An antidote for anxiety
The Asafsuf, a group of complainers that were sick of being manna eating vegans, turned to Moshe and demanded meat. Hashem responded by flying in an overabundance of quail, and eventually killed the Asafsuf for their obsessive desire for meat. The area became known as Kivros Hataiva (the burial spot of desire).
The Shem Mi-Shmuel (1855-1926) asks a fundamental question about this story. He’s perplexed why the Asafsuf desired anything other than manna. If we know that manna tasted like anything you wanted it to taste like, why didn’t it suffice for meat?
He explains a fundamental idea that relates to anxiety. The name Asafsuf, comes from the words sof, sof (in the end). The Asafsuf weren’t motivated by their desire for meat, they were worried about the future.
Manna was the food of angels, and to enter into this supernal diet wasn’t a simple shift. For years before the exodus, Hashem would secretly rain down manna, causing it to dissolve into rivers, from which animals and plant life would drink and grow. Absorbed into the bodies of the animals and plants, then consumed by people, the Israelites were acclimatising for their eventual pure manna diet in the desert.
On the verge of entering into the land of Israel, the Asafsuf became worried that their diet would soon revert back to a corporeal one. They were concerned that they wouldn’t have enough time to acclimatise, and thus requested real meat to ease them into their future diet in Israel.
The Shem Mi-Shmuel explains that their sin was lack of trust in Hashem and over concern about the future. Yes, they were being pragmatic, although they should have taken a deep breath and realised that Hashem wouldn’t just shift their diet drastically. Just like he took care of them on entering the desert, he would take care of them in entering into the land of Israel.
The Balvavi comments on how the main source of anxiety is our imagination, and concern about the future. Instead of being present in what we know, which is the here and now, and practically managing our state of affairs with tranquillity and connection to Hashem, we tend to become overly obsessive about the perceived deleterious outcomes of the future.
The plague was thus not a punishment, but the outcome of the Asafsuf’s affliction with anxiety.
The Torah teaches us that one of the main steps in healing our anxious tendency is to relinquish over thinking about the future and ask ourselves: what do I truly know for certain? The only thing that you know truly for certain is the moment you’re in now.
Take a deep breath, release your worries about the future, reconnect with your trust in Hashem, and enter into consciousness of the present moment you have in front of you right now.