The Best Things in Life Are Never Free

Written by Rabbi Stephen Baars on . Posted in Torah

As they say in Hollywood, “You just can’t make this stuff up.” There are some things in the Torah that could not have been written unless they actually happened.


After seeing water stand on end at the Red Sea, receiving the Torah, and witnessing a multitude of miracles, the Jewish people post this complaint: “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for free, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic.” (Numbers 11:5).

Don’t get me wrong, I like fish as much as the next guy — fresh cod or mahi mahi can make my day — but give me a break. Onions?! That’s what you call me in here for?

Also, the Jews were slaves in Egypt, for crying out loud. Was free fish one of the perks? You’ve got to be kidding me. In fact, the medieval commentator Rashi points out there is no way the Israelites got free fish. Egypt wasn’t a cruise ship vacation, so for sure they had to pay for it.

And what is up with the cucumbers?

The truth is, the complaint was even worse than it seems on the surface. While in the desert, the Jewish people had a miraculous food called manna. It fell from the sky every day and it tasted of whatever you wanted to think of.


Well, not everything. There were five things it didn’t taste of.

Yes, you’ve guessed it: cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. Rashi explains that these five vegetables are difficult for nursing mothers.

You mean to tell me, that this manna was like walking into a restaurant and everything was on the house except a few incidentals, and that’s what they are complaining about?

You’ve got it.

Like I said, you can’t make this stuff up.

Wait, what about fish? The answer is that the manna could taste even like fish, it just wasn’t free.

The takeaway here is that the best things in life are never free. Let me explain.

Imagine this, you just got a text that you have won the grand lottery, $250 million. Take a minute and ask yourself, how do you feel?

It doesn’t matter who burnt dinner, what your boss did, or what your kids ruined — you are now having one of the best moments of your life.

What changed? Nothing.

What do you mean nothing? you ask. I can quit my job, buy the Lamborghini I’ve always wanted, and move to the beach.

Yes, but that’s tomorrow.

Right now, this minute, nothing has changed, and yet you probably feel better than you have ever felt. No matter what is going on today, no matter what you were complaining about, if you find out you won $250 million, you are having a great day.

How we thinkabout tomorrow changes how we feelright now, no matter what kind of day we’re having. In other words, nothing will ruin your day if you are willing to pay the price of thinking that tomorrow will be incredible.

But what if it isn’t? You press further.

That is not the point. When you think that $250 million will better your life tomorrow, then you will have a great day today. Not just a nice day, not even a very good day. If you knew you won the lottery, you would have an absolutely incredible, over-the-top, amazing day. With all the same problems and all the same issues.

And what’s more, all it costs is a little positive thinking.

Oscar Wilde famously said, “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”

The most unhappy people I have to work with are the ones that got what they wanted in life. The other people are unhappy too, just not as unhappy, because they think there is a reason they are unhappy. The ones who got what they wanted don’t know why it isn’t helping.

Some people need to get what they want to realize it won’t make them happy, and some people are willing to think about what they have in order to achieve happiness right now.

If you think that something tomorrow is going to solve all your problems, and thinking that will make you happy now, it means that your mind controls your happiness. Therefore, you can have the best life possible if you are just willing to use the power of thought.

If you thought that this manna fish was the most incredible tasting fish any human being had ever tasted, beyond anything ever, then what a great meal that would be. That’s what the manna fish required. And if you didn’t think — then that would be reflected in its taste too.

If you wake up tomorrow truly expecting your day to be the best day ever, then you know what? It will be a great day.

Can you do that? For sure. You have done it many times; it’s a matter of starting out your day with what I call the “going to Disney for the first time” feeling. But to achieve that, you have to think, and most people would rather let someone else think for them (thus, TV).

That’s why the Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt, where they didn’t need to think, because thinking is the most expensive cost there is. Relative to thinking, slavery is a bargain.

And I am not making this up.

By Rabbi Stephen Baars

Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars. He did nine years of post-graduate studies at the Aish HaTorah Rabbinical College in Jerusalem, and has been an educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years. Rabbi Baars and his wife, Ruth, are blessed with seven children. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at and