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There were numerous times that B'nai Yisra'el complained to Moshe (and, sometimes, Aharon) about the lack of food or water in the desert. But, it seems that sometimes G-d punishes them and sometimes not. Examples:

Not punished

  • At Marah (Shemot 15:24)
  • Mahn (Shemot 16:2)
  • Refidim (Shemot 17:2) although according to a number of commentaries, the reason that Amalek attacked them was a form of punishment. But the Torah, itself, doesn't indicate any punishment.
  • Kadesh (Bemidbar 20:3)

Punished

  • Complaint about the mahn in Bemidbar 11
  • After leaving Hor Hahar (Bemidbar 21:4)

What was the difference in these situations? Was there some "leniency" in the first two or three situations because the nation was "new" and the people were still earning and getting accustomed to Moshe's leadership?

  • The links I gave you helped me to answer the same questions! – Levi Jan 24 '18 at 6:10
  • I once heard a shiur regarding moshe hitting the rock. It was brought up in the shiur that one of the commentaries (perhaps the Ohr Hachaim, I don't remember) differentiated between different kinds of complaints (some where G-d got angry, and some where He didn't). Basically, any time the jews complained about a lack of necessities (e.g. water, bread), G-d did not get angry. When they complained about luxuries (e.g. meat), G-d did get angry. I wish I could remember which meforesh it was, since I want to look it up inside – Menachem Jan 24 '18 at 6:47
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Not punished:

וַיִּלֹּ֧נוּ הָעָ֛ם עַל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹ֖ר מַה־נִּשְׁתֶּֽה׃ (Shemos 15:24)

וַיִּלּ֜וֹנוּ כׇּל־עֲדַ֧ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל עַל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹ֖ן בַּמִּדְבָּֽר׃ (Shemos 16:2)

וַיָּ֤רֶב הָעָם֙ עִם־מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ תְּנוּ־לָ֥נוּ מַ֖יִם וְנִשְׁתֶּ֑ה וַיֹּ֤אמֶר לָהֶם֙ מֹשֶׁ֔ה מַה־תְּרִיבוּן֙ עִמָּדִ֔י מַה־תְּנַסּ֖וּן אֶת־י״יֽ׃ (Shemos 17:2, repeated again in 17:3)

וַיָּ֥רֶב הָעָ֖ם עִם־מֹשֶׁ֑ה וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ לֵאמֹ֔ר וְל֥וּ גָוַ֛עְנוּ בִּגְוַ֥ע אַחֵ֖ינוּ לִפְנֵ֥י י״י׃ (Bamidbar 20:3)

Punished:

וַיְהִ֤י הָעָם֙ כְּמִתְאֹ֣נְנִ֔ים רַ֖ע בְּאׇזְנֵ֣י י״י֑ וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ע י״י֙ וַיִּ֣חַר אַפּ֔וֹ וַתִּבְעַר־בָּם֙ אֵ֣שׁ י״י֔ וַתֹּ֖אכַל בִּקְצֵ֥ה הַֽמַּחֲנֶֽה׃ (Bamidbar 11:1)

וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר הָעָ֗ם בֵּֽאלֹהִים֮ וּבְמֹשֶׁה֒ לָמָ֤ה הֶֽעֱלִיתֻ֙נוּ֙ מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם לָמ֖וּת בַּמִּדְבָּ֑ר כִּ֣י אֵ֥ין לֶ֙חֶם֙ וְאֵ֣ין מַ֔יִם וְנַפְשֵׁ֣נוּ קָ֔צָה בַּלֶּ֖חֶם הַקְּלֹקֵֽל׃ (Bamidbar 21:5, repeated again in 21:7)

I think I have noticed an important distinction, namely, that the nation speaks out directly against God in the instances where they are punished. However, I didn't look through the Mefarshim to see if they note it. Feedback welcome.

  • Please add some more explanation. I see that you highlighted some words, but you didn't exactly explain things. I'm mentioning this, mainly, for the other readers that don't quite follow the Hebrew. I think I understand your point, here. My question is that e.g., in the mahn story, Moshe tells the people "Your complaint is not against us, but against G-d." Moshe's statement seems to contradict your premise in at least one place. I haven't checked the rest of the unpunished ones. – DanF Jan 23 '18 at 22:48
  • @DanF Updated. Re: your question - exactly my point, the people aren't complaining against hashem, they just want their leader Moshe to provide them with food, water, etc. Moshe tells them that it is also a complaint against hashem, but they didn't know that. Also note the wording of complaint/argument (against Moshe) vs. speaking out badly (against Hashem). – רבות מחשבות Jan 24 '18 at 2:24
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Rav Hirsch points out that the situations were different. For example, at Mara they came and found water that was impossible to drink. After Eilim, they found themselves in the dessert with nothing visible as to how they would be given food or water. As slaves they had been accustomed to their masters making sure that food and drink were always available. They had not yet learned that Hashem was indeed providing for them. In fact, Hashem was already about to provide them with the man.

As Rav Hirsch explains in Beshalach 17:5:

In these two verses, Hashem tells Moshe what would have occurred even without the people having "complained". They were to be given daily only and exactly the requirements for that day to accustom them to look up to Hashem, with confidence for the so-called petty necessities of daily life, and to impress them with the certainty that each individual man and each man's individual home is a special object to which Hashem gives his attention:

Rav Hirsch points out that at Rephidim, they were indeed punished for panicking as Amalek attacked them when they lost control and started running to the well of Miriam. This was part of the lesson that they were supposed to learn.

Verse 17:1

The entire community of the children of Israel journeyed from the desert of Sin to their travels by the mandate of the Lord. They encamped in Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink.

They still had water but had been accustomed to finding water already available. Here they complained (as Rav Hirsch points out)

Here they were not yet making reproaches, did not refer to their requirements, but as a justified claim, demanded water. Where we camp there must be water.

Later in verse 3, Hashem let them get thirsty to show them the lesson.

The people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and they said, Why have you brought us up from Egypt to make me and my children and my livestock die of thirst?

Rav Hirsch shows that

From Rephidim to Horeb is but one station and from these verses seems to have hardly been a day's journey. It seems that, had it not been for their untimely murmurrings, Hashem would have let them feel the scarcity in Rephidim and let them move on to Horeb, which was the real goal of their wandering in the wilderness, and then there at Horeb, He would let water gush out of the rock for them.

Similarly, at kadesh they were suddenly faced with the loss of the well that had accompanied them for forty years and which they assumed was their due. The sudden shock of the loss caused them to think that Moshe had made a mistake.

Chukas 20:2

The congregation had no water; so they assembled against Moses and Aaron.

On the other hand Beha'aloscha 11:1

The people were looking to complain, and it was evil in the ears of the Lord. The Lord heard and His anger flared, and a fire from the Lord burned among them, consuming the extremes of the camp.

Rav Hirsch translates

וְהָֽאסַפְסֻף֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר בְּקִרְבּ֔וֹ הִתְאַוּ֖וּ תַּֽאֲוָ֑ה

But the rabble that they had taken in amongst them goaded themselves on to desires

Which means that they deliberately tried to pretend to have complaints rather than being faced with problems that they had no precedent for dealing with. They were just attempting to make an excuse to complain.

Similarly in Chukas 21:4

וַיִּסְע֞וּ מֵהֹ֤ר הָהָר֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ יַם־ס֔וּף לִסְבֹ֖ב אֶת־אֶ֣רֶץ אֱד֑וֹם וַתִּקְצַ֥ר נֶֽפֶשׁ־הָעָ֖ם בַּדָּֽרֶךְ

Rav Hirsch translates as

and the soul of the people was impatient of the way

That is they became impatient as to the way of traveling and complained about something that they had regularly for the past 40 years. As a result, Hashem showed them that the ease and comfort that they had become accustomed to over the past forty years was an illusion. If they did not have the לֶּ֖חֶם הַקְּלֹקֵֽל and all the nissim that protected them, they would have been subject to the natural dangers of the dessert (like the fiery snakes).

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