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  • Writer's pictureGabbai

Beha’alothecha – Content vs. Presentation

Parshat Beha’alotecha consists of 136 verses, a very long Parsha, and it includes many different ideas and subjects. One of the passages records the complaints of the people, the asafsuf (the tag alongs), who grew tired of the monotonous menu.

“We remember the fish we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now, our life is parched, there is nothing; we have nothing to anticipate but the Manna.” (Numbers 11:5-6)

The Torah then goes on to describe the Manna. Its look was appealing, like tiny white pearls, and its taste was like a cake kneaded in oil (without the calories). The properties of the Manna were like those of a super multivitamin, providing all the nourishment the body required without producing any waste. The Midrash states that the taste of the Manna was such that one could appreciate the flavors of one’s favorite foods in it. It was versatile, could be consumed in any manner the chef prepared it, minced, baked, fried or cooked. It was basically tofu, but of extremely high grade.

What then, was the problem of the rabble rousers? Why were they dissatisfied with the Manna?

There is a simple answer to this on the surface. No matter how much you like pizza there is only so much pizza you can eat before you become sick of it. Nevertheless, surely the Lord thought of this before placing it as the only option on the menu for the next 40 years. This can’t be the reason. They had been in the wilderness for less than 5% of their journey and they were already tired?

I think this reflects a different problem, an issue of attitude regarding presentation. Today we are very familiar with this attitude. The media is more important than the message. It doesn’t matter what is said so much as how it is said and by whom.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, was paralyzed in the lower extremities of his body after an illness he contracted while vacationing in Canada. He was never able to walk after that. Nevertheless, he ran for office and was elected President, something which could never happen today. There are only three known photos of him in a wheelchair. The White House was very careful about photos taken of the President and what they distributed to the press. It would not have gone over well to the public to have a president who was an invalid.

We all know that the ability to lead a country has little to do with physical strength. Nevertheless, a proud nation would not be able to bring itself to elect a leader who’s image is not reflective of the way they would like to portray their country. Roosevelt hid his handicap very well, speaking about it only much later, after he had retired from public life. Today’s intrusive media, with cameras everywhere and the president constantly on the cat walk this could not have happened.

Getting back to food, though, any restauranteur will confirm that presentation counts for more than taste. Chefs and culinary experts spend the lion’s share of their training on presentation of food. Preparing a tasty meal is not nearly as great a challenge as preparing a meal that looks gourmet and appealing on the plate. It has to have various colors and textures. The garnish must be placed just so, in a curl with a flourish. The customer at the table expects nothing less.

My art teacher once told me that the audience will grade a portrait only 25% on likeness. Another 25% will be based on composition but a full 50% of the judgment will be based on the frame. It is a disturbing revelation but it is true. We judge hastily and mostly by external appearances.

‘We remember the fish, the cucumbers and melons in Egypt! We remember the garlic, the colors and variety which gave us an appetite to eat,’ the people cried. They didn’t want to eat merely for the sake of nourishment, they were looking for the pleasure of sitting down to a meal with a feast for the eyes as much as for the stomach. Their eyes were hungry.

This complaint was based on seeing the message in the presentation rather than the content. “…The wrath of the Lord flared greatly and in the eyes of Moses it was bad.” (Numbers 11:10)

Moses was disappointed in the people. He expected more from them. He expected them to see things for their true value and not simply for the image they gave off.

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