Parashas Bamidbar

In Yirmiyahu 2:31, we find Hashem exclaiming: “Have I been a wilderness to Israel, or a land of deep darkness? Why have My people said, ‘We separate ourselves (radnu) – we shall no longer come to You’?” In Bamidbar Rabbah 1:2, the Midrash elaborates on this verse. It describes Hashem relating how He took the Jewish People out of Egypt, and granted them sustenance and comfort during their journey to the Land of Israel, so that the land they traveled through could hardly be called a wilderness. The Midrash then notes Hashem’s exclamation: “Have I been a wilderness to Israel, or a land of deep darkness?” Afterward, it describes the Jewish People’s response:
When a loaf is stuck on the wall of an oven to bake, and is then removed from the oven, can it be stuck back on the wall of the oven again? (Here radnu is taken as an allusion to redias ha-pas: the removal of the loaf from the wall of the oven.) We were as if in an oven, as it is written (Yeshayah 31:9): “He [Hashem] has an oven in Jerusalem.” We were then exiled to Babylonia.
Finally, the Midrash presents Hashem’s retort: “Why have My people said, ‘We separate ourselves (radnu) – we shall no longer come to You’?”
The Maggid explains this Midrash with a clever doctor-patient allegory. A patient comes to an expert doctor in the fall season, seeking treatment for an ailment. The doctor administers a series of unpleasant treatments and sends the patient home. When spring arrives, the doctor summons the patient back. The patient is bewildered, and he asks the doctor why he called for him. The doctor explains: “You thought that the treatment I gave you in the fall would cure your illness. But it is not so. The illness you have is one that can be treated only in the spring. The treatment I gave you in the fall was what we doctors call a placebo – a dummy treatment to keep you from worrying. Now I will give you the real treatment, a much more wrenching one than the one I gave you before.”
The parallel is as follows. The Jewish People knew that they would inherit the Land of Israel only through suffering (cf. Berachos 5a). They assumed that the hardships they endured in their journey from Egypt to the Land of Israel constituted the required suffering, and that they would then inherit the land permanently. But afterward they were exiled to Babylonia. They thought they would never return to the Land of Israel, just like a loaf that has been removed from an oven cannot be stuck back on the wall of the oven again. Hashem then explained to them that they had the story all wrong. The journey from Egypt to the Land of Israel was in fact relatively comfortable. They were subjected to a few mild hardships in order to make them think that they were being prepared for inheriting the Land of Israel permanently. But in fact it was not yet time for them to do so, and the hardships were, so to speak, only a dummy treatment. The real treatment began when the Jewish People went into exile. The afflictions we suffer in exile are far worse than the hardships the wilderness generation suffered, but through them we will ultimately inherit the Land of Israel for good. 
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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