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B'Midbar/Numbers 16:14 And moreover ... nor have you given to us an inheritance of field and vineyard!
The verb - a Qal 2ms prefix form of the root , to give - has the literal translation "and you have given", so needs to be combined with the two words - morever not - from the start of the verse to hear the full meaning of the complaint. The first phrase of the verse, "Moreover, you have not brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey" has been discussed earlier, but the negative particle carries through to include this second expectation of the people that Moshe had failed to meet. The people are still in the desert; they have just heard the consequences of listening to the bad report of the ten spies and refusing to enter the Land: that the whole of their generation will die in the desert because they would not believe and obey G-d; so they turn on Moshe and accuse him of trying to "lord it over us as well" (v. 13, Friedman). "Who do you think you are," the rebels complain, "who can't even keep your own promises?"
Targum Onkelos takes the Hebrew collective singular "field and vineyard" and pluralises them: "fields and vineyards". Moving away from the generalised idea of the collective field and vineyard, it worsens the offence by insisting that everyone should have them, each for themselves, as their own personal possession. The Sforno suggests that the rebels think that Moshe is deliberately making fun of them: "You jest with us for you have not brought to the Land into which you said and still you speak as though you have given us such an inheritance by commanding us those commandments which are connected only to the Land - 'When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard' (Vayikra 19:9-10, ESV) - as thought it was already ours and we have fields and vineyards in it."
RabbiHirsch paraphrases the complaint to show the measure of breakdown between Moshe and the rebels: "this means, 'To us, the older generation which came out of Egypt, you have already brought misfortune and broken your word. But we do not even believe at all in your further promise that our children will come to possess the land.'" He portrays the people, who now knew that they were going to die in the wilderness, although they incorrectly blame that on Moshe rather than themselves and accuse him of having broken his word to them, as having used that to destroy even the possibility that their children will ever inherit the Land.
What we seem to see, then, is that the people have developed an obsession with land, with property, with tangible assets, as a way of deciding whether the promises of G-d are real and being accomplished. Although they were nothing but landless slaves in Egypt, they have latched on to the idea of owning their very own personal piece of real estate as being the barometer by which they evaluate their relationship with G-d. It is as if all the way through the wilderness so far, they have had the picture of their own vineyard or field as their personal target - that was what they were going for: the reason for the flight from Egypt was to bring them to their own set of fields and vineyard. Now that they had lost the chance of ever achieving that for themselves, because of their own disbelief in what G-d could do, they attempt switch the blame on to Moshe by claiming that he had broken his promises to them and failed to give them their rights. "If we can see it and have it, we'll believe it," they scream, "otherwise you lied. We want our rights!"
The writer to the Hebrews draws a very different picture of the relationship betweenHaShem, the patriarchs and the Land. Had G-d promised Avraham the Land? Certainly He had: "Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you" (B'resheet 13:17, ESV). What about Yitz'khak? He was the offspring: "To your offspring I give this land" (15:18, ESV). And Ya'akov? "The land that I gave to Abraham and Isaac I will give to you, and I will give the land to your offspring after you" (35:12, ESV). G-d's promise is then repeated, nearly forty years after the rebellion in our text, by Moshe to the people that are actually about to enter the Land: "Go, take possession of the land that the L-RD swore to your fathers, Avraham, Yitz'khak and Ya'akov, to assign to them and to their heirs after them" (D'varim 1:8, JPS). This was an oft repeated and well known promise, held and cherished by the patriarchs who are complimented for their faith in believing that promise against all apparent odds: "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise" (Hebrew 11:8-9, ESV). Avraham set out into the blue; Yitz'khak stayed in the Land in spite of famine and aggression from its then inhabitants; Ya'akov was brought up in the Land, left for twenty years, raised his own family in the Land and then finally went down to Egypt. None of them realised the promise of ownership and possession they had been given: "These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth" (v. 13, ESV).
How did they do that? What stopped them becoming fixated on the Land itself? Why didn't they complain about the lack of fields and vineyards, tenured security and land ownership? The writer to the Hebrew explains: "For he [that is, Avraham] was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is G-d" (v. 10, ESV). The patriarchs knew that they were called to something beyond bricks and mortar; they had been called by G-d Himself, to participate in the kingdom of G-d, based upon G-d's promises and the realities of life that is provided and sustained each day by G-d. They recognised and welcomed God's promises for their descendants, while depending each day on G-d's provision for that day: food, water and the tent over their heads.
So the question for us today is: do we have a fixation on land, on stuff, on tangible assets that we think are our right? Have we translated G-d's "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV) into a promise of a comfortable home, of material and financial prosperity, of good health and family, of possessions and ephemera to satisfy most - if not all - of our whims? Do we then get disappointed and pout at G-d when He fails to meet our demands - after all, He promised; it is our right! Society today has become insistent upon its rights: the right to have and spend money, even at the expense of others; the right to practice birth control by killing unborn children; the right to to worship all, any or no god(s); the right to as many sexual relationships we we like, with whomever we like, of whatever gender we like; the right to squander the earth's resources as and when we please; the right to abuse our own bodies with drugs, alcohol and tobacco, and then be rescued from the results of our own folly; even the right to be right about everything without censure or criticism.
We have to learn that with rights (or privileges) come responsibilities. With freedom comes accountability for the way we have used that freedom. As Yeshua said, "From him who has been given much, much will be demanded" (Luke 12:48, CJB). Those who rebelled in the desert discovered that fairly quickly: "the ground that was under them split open; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah, with their possessions" (B'Midbar 16:31-32); G-d executed summary judgement against them, with no right of appeal. No less must believers be careful that we do not find ourselves insisting upon "our rights" and defying or fighting G-d, lest we too be subject to His judgement: "man will be brought low and mankind humbled, the eyes of the arrogant humbled" (Isaiah 5:15, NIV). We need instead to fix our hope and aspirations upon Yeshua and His kingdom; we need to focus on Him: hearing and obeying His words. He will provide for us, that is a sure and certain promise, as we seek Him: "seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33, CJB). Our primary concern is for Him; we leave Him to take care of the rest!
Further Study: Romans 1:19-20; Matthew 11:28-30
Is that new CD or jacket so important that it is blocking your relationship
with G-d? Perhaps it is time to adjust your life priorities and move Him
back to the number one slot.
© Jonathan Allen, 2012
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© Jonathan Allen, 2012
Your turn - what do you think of the ideas in this drash ?Like most print and online magazines, we reserve the right to edit or publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.