Reading through certain Bible portions can really get one down on the Jewish people. They seem to be constantly rebelling, complaining and ungrateful. However, it is interesting to note that according to the ancient sage Ramban, all these disturbing events took place within the first year and a half of their exodus from Egypt. The only exception was where the people became agitated and ungratefully complained about the heavenly Manna food after Aaron’s death in the last year of their forty year sojourn in the desert. This changes the perspective. For thirty-eight years they were perfectly righteous, no ungrateful complaining and no rebellion whatsoever. Why it is that these rumblings specifically occurred at the beginning and end of their stay in the desert?
The answer is ‘change.’ When the Jewish people left Egypt it was naturally a tremendous upheaval for them. They were unsettled and without absolute peace of mind. They subsequently became accustomed to their new surroundings and circumstances and were settled for the next thirty-eight years. As the time was approaching for their move into the land of Israel and change was imminent, they became unsettled and lost their peace of mind. The psychological state of the Jewish people at the bookends of their travels explains why they specifically were more prone to sin during those time periods. When one loses one’s peace of mind one is unable to think clearly, use proper judgement and make wise decisions. One becomes irrational and negative character traits such as anger, hatred, jealousy and desire tend to emerge.
Some change and upheaval in life is inevitable, nothing in the world remains constant forever. Change naturally has the tendency to disturb peace of mind. The take away message is that you should be acutely aware of your state of mind. At times when you are unsettled and do not have complete peace of mind, you need to be aware of the dangers of your present state of mind. Decisions should be avoided and no action should be taken until you are confident that your actions or speech are underpinned with a clear and peaceful state of mind. I therefore suggest that it is a blessing to cultivate a state of inner calm and peacefulness to ensure you act with wisdom and pure intention. You are then able to serve God appropriately. Be mindful, make it a holy endeavor to create a calm inner state of mind.
Written by Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim, inspired by Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin