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Parshat B'Ha'alotecha: Stop Kvetching.  No, really.

06/12/2022 04:19:50 PM


Rabbi Moshe Rudin

Negativity, especially negative language, has literally brought on disaster.  In this week's parsha, what begins as an unspecified complaint about the trek to the Promised Land- despite the clouds of glory that shelter the nation- devolves into a ruckus about the heavenly Manna which nourishes the people and tastes like anything you can imagine.  From there, the leadership starts arguing among themselves and in the end, the people reject the Promised Land and, in flagrant violation of the Covenant which they have entered into, demand to return to slavery in Egypt!  And the entire project was derailed.  What should have been three days of a brisk hike to the Promised Land and everyone hanging out under their vine and fig tree with plenty of milk and honey to go around by the weekend turned into a fourty year ordeal in a howling desert that wiped out an entire generation!  All this from kvetching.  Really. 

We all know that criticism and complaining are destructive.  We all know that critique, if it is offered with a smile, a thank you and a bit of positivity can actually be heard and help.  We all know that changing course is difficult but that even bitter messages can get through if they are presented with gentleness and patience.  "Hey, Moses... you know, we're not really desert trekkers yet.  I know you want us to get to the Promised Land in three days, but is it okay if we just slow it down just a bit?  The kids are getting blisters... thanks for listening!"  Or, "You know, Aaron, Miriam, Moses, we love the Mannah and appreciate that it just sort of appears every morning.. but do you think it would be unreasonable if we might vary it up a bit?  A bit of salad?  Burgers every Thursday?  Believe me, we appreciate all that you and HaShem do for us..."

So if it's not all that hard, why don't we do it?  Why are there so many words for complaining in every language?  Whinging, whining, kvetching, carping, complaining, noodging, griping, caviling at, moaning, grumbling- and that's without even visiting Roget's Thesaurus!  

Complaints are not simple.  If we are insightful and honest with ourselves, we can follow a complaint down to its source like spelunking down into the caverns of our child-selves.  Maybe something like this:

A: Why are you complaining? 

B: Because you're always late! 

A: But why the complaint as a response?  Why not discussion or simply not waiting?

B: Because I want you to fix it!

A: Fix what exactly?

B: Fix being so disrespectful!

A: Is being late disrespectful?

B: I choose to see it that way.  

A: And if I'm disrespectful, then what?

B: It means I'm not important to you.

A: And if that's the case-

B: Then you'll abandon me, leave me, hurt me.

A: And why does that seem so bad?

B: Because you have the power to hurt me and I have no recourse because...

A: Because?

B: Because I want to trust you but am afraid.

A: Afraid of what?

B: That you'll hurt me by disappointing me if I trust you because.

A: Because...

B: Because I love you.  My complaints are really asks: can I trust you?  Do you love me the way I love you?  

A: So it's not about being late really.

B: No.

A: Well, today I just found out that my Apple watch has a glitch and the clock is ten minutes slow... 

B: Oh really? Never mind...

Maybe complaints aren't really about what they're about.  Maybe complaints are the disguise our inner needs, fears doubts and hopes wear.  For the Israelites, the complaints about the pace, food, water and the rest are disguises for the deeper truth that they are heading toward the Promised Land where they will need to work the land, take responsibility for themselves and no longer feel G-d's Presence as the omnipresent nurturer guarding, feeding, leading and caring for them.  Ultimately, their complaints are the disguise that their self-doubt wears and that comes out most clearly when they stand on the shores of the Jordan and claim that they cannot enter the land because they are too powerless- despite having the support and guidance of the ultimate Power in the universe. 

A complaint is a warning light all right- but not about the topic we are complaining about necessarily. Rather than complaining if something is wrong, why not simply act?  Why complain?   It is a sign that there is something going on within, not just without.  The trouble is, rather than seeing the complaint as a signal indictor to look within, we see it as a warning siren to broadcast to the world- and the negativity, which can lead us to greater self understanding, causes destruction.  

The Torah says this clearly in Deuteronomy: Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad... consider, listen, hearken Israel.  Your G-d is there for you, no matter what.  Had the Israelites trusted and had faith in that one thing, it would have all come out differently.  So when we are tempted to share our complaints- instead, let's share them with the one person we don't look to often enough- ourselves. 

Shabbat Shalom! 



Thu, June 20 2024 14 Sivan 5784