Judaism: Complaint Mode
Rabbi Reuven SpolterThe writer is a Jewish Studies Lecturer at the Orot Israel College of Education and coordinates Israel Immersion programming for the kollel fellows at Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Jerusalem. He made aliyah from Oak Park, Mi. where he was the rabbi.
It was almost inevitable.
Even before the streets were plowed, media figures and government officials began calling for an investigation into the "failures" surrounding the recent blizzard that blanketed a good chunk of Israel.
True, many people lost power, and thousands were stranded. But, from my point of view, we did pretty well: the roads were shut down appropriately, saving many, many lives; the power company crews worked around the clock to restore and repair power lines that buckled under the heavy weather.
And yet, we complain. Somehow, too often, our intuition is to see the negative, rather than appreciating the positive that exists in every situation. Our task – and responsibility, is to overcome this inclination to kvetch, and to try to appreciate and grow from our struggles. According to Rashi, this is precisely the message that God conveys to Moses, Moshe Rabbeinu.
By all accounts, things aren't going well.
Rather than rescuing the Nation of Israel from bondage, Moses has only made things worse, as the people must now gather the straw necessary to construct the bricks themselves while still fulfilling their old quotas. Recognizing his failure, Moses complains to God.
God, why did you deal negatively with this people? Why did you send me? Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has made things worse for this people; and You have not saved Your people.' (Shemot 5:22-23)
God responds by telling Moses that He would, in fact, redeem the nation as promised. But then God adds:
'I am the LORD; and I appeared to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, as God Almighty, but by My name Yud-Hay-Vav-Hay I did not make known to them.
What is the nature of this minor lesson about the Patriarchs, the Avot? What is the difference between the two different names of God, and what is God trying to communicate to Moses?
Rashi, in his second answer to these questions (on verse 9), quotes the Midrash explaining that God's message was a direct response to Moses's complaints.
Said God [to Moses]: I yearn for those who are lost but not forgotten!…Many times I revealed Myself to them, and they never asked me, "What is Your name?" And you said, "[When they ask] what is His name, what should I tell them?"
Not when Abraham wished to bury Sarah and could not find a grave until he was compelled to purchase one at great expense; not when they complained to Isaac about the wells that he dug; not when Jacob was compelled to purchase the plot of the field in order to pitch his tent –they did not wonder about My attributes! And yet you said, "Why have You made things worse?"
It's a chilling message.
How often do we "wonder" about the struggles we endure and immediately lapse into "complaint" mode – whether we're talking about the snow, our jobs, our kids' education?
I believe that these verses also carry the key to unlocking a successful Aliyah. After all, the subject under discussion here is the redemption of the Jewish Nation and their ultimate arrival in the Holy Land.)
Aliyah, especially for people making Aliyah by choice, represents a degree of hardship. Moving to the Holy Land requires sacrifice. Sometimes you really do feel like you've taken two steps backwards.
And yet, God powerfully relays to Moses the message that our attitude is critical. We cannot immediately complain when things don't go our way. Rather, we must permit ourselves to see the good, the blessing, and the potential that lies ahead.