heretical. How can Moshe, the most faithful of Jews, the person who led them out from Egypt and performed countless nature-breaking miracles, express disbelief in G-d’s capabilities? Furthermore, G-d already provides meat for all the nations of the world, which make up millions upon millions of people, so what would be the challenge for Him to provide meat for a mere 600,000 people? These questions create a discussion on the purpose of eating meat and the effect that it has on one’s personality and soul. As the saying goes, “We are what we eat”, and meat contributes a very specific characteristic to a person that he can use in his service of G-d. Nevertheless, this characteristic did not befit the level of the Jewish people in the desert. The Mamar delves into the level of the Jewish people in the times of Moshe and the difference between serving Hashem out of passionate love that derives from the feeling of self, in contrast to a selfless love that focuses on the sole benefit of the beloved. The content of this Mamar is vital for understanding the proper relationship that a Jew has to strive to attain with Hashem, and the proper way of serving Him.


Explorations of the Mamar:

1.      How was the service of Aharon in lighting the Menorah greater than the service of Karbanos, which were performed by the tribe leaders?

2.      Why did Moshe, the most faithful of Jews, express a seemingly heretical belief that Hashem cannot provide all the Jewish people with meat?

3.      What matter of Avodas Hashem does meat consumption contribute to a person?

4.      What was significant about the Slav bird, and why was it specifically provided to the Jewish people as meat, in contrast to cattle or sheep?




The Question:

The Midrash states that when Aharon saw the leaders of each tribe bringing Karbanos for the inauguration of the Mishkan [in the previous Parsha of Naso], he became distraught over the fact that neither he nor his tribe were allowed to take part in the contribution. He was told by Hashem not to worry, as his service was greater than that of the other tribes, being that he would clean and light the candles of the Menorah. To understand this matter, we must first introduce, and clarify, the following episode brought in this week’s Parsha: The Jewish people were wandering in the desert and they complained before Moshe that they did not have meat. They began recalling all the meat they ate in Egypt and expressing regret over leaving such a luxurious lifestyle to wander in the desert. Moshe brought their complaint before Hashem, and was told by Hashem to tell the Jewish people that He would supply them with meat for thirty days. Moshe then replied to Hashem, “There are 600,000 Jews! Can you slaughter enough sheep and cattle to provide for them? Even if You gathered all the fish of the sea, would it suffice for them?” Hashem replied to Moshe, “Is the hand of G-d limited? You will see if My words will come true or not!” This entire episode, and its ensuing conversation, is puzzling. What exactly was Moshe’s difficulty in comprehending that Hashem would supply the Jewish people with meat? Did he really think providing meat for 600,000 Jews was a task even too large for G-d Himself, when in truth G-d already provides meat for all the nations of the world, which make up millions upon millions of people? What would be the problem with Him providing meat for a mere 600,000 people? Also, why did Moshe mention in his reply that there was not enough fish to supply the Jewish people, when in truth they never asked to eat fish and simply requested meat?

The purpose of the Karbanos of the Nesiim:

The above can be understood through first introducing the purpose behind the offerings of the Nesiim. When a Nassi brought his set of offerings to the Mishkan on the day allotted to him, he did not simply perform a thanksgiving ritual to please G-d, but actually caused a vibrant change in the members of his tribe. The Karbanos that were offered caused an elevation in the spiritual state of the tribe members, and strengthened their ability to arouse feelings of love for G-d. How, though, does mere meat being offered in the Temple have such power, to actually change the makeup of one’s emotions?

Who is allowed to eat meat?

The Talmud[1] states that an ignoramus is forbidden to eat meat. Why? This is because one who is not involved in matters of spirituality and Avodas Hashem will not make any good use of the meat that he eats. When one eats food, he is not merely adding energy to his cells so that he can continue his life, but he is actually performing an entire school of Divine service. Both the meat and the person eating are in need of this service. Man requires meat in order to add energy to himself, to strengthen his thinking abilities, and allow himself to learn Torah with deep intellectual comprehension. At the same time, the meat also requires that it be eaten by man in order for it to be elevated from the animal kingdom to become the flesh and blood of a Jew that will then use it to serve G-d. Hence both man and animal are in need of this Divine service of eating meat.



Meat derives from Gevurah:

Meat comes from the Sefirah of Gevurah. It is for this reason that meat is red. It is also for this reason that Hashem offered to give the Jewish people meat at night, as nighttime is a time of Gevuros. When the meat that one consumes is refined, it is elevated to the level of Gevurah of Kedusha. This is because the root of all animals is in the level of Gevuros. For this reason, the effect that meat has on the body is that it adds fiery passion to one’s emotions and gives one potential to bring out a burning desire for G-d. This is why an ignoramus may not eat meat, as he does not know how to utilize his newly acquired passion for G-dly purposes and would rather use it for animalistic desires. This will not only cause that the meat is not elevated, but will actually demote it to a lower spiritual position, becoming even more distanced from G-d due to its use for animalistic desires. However, when a Torah scholar consumes meat, he refines it, being that it adds wisdom to his mind and causes him to have a greater passion for his Divine service.


Meat arouses selfish love of G-d; Moshe was the epitome of selflessness:

Based on the above, we can now introduce the reason why Moshe was perplexed over G-d’s suggestion to send meat to the Jewish people. Moshe stated to Hashem, “Meiayin Li Basar/From where do I have meat?” meaning, “How can I, on my spiritual level, consume meat?” This is because Moshe’s level of Divine service surpassed even the level that is contributed through meat consumption. Meat, even when eaten for the holiest of purposes, contributes only the level of Gevurah of Kedusha, and Moshe was on a much higher spiritual level than Gevurah of Kedusha. He was thus naturally on a higher scale than the level of meat, even after the meat is refined. In Avodas Hashem, this means as follows: As stated above, meat contributes to a person a fiery passion to attach to Hashem. As great and important as this form of Divine service is, there is a much higher level of Divine service that entails one serving G-d with absolute nullification of the self. The level of “passionate love” is a result of one’s intense feeling of self and ego, and although it is now being channeled for Holy purposes, one still remains a conscious, separate entity from Hashem. In Chassidic terminology, this is called “Yeish Mi Sheoheiv/There is an existence that loves”, that one remains with an ego and feeling of self-existence. Moshe was on the level of, “Venachnu Mah/What are we?”, of absolute nullification to Hashem, to the point that the nullification caused him to not feel himself as an existence separate from G-d’s Oneness. Although Moshe also certainly contained a passionate love and desire for G-d, nevertheless this was all a result of his nullification and unity with Hashem, and hence his love and passion were completely selfless, for the sake of G-d. In Kabbalah, this form of love is called Gevuros Deaba, love of Chochmah/Bittul, while the former love is called Gevuros Deima.


Understanding love-Selfless love versus selfish love:

In life, we have many forms of love. Most loves that we have are what can be defined as selfish loves, in contrast to selfless love. Take, for example, the love and passion one has to devour a dish of food that one loves most, after not having eaten for several hours. The passion begins to burn and one can make himself do many things for the sake of fulfilling this passion, such as changing his schedule, driving to the restaurant, waiting for a table, and paying a nice sum of money so he can enjoy his most favorite dish after a famishing day of work. This person is certainly in love, but with himself, and with his personal passions and desires. His love for the meat is a selfish passion that desires the animal to die in order to satiate him, and is thus not altruistic on any level. This same form of love can unfortunately apply also to relationships. One may be “in love” with another person, not because he truly cares for that person, but because that person fulfills the wants and desires that he has. This is a selfish love that is meant to only serve him and his needs. Naturally, most relationships will begin with this type of love due to our selfish predisposition, which results from human nature, and if one does not work on himself, he will certainly head towards friction and difficulties in his relationship. People are not perfect and do not fulfill our every will and desire. Thus, a person who is in a relationship with these subconscious motifs will begin to feel agitation and enmity towards the other person as soon as anything occurs in the relationship that does not flow with his feelings and wants. It is similar to meat that no longer tastes good, such as if one day the meat served in the restaurant was spoiled, and he thus no longer desires it. Selfless love, however, is a love that does not take into account one’s personal wants and desires, but simply what is best for the other person. His entire passion and love is specifically to fulfill the wants of the other person in order for the other person to be satisfied. This love is not dependent on any action that is done for him, and does not come in exchange for benefits that he receives. Thus, even if the other person were to do something to hurt him or offend him, the love would still remain strong, as to begin with this love was not dependent on any external matter, but was essentially for the sake of the other person. On this love, it states in Pirkei Avos, “A love that is not dependent on another matter: if the matter is nullified the love is not nullified.” A glimmer of such love can be seen in the natural love a father has for a child, in which case the father does not require any benefits from his relationship in order to love his child, but loves him unequivocally, simply due to the fact that he is his offspring. In Avodas Hashem, these two forms of love likewise exist, a selfish love and a selfless love. One can love Hashem due to the benefits he receives from Him, and one can love Him simply due to the absolute care and desire to fulfill His every wish and make Him satisfied. Meat nurtures the first form of love, a more selfish love for Hashem, while Moshe was on the higher level of selfless love, and hence the meat was beneath his level of Divine service.      



Moshe’s disbelief in Hashem’s ability to provide meat:

Based on the above, we can now understand the reason why Moshe expressed disbelief in Hashem’s ability to provide meat to the Jewish people. Moshe stated, “I am amongst the 600,000 Jewish people”, meaning to say that my students, the Jewish people, are likewise at my level of Divine service of selfless love, and of self-nullification. Therefore, how is it possible for them to eat meat and still not fall from their Divine Service? How can you allow meat to be eaten by those on the level of Chochmah of Atzilus, if it has the natural level of Gevuros of Atzilus? It is also as a result of this claim that Moshe specifically stated, “Can you slaughter sheep and cattle and still make it suffice?” Moshe emphasized that cattle and sheep require Shechita, ritual slaughtering, in order to emphasize that meat is coarse and requires refinement, so how could it be fed to the Jewish people, which are higher than even its refined level? It is also for this reason that Moshe mentioned fish in his claim, despite the fact that the Jewish people never requested to eat fish, as fish does not even require slaughtering due to its refined nature. Nevertheless, even the meat of fish is beneath the level of Divine service of the Jewish people, and if so there does not exist any meat that is fit for their level. 

Hashem’s reply to Moshe:

Hashem replied to Moshe, “Is the hand of Hashem limited?” This means that although I agree that the natural tendencies found in meat are unbefitting of the level of the Jewish people, even after the meat is refined, nevertheless I am capable of providing the Jewish people with a new type of meat, a meat that contains the level of Chochmah of Atzilus, as opposed to the level of Gevurah. What new form of meat was Hashem referring to? The Slav bird.

The Slav bird:

The Slav bird, which was the meat provided to the Jewish people for a full month after their complaint, contained a very unique characteristic; it was an embodiment of the level of Chochmah of Atzilus, the level of nullification found in the Jewish people in the times of Moshe. This level found physical expression in the anatomy and physiology of this bird, as this bird contained a very high percentage of fat, much greater than any other creature. The Gemara in Yuma [75b] states that the Slav was so fatty that in order for it to be eaten, it had to be placed on top of 13 slices of bread, and even then the bottom slice was so saturated with fat that it could only be eaten with other foods. The reason for this is because fat, which is oil, derives from Chochmah, and since these birds were a form of meat rooted in Chochmah of Atzilus they therefore physically contained an abundance of fat and oil.   


Aharon’s service surpasses that of the Nesiim:

Based on all the above we can now understand why Aharon was told that his service was greater than the service of the Nesiim, which offered animal offerings to the Temple inauguration. The Karbanos brought by the Nesiim reached a level of Gevurah of Atzilus and drew down this level to the souls of their tribesmen. However, Aharon was given the task of lighting the oil of the Menorah, and oil derives from Chochmah, the Chochmah of Atzilus. When Aharon lit the candles, he drew down this level into the souls of all the Jewish people, and in conclusion we see, “Shelcha Gadol Mishelahem/Your service is greater than theirs.”


Lessons of the Mamar:

·         The foods we eat are meant to give us extra energy in serving Hashem. Meat contains a special ability to contribute to our feelings of love and passion for Hashem.

·         One should strive to serve Hashem out of a selfless love. Working on a selfless love helps solidify relationships and allows the relationship to outlast the bumpy roads and challenges that relationships face throughout life.




[1] Pesachim 49b

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