What We Crave

By Mark Gerson

The Torah, in Numbers 11, offers a tantalizing possibility. In so doing, the Torah performs its wonder in guiding us toward a happier, better, and more meaningful life today—in this case by showing us what might be the most fundamental human need and what it means to be created in the image of God. 

In the previous chapter, Moses pleads with his beloved Gentile father-in-law, Jethro, to stay with the Jews for what would become the crucial final months in the wilderness en route to the promised land. He tells Jethro that he had been “as eyes for us” and uses the term “good” several times in describing their situation. Without substantively commenting, Jethro declines, saying that he will return to his family instead. 

Does Jethro—the “eyes” of the Jews—see the situation as something other than “good”? 

Three days after Jethro departs, the Jews start behaving “like complainers.” What a phrase—“like complainers”! The language indicates that they are not actually complaining. And how could we be? We Jews are protected by God from the heat of the day and the cold of the night, we are led by the great Moses and his remarkable siblings, we are spiritually nourished by the Torah, we have defeated every external enemy, we are en route to the promised land, and we are fed by manna reliably delivered from Heaven that tastes like “wafers dipped in honey.”  

With our needs completely fulfilled, we have nothing to complain about—yet we are “like complainers.” Is that because people always complain? Has complaining become a reflex action or a default posture? Whether that is true or false, it is certainly something to think about. 

The Torah’s lesson does not stop there. It asks us an even more profound question: Could it be that the people who are acting “like complainers” really have something to complain about? 

The Torah teaches us, in another remarkable phrase, that the people “craved a craving.” Craved a craving? Isn’t a craving something that we seek to satiate? We crave coffee to wake up in the morning, ice cream to cool down on a summer day, or a relationship to alleviate loneliness—the whole point is to satisfy the craving! 

Let’s see what the people crave. They crave the “fish … cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic” they ate in Egypt—and “complain” that “we have nothing to anticipate but the manna.” Why would they crave the aforementioned foods and disdain the manna—which, as the ancient Rabbis interpreted, could taste like wafers dipped in honey or anything else the people imagined. If they want cucumbers or melons, all they have to do is to imagine that the manna is that—and presto, it effectively is!

But effectively is not good enough. Those foods, which seem quite diverse, have one thing in common: They do not grow on trees. They all come from the ground. In order to enjoy them, one has to work for them. 

The “like complainers” demonstrate through action their problem with manna. They gather it and “grind it in a mill or pound it in a mortar and cook it in a pot or make it into cakes.” These ancient Jews took the perfect food—and worked it. This is interesting. Why do we work things? Or, more precisely, why do we think that we need to work things? The obvious answer: to make them suitable for our consumption. But if that were the case, then why would our ancestors have worked something that was already perfect? 

Because we really are created in God’s image. The first thing that God does in the Torah is to create—light, water, the sun, the moon, animals, people, everything. God, being God, didn’t have to create anything. He could have snapped His divine fingers and had everything appear at once. But he values the process, pausing and naming his creations—and deeming some good, some very good, and some neither. If God needs to create, then so do those created in His image. 

The ramifications of this phenomenon are observed in the Talmud, the canonical book of Torah commentary from early in the first millennium. Rav Kahana observes that a person prefers a kav (“a measure of grain”) of his own produce to nine kav of another’s—and Rabbi Ben Heh Heh said, “According to the effort is the reward.” It has, this decade, been demonstrated by social scientists from Yale, Harvard and Duke as the Ikea Effect. “The more effort people put into a pursuit,” these scientists describe, “the more they come to value it.” In their study, consumers were willing to pay 63% more for an item that they constructed than for one that was constructed for them.  

This is one of dozens of examples of how 21st-century social science is confirming Torah truths. And it reminds us that we have the same psychology as our ancestors in the Torah. Still, it leaves one question: What craving does each of us crave? 

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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Single Mother | Yamit’s Story

When the terror attack happened years ago in Jerusalem, Yamit believed her husband had fully recovered. Yet the attack left him with a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It surfaced years later—long after he could file an insurance claim to get the treatment he needed.

His deep depression eventually cost him his job. As his condition worsened, he would sit all day in a dark room, crying and screaming. Yamit felt like she was watching him die. And her heart broke at how it affected her children. The couple divorced, and his mother took him back to Finland to be with his family. They all hoped that with good care and professional help, he would recover.

In fact, he greatly improved with treatment—so much, that the children joined their father in Finland. Feeling hopeful, Yamit planned to join them as soon as she tied up loose ends. She booked her ticket and shipped all their belongings to Finland. But then, the world changed.

When COVID-19 struck, Israel enforced a strict lockdown; her flight was cancelled, and all her plans were on hold. Unable to work in the meantime, all her things had been shipped out, and her lease would end in a month, leaving her homeless and without money.

Thankfully, friends like you were there for her through CBN Israel. We gave her groceries and food vouchers and found housing for her until she can reunite with her family. And CBN Israel is helping so many during this pandemic and beyond—people in crisis who need resources, and a touch from God to survive and move forward.

Right now, the needs in the Holy Land are great—especially for vulnerable Holocaust survivors and immigrant families. Your gift can mean their survival. Thank you so much!

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A Moment for Awe

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the world we live in? The daily grind, newscasts filled with bad news, an economic downturn, a frightening diagnosis, or simply the distractions of life? It’s easy to be overwhelmed. We can easily lose sight of God amidst the chaos. The world around us can make us feel numb and disconnected.

Life in the ancient world bore its own difficulties; it was a struggle to survive. In the midst of that ongoing struggle, the psalmist allowed himself a moment to let the grandeur and majesty of God to burst into his life.

“Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! … When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him?” (Psalm 8:1, 3-4 NASB).

The psalmist found himself overcome by the awesomeness of God evident in the power of His creation, as well as present in His attention to humanity. The greatness of creation emphasized the majesty of God and made the psalmist feel small, yet he was overcome by realizing that the God of creation placed us into this world He created.

Take a moment. Stop running through life and look at the created world around you. Get beyond yourself and circumstances—the bad news, the endless to-dos, the distractions and daily grind—and look to the heavens. Not with a passing glance. Look. Gaze. Feel. Recognize that the God who made heaven and earth is mindful of you. Allow a moment for awe. Let the grandeur of creation overwhelm you with God’s majesty.

We use the word “awesome” so frivolously today. It’s become so common that we do not fully allow ourselves to be captured by that which is truly awesome.

The cure for our societal numbness and the feeling of being disconnected is to connect with God, to see Him as He is. Not as the solution to our problems, nor as one who waits upon our needs. He created the world and everything in it. He sustains it and rules over it, even when we don’t see Him. To encounter true awe, we must go beyond ourselves and come face-to-face with His majesty: “Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!”

Create moments of awe in your day. Allow yourself a break from the chaos and distractions of life to capture a new perspective of God, His majesty, and His care for you.

“Oh Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! … When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and stars, which You have ordained; what is man that You take thought of him?” Amen.

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If Moses Needed a Mentor, Don’t We All?

By Mark Gerson

Every week in synagogue, we Jews read a portion (a parsha) of the Torah, scheduled so that we complete the Torah in an annual cycle. The parsha that was read last week was Beha’aloscha, which is in the middle of the Book of Numbers. Coming after the unforgettable foundational stories of Genesis, the spectacular liberation in Exodus, the laws decreed in Leviticus, and before the great summing up in Deuteronomy, the Book of Numbers is sometimes overlooked. This underrated book of the Bible covers the almost 40 years between the Exodus and the Book of Deuteronomy, when the Jews are poised to enter the promised land. This journey is full of gripping stories, important rules and—most significantly—remarkably astute and highly practical guidance to help us live better, happier, and more meaningful lives today.

The main actor in this journey—as in each book of the Torah except for Genesis—is Moses. He has demonstrated moral courage in leaving the comforts of the palace to stand with his people against the evil Pharaoh, physical courage in fighting to protect the vulnerable, fortitude in negotiating on God’s behalf to free the Jews, leadership in conducting the greatest escape in military history, vision in betting the future of the Jewish people on education in an almost entirely illiterate world, and tenacity in guiding an often-maddening people to a promised land that they are not ready for.

It was the most challenging career imaginable.

Throughout most of it, Moses has a mentor: his beloved father-in-law, Jethro—a Gentile who is a Midianite priest. It is Jethro who gives Moses a home, a job, and a family when Moses flees from his step-grandfather who is trying to kill him. It is this Gentile priest whom Moses rushes to greet immediately after the Exodus.

Jethro, upon hearing the firsthand account from Moses, feels “prickles of joy” and says, “Baruch Hashem” (“Blessed be God”). Jethro is not the first person in the Torah to say what has become the seminal blessing for Jews. He is the sixth. The other five are, like Jethro, Gentiles.

Jethro, therefore, enters a Jewish world where the practice of learning from Gentiles was well-established. When Jethro sees Moses right after the Exodus, he tells the Jewish leader that it is “not good” to judge every dispute himself—and recommends that Moses, in order to preserve his sanity and empower others, create a judicial system. Moses immediately complies.

We next hear about Jethro almost four decades later, in Parsha Beha’aloscha. Moses, who is most likely estranged from his wife, seemingly has not seen Jethro in a while. Moses describes his situation to Jethro, using the word “good” several times, and asks Jethro to go with them. Jethro refuses. Moses persists with one of the most instructive lines in Scripture: “You have been as eyes for us.”

With this short statement, Moses teaches us about the importance of mentors. Immersed in our own situations, we are in danger of being guided by ideas that might no longer apply, of sticking with old interpretations of situations that might have changed, and of missing warning signs hidden in the familiar. We often need someone else to be our eyes.

In the Torah, that person is often a Gentile. Abraham has King Melchizedek, Judah has Hirah, Moses has Jethro, and all the people have Caleb. It is often the loving and concerned outsider, the friend who can see his friend’s challenges from a different vantage point, who can offer the most astute observations and the most valuable advice.

This insight from the Torah applies to nations, as well. The best book ever written on the United States, Democracy in America, was written in the 1830s by a young French visitor, Alexis de Tocqueville. Today, those who understand Israel best—from a historical, political, economic, social, and religious perspective—are often evangelical Christians, who show their “eyes” for the Jewish state in churches and homes throughout the country and through organizations like CBN Israel, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), and Eagles’ Wings.

Jethro does not go with Moses, and we do not hear from Jethro again. Next week, we will see the tragic consequences of the disappearance of this relationship. We will understand why Moses is right that he needs Jethro’s “eyes”—in ways that he does not yet realize—which itself demonstrates why he needs the eyes of his Gentile friend and mentor.

In the meantime, we can all be grateful for the “eyes” in our lives—particularly those of loving outsiders who are, in the most genuine and meaningful sense, our irreplaceable friends and partners.

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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Your Will Be Done

“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42 NASB).

How often do we think about Jesus in the garden on the Mount of Olives? How often do we consider His deep resolve to submit to the will of His heavenly Father regardless of the suffering that lay in front of Him? We think of the psychological suffering that He went through as He wrestled with God’s will, anticipating His impending physical torture and death. But do we ever ask how He was able in that moment to submit to God’s will?

Ancient sources indicate that in the first century, Jews recited Deuteronomy 6:4-9 at least once, if not twice, daily. The passage begins, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (NASB). Some of Jesus’ contemporaries said that reciting this meant accepting the rule of God—because it acknowledged Him as king and placed man in submission to Him and His rule, as His servant.

The Gospels portray the family of Jesus as a devout Jewish family, so we can assume that He would have recited the “Hear, O Israel” once or twice a day, every day of His life. What kind of impact do you think that had on Him? Every day submitting Himself to the rule and reign of His Father in heaven, submitting to God’s will.

Habit and discipline form in the ordinary and the mundane, not the outstanding or exceptional. When we add up the totality of Jesus’ life against the episodes recorded of Him in the Gospels, we actually have very little of His life recorded. Yet, it was in those ordinary and mundane moments of His life—His daily habits, discipline, and practice—that His piety was formed and shaped. The extraordinary moments in His life we read about in the Gospels grew out of His daily submission to His Father’s will in the ordinary routine of His life.

That ordinary routine—of daily submission to God’s will—prepared Him for His extraordinary ministry, and particularly His ultimate submission to God’s will in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross. He said as much in the garden. But he had trained himself to submit to God’s will, so in the moment of extraordinary personal crisis, He could push aside what He wanted in order to fulfill the will of His Father.

We are all recipients of His obedience. Do we look at the ordinary and mundane moments in our lives as opportunities to build discipline and form habits of submission to God? The daily routine prepares us for the extraordinary moments when God needs us to act according to His will. Do not despise the ordinary and mundane, for it prepares us for the extraordinary.


Father, today we submit ourselves to Your rule and reign. May Your will be done in our lives today. Prepare us daily to serve and submit to You. Amen.

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Holocaust Survivor | Fisher’s Story

They thought the Nazis would never find them. In an isolated village in Ukraine, Fisher and his parents believed they were safe—until German troops came upon them in 1941. From then on, life became one horror after another.

The family was imprisoned in a squalid ghetto far from his home, and one day, Fisher saw his mother reach up to catch a piece of bread someone had thrown to her. But a Nazi soldier also witnessed that act of kindness and deliberately shot Fisher’s mother in the foot. Not long afterward, she died of the resulting infection, and the young boy was all alone.

His faith in Jesus as his Messiah sustained him during the harsh war years, and when the war finally ended, Fisher was determined to help Holocaust survivors wherever he found them. In 1994, he moved from Ukraine to Israel with his wife. From the moment he arrived, he sought ways to serve others. He found the ideal outlet for his wonderful gifts of compassion and encouragement—a community of other Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans.

Thanks to our caring CBN Israel partners, we are able to give Holocaust survivors, like Fisher, love and support, providing them with food, medicine, and friendship. He is so thankful and looks forward to celebrating his 90th birthday with all of his new friends!

Your special gift can deliver hope and compassionate aid to so many who desperately need our help in the Holy Land.

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The Blameless Way

“How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart” (Psalm 119:1-2 NASB).

The writers of the Bible, especially the psalmists and prophets, often used parallelism in their writing. It enabled them to state something, then either restate it, expand it, or state its opposite. This literary device is common within Hebrew writing.

In Psalm 119, the psalmist begins with such parallelism: “How blessed are those whose way is blameless.” The second clause explains whose way is blameless—those who walk according to the law of the Lord, i.e., obeying His instruction. 

Blamelessness, then, for the psalmist, doesn’t mean completely living without error; it means walking in the instruction of the Lord. This is how a person’s way can be blameless. When one bases his or her life on pursuing God’s ways, then they are truly blessed.

He continues His blessings by identifying “those who observe His testimonies” as those who “seek Him with all their heart.” So, seeking God with all of one’s heart means pursuing His ways, and the person who lives like this will be blessed.

Studying Scripture means that we have to read it as its authors intended, which requires us to learn how the biblical texts were written. Doing so adds so much value to how we read and understand the Bible and its message.

Embedded within these redundant and expanded clauses in this passage lie insights into how the biblical authors described God and His people. We often find that they view their world, even their relationship with God, so much differently than we do today.

The psalmist gives us profound insight into how God expects His people to live. If you want your way to be blameless, walk according to His law and instruction. Seek Him with all of your heart by aligning your life with His ways. When you live like this, you will be blessed.


Father, today may we walk in accordance with Your law and instruction, so that our way may truly be blameless. Let us seek you with all our heart by pursuing Your ways. Amen.

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Single Mother | Masaret’s Story

She had run out of options. Although she’d been raised in an ordinary Israeli home, Masaret had made some extraordinarily bad choices. Getting in with the wrong teenage crowd. Drinking heavily. Partying nonstop. Dating a drug addict. Spending all her money on her habit and running up heavy debts. Finally, she found herself the unmarried mother of two young boys, an alcoholic unable to cope—and she lost her sons into the child welfare program. Now Masaret had only two choices: rehab at a center of her choosing, or the government’s.

She had heard of the rehab center in Jerusalem and decided to take it seriously, entering their six-month intensive program. Working hard, she not only became sober, she met God for the first time. The program gave Masaret the strength to start over. She landed a job, got an apartment, and eventually got her children back. She was so grateful for a fresh start.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing; she still had a large outstanding debt. Arik, head of CBN Israel’s family department, helped Masaret talk to the bank and get her debt erased. Thanks to our generous partners, we were also able to help with rent, furniture and food. Today, she attends her local church, her boys love Jesus, and she’s finally making good choices.

During this time of worldwide concern about the COVID-19 virus, the need remains urgent as CBN Israel continues providing food, medicine, shelter, and other necessities to those who desperately need our help.

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Do You Guard Your Mouth?

“The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; the one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3 NASB).

Our age of social media enables everyone with an opinion to put it out there for everyone to see. We live in an age where people feel they have the right to comment on just about anything. We “open wide” our lips a lot. And, let’s be honest, those of us who claim to follow the Lord can often be the worst culprits.

The Bible has a great deal to say about guarding our mouths and holding our tongues. It describes the person who does so as wise, prudent, and preserving of his or her life. Similarly, it says a lot about the person who opens wide their lips—describing them as a fool, wicked, and one who will come to ruin.

Words are powerful. They can build up. They can tear down. All people, even children, find their identity in the words spoken to them, whether affirming and loving or harsh. James understood the power of words, which is why he described the tongue as “set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell” (James 3:6 NASB).

With as much as the Bible has to say about our words, it’s troubling to realize how often the followers of the Lord use their words as weapons against others. We try to wrap such words in a false piety, but the Bible is clear—the one who guards his or her mouth preserves their life.

Too often we separate our life with God from how we treat others. The Bible provides practical instruction for every area of our lives. Following God means that we embrace biblical instruction and live it out in every aspect of our lives, including how and when we speak.

Do you guard your mouth? Or do you open wide your lips? Your answer reflects how well you’ve submitted your life to God’s instruction. Let’s follow Him!


Father, help us to guard our mouths and words. May we speak only life into the lives of others and our world. Amen.

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Holocaust Survivor | Raisa’s Story

She was locked in the basement. It would be years before she’d see the sky again. Raisa was just a child when a family friend rushed her and her mother out of town to safety. For the rest of the war, they stayed with Raisa’s non-Jewish grandmother in a German home where their presence wouldn’t be suspected by the Nazis. But being locked in the basement for four years not only made it feel like a prison; the lack of fresh air and vitamins made the girl’s immune system very fragile. At times, her mother despaired for her life.

Despite the deprivations, the two of them survived. Making their way home after the war to find their Ukrainian village destroyed, Raisa and her mother found it far from easy to return to a country ravaged by war and death. Raisa met and married a Jewish doctor, and after a few decades they decided to immigrate to Israel.

Now widowed, Raisa spends a lot of time with other Holocaust survivors in her adoptive land. She is enormously grateful for the steady food deliveries that our generous partners make possible. Most of all, she loves having someone to talk to. She is so thankful to CBN Israel partners for their extraordinary support!

During this time of worldwide concern about the COVID-19 virus, the need remains urgent as CBN Israel continues providing food, medicine, shelter, and other necessities to those who desperately need our help.

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