1 And the people were as murmurers, speaking evil in the ears of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled; and the fire of the LORD burnt among them, and devoured in the uttermost part of the camp.
What exactly were Bnei Yisrael murmuring about and why was it considered “evil in the eyes of the Lord.”? By leaving the source of the discord undefined, the Torah opens the stage for many suggestions.
According to Ramban, there was a very specific concern that Bnei Yisrael were expressing.
“The correct interpretation appears to me to be that as they got further way from Mount Sinai, which was near an inhabitable settlement, and entered “the great and dreadful wilderness” in their journey, they became upset and said: What she we do? How shall we live in the wilderness? What shall we eat and what shall we drink?”
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson ob”m points out the mistake of this approach. A desert is defined by 2 things, 1) lack of inhabitants and 2) lack of food. The fact that the Jewish people were in the desert, accompanied by the well of water and the manna turned the desert into a “Yishuv” an inhabited place. Bnei Yisrael’s inability to perceive the reality of their situation was considered evil in God’s eyes.
Rabbi Schneerson extends this to the spiritual realm. One may think the place they are in is a spiritual desert and that staying there is dangerous to their soul – so they leave. To this the Torah answers that by being their and being a positive influence on one’s surroundings, the spiritual desert can be transformed into a spiritual Yishuv. The inability to recognize ones power to positively influence a situation is evil in the eyes of God.
What does this have to do with Modern Orthodoxy? A great deal! Modern Orthodoxy seems to be allergic to those so called spiritual deserts. We have a hard time placing rabbis in small towns and we have almost no “frontier” modern orthodox shuls where the Jewish amenities are not what they are in NY and LA. In the process we are ignoring our responsibility to God, the Torah and the Jewish People.
Modern Orthodoxy needs chalutzim – pioneers who are willing to go to the so called spiritual deserts of America and teach Judaism according to principals of Modern Orthodoxy! I suggest that our product is the most marketable to the vast numbers of American Jews. Modern Orthodoxy will not ask the masses to give up valuing modernity. At the same time we can offer approaches and answers to life’s big questions. We have the tools to illustrate the relevance of Judaism in the modern world.
By limiting ourselves to the strong Jewish centers we are relegating ourselves to “preaching to the choir” and wasting resources.
We need modern orthodox philanthropists to step forward to accomplish this. We need people of vision willing to invest to turn the deserts into outposts of modern orthodoxy.
Modern Orthodoxy will be strengthened in numbers as well as in terms of our self respect. When our community sees modern orthodoxy spreading there will be an instant injection of pride – we only spread that which we truly believe in.
It is our turn to explore the “Final Frontier.”….to seek out new (Jewish) life and new (Jewish) civilizations; to boldly go where no (MO) man has gone before.”