An interesting phrase: “The people were like murmurers, which was evil in the ears of the Lord” (Num. 11:1). It doesn’t say they actually were murmurers but they were like murmurers.
We seem to have here a parallel to a verse we read a few weeks back about a possible plague in a house. The Torah says, K’nega nir’ah li babayit – “Something like a plague appears to me (to be) in the house” (Lev. 14:35).
When we see something that looks unacceptable, we should not be in too much of a hurry to pass judgment. We can say, “It appears to be a plague”, not, “There is definitely a plague”.
Let me illustrate this with a memory of a member of my first congregation. He told me that at a company directors’ meeting he was rather certain that the chairman was not telling the truth. But instead of saying, “Mr Chairman, you are a liar!” he said, “Mr Chairman, you appear to have permitted yourself to be misinformed”.
The Torah does not say, “The people were murmurers”, but “The people were like murmurers”.