Can an indulgent person connect to G-d?
Can people with material desires and cravings integrate with
Can a carnivore be redeemed?
On a more sublime note:
Can spirit and matter truly be fused?
Can a finite universe contain the infinite?
Jewish mysticism talks about the cosmic world of Atzilut. What
is the world about and why do we need it? How would existence
and our lives be different if there were
no Atzilut? (This last question may not bother you as much as
the previous ones, but you will see how this question lies at
the heart of the others. Read on).
These questions are all answered is in a strange
episode in this weeks Torah portion.
The people are not happy with the food G-d provided
them and they demand meat. In the wilderness they were eating
the manna, bread from heaven. They now begin to
weep: Whos going to give us some meat to eat? We
fondly remember the fish that we could eat in Egypt at no cost,
along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic.
But now our spirits are dried up, with nothing but the manna
before our eyes.
Hearing the weeping people, Moses cries to G-d:
Why are you treating me so badly?
Why do You place
such a burden upon me? Was I [the mother] pregnant with this
nation? Did I give birth to them? Yet You told me [that I must]
carry them in my bosom, as a nurse carries an infant to the
land that You promised to their ancestors.
From where should I have meat to give all
these people? I cannot be responsible for this entire nation!
Its too hard for me! If you are going to do this to me,
please kill me
G-d replies: Assemble seventy of Israels
bring them to the Communion Tent [in the Sanctuary]
I will descend and speak with you there and I will impart [emanate]
from the spirit upon you, and I will bestow it upon them. They
will then bear with you the responsibility of the nation, and
you will not have to bear it all alone.
And tell the people as follows: Prepare
yourselves for tomorrow, for you will then have meat to eat
You will eat it not for one day, not for two days, not for five
days, not for ten days, and not for twenty days. But for a full
month, until it is coming out of your nose and making you nauseated.
This is because you rejected G-d Who is among you, and you whined
before Him, why did we ever leave Egypt?
Moses then asks G-d: How will there ever be enough
meat to feed the nation for an entire month? Even if all
the cattle and sheep were slaughtered, could there be enough
for them? If all the fish in the sea were caught, would it be
G-d replies: Has my power become limited.
You will now see whether or not My word will come true.
The story continues. Moses shares G-ds words
with the people. Moses then gathers the seventy elders, G-d
descends in a cloud and speaks to Moses, and He causes the spirit
upon Moses to emanate, and He bestows it upon the seventy elders.
This causes them to gain the gift of prophecy which remains
with them. Moses then wishes that G-d grant His sprit to all
Then G-d causes a wind to blow, sweeping quail
up from the sea, which provides meat for the people. With the
meat still between their teeth, the people begin to die. This
place is named Kivroth HaTaavah, Graves of Craving, for in this
place the people who had these cravings [for meat] were buried.
The entire story is bizarre from beginning to
end, and from all perspectives the people, Moses and
The Jewish people were not small people; they
were the most enlightened generation of all time a dor
deeh (knowledgeable generation). They were highly
evolved and sophisticated. How then did such great people stoop
to a petty craving for
The nation had just witnessed the greatest miracles
in history the Exodus from Egypt, the parting of the
sea. Before that they had endured for 210 years the most terrible
bondage and genocide, and prevailed. A mere eleven months ago
they had experienced the greatest revelation of all time
the giving of Torah at Sinai the single most powerful
document in history, one that lays out the moral and spiritual
blueprint for all ages.
Now, these enlightened children of Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob, have nothing better to be concerned with than eating
And the Torah finds this story important enough
to document for all time! Even if there is some reason why they
craved meat, why do we need to know about this obsession today?
Equally puzzling is Moses reaction. Moses
had been through the worst situations he had confronted
Pharaoh and the Egyptians and prevailed; he faced the sea and
Amalek and prevailed; he had even confronted G-d to forgive
the people after the Golden Calf and prevailed. Moses had received
the Torah and spoken to G-d face to face. After
all that Moses personally experienced, after all he had seen
and accomplished as a true leader, now when he hears that the
Jewish people desire meat, he suddenly feels that he cannot
carry the burden??!!
He could handle Pharaoh, Amalek, all the challenges,
but he cant handle finding
meat! And as a result,
he asks that he be killed!
Furthermore, if the peoples request for
meat is evil angering G-d why does his inability
to provide it for them cause Moses so much grief?
And then when G-d promises him that he will provide
meat, how does Moses question G-ds ability to do so?!
Had Moses not seen greater miracles? Moreover, there are millions
and millions of people in the world eating meat, how can Moses
wonder that all the cattle and sheep will not be
enough? And why does he add the statement about fish, when the
people never asked for fish?
Finally, G-ds response is completely incomprehensible.
If the peoples craving for meat is sinful, why give them
meat in the first place?! G-d should simply reject the request,
and punish the people if He so wishes.
Above all, if this obsession with meat is simply
their failing, why does G-d go through an elaborate process
of emanating from the spirit on Moses to the seventy elders,
so that they can help Moses bear the responsibility of the nation?!
All these questions clearly demonstrate that the
peoples request for meat is not a simple matter, but carries
a much deeper message.
Heres the story in brief:
After the Jewish nation were freed from Egypt
and received the Torah at Sinai, they came to realize the ultimate
purpose of existence: To marry heaven and earth, and fuse spirit
and matter to transform the material universe into a
home for G-d. This was then consummated in the building of the
Sanctuary take your physical materials and build
for me a Mikdash (a sacred home), and I will rest among you.
The people understood that their journey in the
wilderness and all the miracles that provided for their
survival was merely a preparation to bring them into
the Promised Land, where they would need to toil the land, in
a natural setting, and transform it into a sacred place.
This however posed a major philosophical and psychological
quandary: It makes sense that we can be spiritual while we are
insulated in the wilderness, protected by G-ds miracles,
eating bread from heaven, drinking from Miriams
well, surrounded by the Divine clouds of glory. But how can
we expect to maintain spiritual integrity, let alone fuse spirit
and matter, when we will be thrown into the gross, material
world a land that consumes its inhabitants
(as the scouts would argue in next weeks portion), with
all its greed and cruelty, with all its temptations, desires
and cravings? Is it possible to bridge the secular and the sacred
when we find ourselves outside of a spiritual oasis?!
This is why the people requested meat, not because
they suddenly got hungry, but because it represented for them
life as it would be lived in the real world, and
they wanted to know and experience how they would be able to
integrate a carnivorous world with G-dliness.
Their sin was not the request for meat; it was
their obsessive craving for meat. If you read the
verse closely, you see that the story begins with strong cravings
of the the mixed multitude [haasfsuf,
or as they are called elsewhere erev rav,
a mixture of idolatrous nations, who instigated many problems
in the wilderness]. Only afterwards does it say that (this caused
that) the Jewish people should also begin weeping and asking
The request for meat in itself was a positive
request. [Even the craving for meat can be explained as a craving
for the spiritual sparks within the meat, as the Baal Shem Tov
explains in various places]. Self-indulgence on the other hand
is clearly self-destructive, as demonstrated by the fact that
their indulgence in the meat was the cause of their demise.
We always see that greed, lust and desire always end up consuming
the person. Every addiction is bound to cause an overdose.
When Moses heard this request for meat he was
distressed because he realized that their demand was justified.
Moses, being the epitome of spirituality could not fathom
how he could provide them with meat. If you ask me to bring
them Your Torah no problem. If you ask me to inspire
them spiritually no problem. If you ask me to be a
tool for Your miracles that I can do. But from
where should I have meat to give all these people?
Its too hard for me a spiritual leader
to give them physical meat, and bridge the two worlds.
I cannot carry such a burden!
If my role as leader is to help the people fulfill
the purpose of existence to fuse these two dichotomous worlds,
it would be better to kill me because I cannot serve
as such a leader.
In response to this fundamental dilemma, G-d reveals
a new dimension to Moses and the people. This dimension is called
Atzilut. The world of Atzilut serves as an intermediary
between the Divine and the universe. Jewish mysticism elaborates
on the paradoxical nature of Atzilut. On one hand, Atzilut is
the world of Divine emanation; it is not a creation, but a manifested
extension of the Divine. The ten spheres of Atzilut both
the energies and the containers are one with the Divine.
On the other hand, Atzilut is not how G-d is in His Essence,
beyond any definition. Atzilut is G-dliness how G-d manifests
Himself in definition, but not G-d Himself.
The human being was created in the Divine
Image. We all know that G-d transcends and defies an image.
What then is the Divine Image? Kabbalah and Chassidus
explain that this is how G-d manifests Himself in the image
of a supernal manthe world of Atzilut. Atzilut
is the quintessential nature and essence of all of existence.
The role of this paradoxical world is to bridge
the human and the Divine, the secular and the sacred, the finite
and the infinite. If there were no Atzilut, we would be unable
to integrate (with our logical tools) our defined structures
with the Divine. They would remain two mutually exclusive domains.
Atzilut the G-dliness within definition is the
intersection in the cosmic order where heaven meets earth.
The emanation of Atzilut which extends
the spirit of Moses and bestows it on lower levels allows
Moses to carry the burden of leading the people in fulfilling
their mission of fusing matter and spirit.
One can say that Atzilut reveals a deeper dimension
within G-d the power to manifest in the finite. As
the Kabbalist Ibn Gabbai writes (in his Avodat HaKodesh):
Just as G-d has the power of the infinite, He also has
the power of the finite. If one were to say otherwise, one
would be limiting G-ds completeness. When Moses
asks G-d how there will be enough meat for all the people,
he is not wondering about the physical amount of meat (of
course G-d can provide meat for everyone); he is questioning
the ability to unite the finite world of meat and the infinite.
To this G-d replies: Has my power become limited?
Am I limited by the fact that I cannot manifest in
the finite? Definitely not! G-d can manifest in the finite
just as He can in the infinite. Because G-d transcends both.
Our role is to align our lives, our parameters
and structures, with the Divine parameters of Atzilut. We align
our wisdom (Chochma) with the wisdom of G-d as it is Atzilut,
we align our love (chesed) with chesed of Atzilut (and the same
with all the ten human faculties, that evolve from the ten Divine
spheres of Atzilut). And by doing so we integrate the meat
of our universe and all its elements with G-dliness.
Meat represents the ultimate physical food. In
a broad sense it symbolizes the nature of the material world
and all its parameters. Atzilut is the answer to the demand
of the people for meat for a method of how
to create a home for G-d in a world of meat and potatoes.
Obviously, this poses a risk and a challenge.
By engaging the world of matter, we risk begin consumed by it.
The challenge we have is to immerse into the material world,
without indulging in it. To enter the physical life to
consume meat and partake in the other aspects of physical life
and not be seduced by it. We must not allow ourselves
to be reduced to the obsessions of human cravings and desires.
Natural desires, yes. But not an overdose of self-indulgence.
We must sublimate and elevate the meat
of the world and our desire for it into a channel
and vehicle for the sacred and Divine, until we transform the
entire universe into a home for G-d. 
[Sources: The Chassidic discourses on this chapter
in Likkutei Torah, Maamorei Admur HoEmtzoei and Ohr HaTorah.
Likkutei Sichos vol. 4 pp. 1108. For an English adaptation
click here Meat].
 One of the ways we do this is by eating fish before we eat meat
in our meals. Fish creatures of the sea represent
the hidden worlds of the Divine. Fish are always immersed
in their sustenance; they are aware that their existence is
dependent on their source (water). Unlike meat that comes
from land animals, disconnected from their source. Fish are
therefore more conducive to sublimating our meal. By eating
fish first, we then have the power to refine and elevate the
more coarse and potentially self-indulgent meat. This is why
Moses added fish, even though the Jews had only requested
Yet, from Moses perspective, even sublime fish
are removed from the ultimate of the Divine. Atzilut however
bridges the gap.