Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Table Talk -- Beha'alosecha 5767

When the Jewish people complain to Moshe, and actually threaten to return to Egypt because they miss the Egyptian meat, God responds swiftly. “They want meat?” He asks. “I’ll give them meat, but only meat. And by the end of thirty days, they’ll be so sick of the meat that it will come out of their noses.” Obviously, this was before the Atkins diet.
But then, when the quail begin to fly and the people collect huge piles of quail to satisfy their craving, the Torah tells us that הַבָּשָׂר, עוֹדֶנּוּ בֵּין שִׁנֵּיהֶם -- “Even as the meat was between their teeth,” the wrath of God struck the people. So which really happened: did the people eat the meat growing progressively disgusted with it until it literally killed them, or did they perish swiftly and suddenly at the first bite? Rashi tells us that it was both. Some died suddenly, while others only after a month. Who got which punishment? That’s less clear.

According to the first opinion in Rashi (see Rashi on
11:20), the כשרים – the more worthy – lived through the month of meat, while the רשעים – the truly evil – perished immediately. But Rashi presents the position of the Midrash that presently precisely the opposite position: the evil lasted a month, while the meritorious lost their lives right away.
So what’s worse: getting a punishment up front, or suffering through a long and difficult process? I guess that depends upon your point of view. But I’d like to ask the opposite question (which is also a good discussion for the Shabbos table): if you had to receive a reward or a gift, which would you rather have: getting a big reward all at once, or receiving a little bit at a time over a long period?