Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Sivan 5759, June 2 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Sponsored by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Produced and housed by

Opinion & Comment
Digging Up the Kivros Hata'avo
By HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman

The rabble which clamored for meat sat and wept . . . "We remembered the fish and the squash and the watermelons . . . and now our souls are dry. All we have to look forward to is the mann . . . " (Bamidbor 11,5).

From a superficial glance, one cannot understand what the rabble really wanted. What were they lacking? Couldn't they savor any and every taste they wished within the mann, including that of squash and watermelon?

The Ibn Ezra succinctly illuminates the matter and derives a deep lesson applicable to everyday life. "And now, our souls are dry." "The soul which lusts, which is embedded in the liver -- is arid." True, they were able to savor all the good tastes in the world within the mann, but the salivating appetite, that ravenous hunger-lust that accompanies eating, was missing. A hungering, hankering soul assuages its craving through satisfying eating. But this element was missing, and their animal-souls felt dry and wanting without that preliminary craving.

The truth is that the rabble pinpointed exactly the purpose of the mann and its divine design, which was to circumvent that precise element that they felt was lacking.

Chovos Halevovos writes in Sha'ar Haprishus; "Hashem grafted, as it were, the power of craving unto the soul of man, in order that it should seek to satisfy his hunger through food, to improve and uphold mankind. He also appointed the good inclination to monitor it and guide it towards the food and drink that will benefit and improve the soul. But Torah-guided people must curb their appetites and abstain from indulgence. The intellect must regulate a person and restrain his appetite, for the reverse, the ascendancy of craving over one's good sense, is the beginning of all sin."

The elementary need to survive through food and drink is composed of two opposing interests. Food sustains and improves life, and for this end it is necessary to want to eat. On the other hand, this drive to satisfy one's natural hunger embodies an appetite which can become exaggerated and lead to all kinds of sin. The daily usage of one's sense of hunger can fortify a person, but can also lead to negative results. It is, therefore, crucial to maintain a proper perspective towards the function of eating. Our attitude towards it should be according to the marvelous definition of the Chovos Halevovos: " . . . and He appointed the yetzer over it to direct it towards [sustaining] food and drink."

In other words, the intervention of the good and evil drives within a person through a sense of hunger and the subsequent pleasure in assuaging that hunger is a specific, designated purpose, an appointment. The yetzer has been charged with the task of guiding a person towards the right foods. Were it not for drive and appetite, we might neglect this important function. But after the good inclination has fulfilled its task faithfully, it must step aside. Food is not something merely to satisfy one's lust, G-d forbid. It is "the table before Hashem"! The yetzer is merely the driver, the one who steers the person to the table so that he will get the physical sustenance he needs to keep on functioning.

The period of the mann was an educational course, a schooling to get across this vital concept. Eating of the mann taught people to regard food in the proper perspective. The mann's unchanging form and its regularity cut out much of the fuss and unnecessary bother involving food, that is, the nonessential "trimmings." People ate when they needed to, when their bodies called for fuel -- and not vice versa, when their appetites were aroused by the form and enticement of savory preparation.

There is a very fine-line difference separating pleasure in eating and the "experience" of eating. The mann preserved this delicate distinction.

But the rabble craved. They simply craved craving! They wanted to rouse their appetites, to titillate their senses with a desire to indulge in eating. They did not want this craving to atrophy. They wanted to be tempted by savory food, by the experience of indulgent eating for the sake of eating. For this end, one needs color, texture, form -- all those things that arouse one's appetite even when one is not necessarily hungry. They wanted eating to be in the category of a gastronomic experience. They were gourmet-hungry.

"And Hashem said to Moshe: And to the people shall you say; Sanctify yourself for the morrow and you will eat meat. And Moshe said: Shall flocks and herds be slain for them to suffice them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them to suffice them?" Beer Moshe explains, "Moshe argued that quantities of cattle would not suffice them because their's was an appetite of lust and not a desire to satisfy a physical hunger, since they said: Give us meat and we will eat. They did not want the meat, per se: they wished to gorge themselves, to have an orgy. To eat for the sake of eating. `A tzaddik eats to satisfy his soul, while the stomachs of the wicked are always lacking.' They can never be sated, for they will always crave more and more, even on a full stomach. They will always hunger, no matter how much they have." Their eyes will always be bigger than their stomachs.

Hashem, therefore, answered: "Shall the hand of Hashem fall short?" Even for this, there is an answer. "Until it comes out of their noses and disgusts them." Hashem will cause them to be disgusted with the very act of eating. That is why this place was called Kivros Hata'avo -- The Graves of the Craving. It was here that they buried the very lust for eating as an activity, as an indulgence and pastime.


This portion has deep significance and relevance for our present day generation, in which eating has turned into a culinary culture, an "art." But the innovators, so to speak, the originators, were the Desert Generation Rabble. In the end, all of Israel sat down and wept. We are all affected and afflicted in some measure. All of these eateries eventually get their Glatt Kosher signs and supervision. We cannot help but bemoan the common phenomenon of eating out in restaurants, as a pastime, a form of entertainment, where the true, original function of eating loses its meaning and is drowned and gorged out.

All the distinctions between "A tzaddik eats to satisfy his soul" and "the bellies of the wicked are lacking" are effaced. The eating of the righteous is of the nature of, "He did not omit anything in His world and created in it goodly trees to please mankind." The other kind of eating is described by Chovos Halevovos as: "[those] who make a deity of their stomachs and a god of their clothing and are altogether misguided in pursuing foolishness dictated by lusts . . . " This is the eating of the rabble, this is the digging up of Kivros Hata'avo.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.