Behaalotecha (When you light the lamps)

Numbers 11:1 And when the people complained, it displeased יהוה: and יהוה heard it and his anger flared up; and the fire of יהוה burnt among them and consumed those who were on the outskirts of the camp. 2 And the people cried to Moses; and when Moses prayed to יהוה, the fire was stopped. 3 And he called the name of the place Taberah (burning): because the fire of יהוה burnt among them.

Question: How can a person know if he really needs something or merely craves it? A genuine need almost always has a sensible reason behind it, i.e. “I’m hungry because I haven’t eaten since breakfast.” A craving doesn’t, i.e. “I need one more slice of pizza even though I had ten already and I’m about to get sick, because … it tastes good.” Also, for a need, a person is willing to invest himself in a long-term plan to get it, whereas for a craving he feels like he must get it NOW. Also, after a person fulfills a genuine need he generally feels good about it, while after giving in to a craving he often regrets it.

Question: The ability to overcome and act contrary to one’s cravings for the sake of a higher value is a unique human quality and a measure of one’s spirituality. How and why is this so? Animals act only according to impulse; if they are hungry they eat, if they are angered they attack, etc. Something external may impede them, like a bigger animal that wants to eat the same thing they do, but never will they refrain from eating because they are, say, fasting that day in solidarity with their hungry and oppressed brothers across the globe. But יהוה has granted us a unique, higher level of consciousness, with an ability to choose to respond to higher values. To the extent that we tap into and act upon its dictates – instead of listening to our animal impulses – we lift ourselves spiritually.

Question: Often when we give in to our lust, which at the time seem so desirable, we regret it soon afterward. Why do you think this is so? Each of us is really made up of two parts. We have within us a lower self, which is the source of our lustful, impulsive, self-centered cravings, and a higher, more spiritual self which is more focused on giving. When we follow our taking impulse, our lower self experiences a short burst of pleasure which is almost immediately superseded by our higher self’s anguish at our have chosen to act selfishly.

Spiritual Exercise: Ask yourself, “Do I really need this? Or is this just lust or cravings?” Make the better choice this week.