The closer we are to God, the more we are able to put our cravings into perspective.
The following article is reprinted with permission from Kolel: The Adult Centre for Liberal Jewish Learning.
This parasha is thematically diverse, beginning with the Menorah in the Mishkan (Tabernacle), then proceeding to a description of the dedication of the Levites as assistants to the priests. The Israelites celebrate the Pesach holy day in the wilderness, but some men can't bring the sacrifice, due to ritual impurity, so God gives them a second chance, a month later. Then the Israelites complain about their diet of heavenly manna--so God, apparently frustrated sends them so much meat that it comes out their nostrils! Aharon and Miriam speak slander against Moses and his wife; Miriam is stricken with a scaly skin outbreak and sent out of the camp.
"The meat was still between their teeth when [the people] began to die. God's anger was displayed against the people, and God struck them with an extremely severe striking. He named the place "Graves of Craving" (Kivrot HaTa'avah), since it was in that place where they buried the people who had these cravings. From Graves of Craving, the people traveled to Chatzerot. . . ." (Numbers 11:33-35)
After the people demand meat from Moshe--they were apparently unsatisfied with having all their food sent directly from Heaven!--God sends a huge flock of quail for the people to eat. The Israelites collected all the quail they could, intending to eat meat like gluttons, when God sends a punishment for the people's ingratitude and lack of faith. Thus, the place where they stopped was called "Graves of Craving," because people died there because of their craving for meat.
This is not the first time we see a significant place name in the Torah. For example, in Genesis 28:19, Yaakov sets up a pillar to mark the place where he had his amazing vision of the ladder to heaven; he then calls the spot "Bet-El," or "House of God," reflecting the theophany which occurred there. Academic Bible scholars tend to see these names as history retrojected back onto the text, an explanation of a name or tradition that was already old by the time the Torah was set down in writing.
The Torah itself simply tells us the meaning of a name in a straightforward fashion, as above: Kivrot-HaTa'avah got its name because the "Cravers" [the mita'avim] of meat, who did not appreciate or acknowledge the tremendous miracle God was giving them, died and were buried there [in kevurot, graves.] The moral of the story in its "pshat" (simple) reading might be that not being able to appreciate our blessings can bring potentially deadly results.
It's not so distant from contemporary society: think of how many people have had heart attacks or strokes from a lifetime of stress, trying to "make it" with ever greater material and career success. Pausing to appreciate what we have is such a seemingly basic principle that it's easy to forget; this story confronts us with the potentially dire consequences of "cravings" far in excess of what is appropriate for a balanced and joyous life.
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