Friday, June 01, 2007

This food tastes like “B'haalot'kha”

“Have you ever went over a friends house to eat
And the food just ain't no good?
I mean the macaroni's soggy, the peas are mushed,
And the chicken tastes like wood.”

--Sugarhill Gang, Rapper’s Delight

We’ve all been there. In a situation when we’re trying to do the right thing, but no matter how hard we try, obstacles arise like soggy macaroni or Robert Horry hip-checking your team's best player into the ground.

In the song above, Imp the Dimp was faced with gross food, but he didn’t want to say something rude and hurt his friend’s feelings. So instead, he fakes that he’s sick. But it doesn’t work and Imp gets called out, putting his friendship in jeopardy.

Amare Stoudemire rushes from the bench to help his friend get up from the ground - a completely natural reaction - and he gets a one game suspension, costing the Suns the series.

Apparently, doing the right thing is not always so easy.

How many times have I heard this over the years?

How do you think Moses felt?

Talk to a bush!

Turn water into wine!

Free your people!

Part the sea!

Climb a mountain!

All while having people believe he is not super crazy.

In the previews for Evan Almighty, Steve Carell is asked to build an ark by God himself, or Morgan Freeman. Everyone thinks he’s nuts. So listening to a talking bush? Not the easiest thing to do, as is choosing whether to leave college early to play sports professionally in order to help one's poor family make ends meet, or staying in school to get an education?

Another cliché straight from my father’s mouth reminds us that two wrongs do not make a right.

In this week’s reading from the Torah, B'haalot'kha (gezundheit!), things get even more complicated. Surprised? No, it’s a Jewish document.

Early in the Parsha, Moses is explaining the laws and decrees for the Pesach (today’s Passover holiday) offering. (Num. 9:1-14) One of the conditions of making the sacrifice is that anyone who had been in contact with a corpse could not make the sacrifice. (Lev. 7:20-21)

Seems pretty cut and dry, until a few of the Hebrews approach Moses to let him know this isn’t fair, or right. The fellers in question came in contact with a corpse only through doing a good deed or mitzvah. (Num. 9:6-7)

They were essentially doing the right thing, but later having it only come back to hurt them.

This is a situation that happens all the time. As a former fraternity president I have first-hand experience. For example, after announcing a new attendance policy, it did not take more than a second for my brothers to come up to me and let me know why this should not apply to them. Sometimes there were good arguments, and sometimes having to go to your girlfriend’s to “help her study” during meeting time just didn’t cut it.

The decision on who deserved a reprieve after being wronged by the new rules had to be made. Not an easy thing to do, especially having to balance so many people’s concerns.

Back to Moses.

Moses is hit with this moral dilemma, and what does he do? Well he was a prophet, so just like Commissioner Gordon, Moses whips out his prophet phone, dials 613 and gets God on the line. Going something like this:

“Yo, God!”


“This Moses.”


“Right. So I got these Heebs here. They feel that since they were doing a good deed when they came in contact with the dead, that they should still be able to rock the Pesach offering. Thoughts?”



For Moses, it was that easy. I wish I had a phone with a line straight to the all-knowing to sort things out. But since I don’t, I have the Torah to both confuse me and offer me insight.

In this instance, the wronged are righted by having a separate ceremony. Moses did a good job by looking into the rule book to see if there were any loopholes.

However, sometimes doing the right thing does lead to a future wrong instead of another right, like speeding to get your pregnant wife to the hospital as she is going into labor, but still getting a ticket. The cop doesn’t care why you’re speeding, he's just doing his job.

The nice thing is that we have a kind and just God to figure these things out.

Ultimately, you have to live with your consequences, even if you are doing what you think is right.

In "Rapper’s Delight," Imp the Dimp, trying to do the right thing, chose to fake sick rather than just say that the food was bad.

In a similar fashion, after a fair amount of wandering (remember, the name of the book means “In the Desert”), the Hebrews begin to complain that the “manna tastes like wood” and there is no meat to eat when there was plenty in Egypt. Then, Miriam complains to Aaron that Moses, as the highest prophet around, has been neglecting some of his other duties, specifically his marital ones, in working to remain pure all the time. A seemingly fair complaint - he is the man with the great wooden staff; shouldn’t his wife get to enjoy that?

Well, complaints and slander did not sit well with The Commissioner. The Heebs are flooded with meat and those that eat it are punished, while Miriam gets leprosy and has to leave camp, embarrassed, for seven days. Aaron gets off the hook by immediately apologizing, while Moses tries to make amends all around. Again, not an easy thing to do - have you ever tried mediating an argument between your mom and your sister?

So the end of the weekly reading leaves us with hives, gluttony, wrath, and one very important lesson:

If you ever go over to your friend’s house to eat and the food just ain’t no good, you should probably just eat it. Be thankful for the food that is on your plate. Thank your friend for his hospitality. And stop at Wendy’s on the way home.

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