Chapter eleven in this Torah portion begins with a very enigmatic verse: “And the people were like complainers; evil in the ears of Gd, and Gd heard and his wrath flared and a fire of Gd burned against them, and it consumed at the edge of the camp”. Curiously, they are not referred to simply as “complainers”. Rather, they are described as “like complainers”. Furthermore, we are not told what they were complaining about.
Abarbanel explains that despite the fact that Jewish People had spent an entire year at Sinai where they had received the Torah with its teachings and Divine admonitions, they never really abandoned the heretical beliefs that they had absorbed in Egypt. Similarly, they had imitated the crass Egyptian character, especially in regard to eating and drinking. Here, at Sinai, in a place where the Divine Torah should have straightened out their crooked beliefs and character, the Egyptian influence still could not be completely erased. Despite the fact that they were accompanied by the Ark of the Covenant and led by the Clouds of Glory, the two episodes that begin this chapter illustrate the failure of belief and character which remained with them.
The Hebrew word that is usually translated as “complainers” actually means, in the context of our text, “those who sought a pretext to complain”. Abarbanel then transfigures the rest of the verse so that it reads as follows: “They sought pretexts to prove that
The people were essentially mocking Moshe’s words. They didn’t believe that
Since their transgression does involve an overtly public action, the Torah does not go into further detail. Rather, to counter their claim that