D’var Torah: Ask and receive

Rachel LaVictoire

By Rachel LaVictoire

I was a really picky eater when I was young, and I mean really picky. I didn’t like tomatoes, onions, lettuce—well, pretty much all vegetables—corned beef, thin salami (thick was OK), mayonnaise, pepper, fish, beans, sausage, honeydew, cherries… the list goes on and on. In addition, there were other foods I refused under certain conditions: macaroni and cheese that wasn’t Kraft Brand, eggs with pepper in them, tomato sauce with visible tomatoes, anything with burn marks on it—I even went through a period when I liked peanuts but not peanut butter, and then a stage when I liked peanut butter but not peanuts.

But even with all of those absurdly strange preferences, there was one that I will never forget: the Taco Bell tacos. Before I was daring enough to try the pre-combined white/orange cheese, my mom used to bring my brother and me to Taco Bell where I always ordered the No. 8. Its picture on the menu shows it as three hard-shell tacos with ground beef, lettuce and cheese. But when it was my turn to order it, I cast my eyes down and quietly explained I wanted a No. 8 with the soft-shell tacos—no lettuce, no meat, just cheese.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

Nine out of 10 times, when I opened up my No. 8, one of two things would be there: either lettuce or melted cheese. Both constituted a re-order.

Here’s where I should probably add that even more than being a picky eating, I was paralyzed by my shyness. So on those nine out of 10 times when the order came back wrong, I would send my brother back up to the cashier while I hid. And that’s how things went—I was never the one to send back an order. Eventually, my family decided I was too old to still be shirking that responsibility and I’d either have to eat what was given to me or ask for a replacement myself.

I couldn’t do it, I thought. But one day my grandma shared a piece of advice that changed everything. She told me, “The worst thing that could happen when you ask, is that they say no. As long as you can deal with ‘no,’ then you’re OK. So, don’t be afraid to ask, as long as you can handle no.” It seemed reasonable. My requests weren’t demands—the waiter/cashier could say no, but that’s all they could do, so asking for what I want meant either getting it or being told “no.” I could handle either outcome.

In this week’s Torah portion Behaalotecha, a small group of men come to the same realization, but on a much larger scale. The third aliyah, or reading, of Behaalotecha begins as follows: “The Lord spoke to Moses in the Sinai Desert… saying: The children of Israel shall make the Passover… on the afternoon of the fourteenth of this month… in accordance with all its statutes and all its ordinances” (Numbers 9:1-3). Moses relayed the message to the Israelites and they began preparation for the Passover. And when all was said and done, and the sacrifice had been made, a group of men approached Moses and Aaron with a daring question.

The law clearly states those who have had contact with the dead are ritually unclean, and those who are ritually unclean may not partake in the Passover sacrifice—but these men asked anyway: “We are ritually unclean because of contact with a dead person; but why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed time, with all the children of Israel?” (Numbers 9:7).

I was scared for those men when I read this. Here you have a group of ritually unclean men approaching two powerful leaders only to question the authority of the one being that’s even more powerful than the leaders themselves. And what happens? Moses hears the men, brings their inquiry to G-d, and listens as G-d responds saying, “Speak to the children of Israel saying, Any person who becomes unclean from contact with the dead, or is on a distant journey, whether among you or in future generations, he shall make a Passover sacrifice for the Lord” (Numbers 9:10). Simple as that—ask and receive.

See, there’s another level to this whole asking thing, and that’s confidence. We ask for things because we either want them, or we feel deserving of them. By asking for something specific, you’re really just petitioning for someone to agree with you. So how confident are you? If you feel you’ve earned a raise, why should your boss think differently? If you believe you deserve the specific meal that you ordered (politely), why should you feel guilty sending it back? Finally, if you’re any human being who feels strongly about making a connection to G-d, why should you sit idly and allow rules to prevent you from doing so? Don’t be afraid to ask as long as you can handle, “no.”