The book of complaints

Rereading complaints often shows their pettiness, unless we would prefer to nurture hurts and frustrations rather than moving on. Op-ed.

Rabbi Berel Wein ,

Jessica Lewis

Israelis are said to have a tendency to complain - but maybe it is Jews who have that habit.

When our children reached the age and stage of life when they were ready to get married, my wife and I were privileged to organize and participate in four weddings in a rather short space of years. Being a congregational rabbi, I naturally had to invite all the members of my congregation to the wedding ceremony and dinner.

My wife and I labored long and hard over the invitation list and over the seating arrangements for the wedding dinner. We invested a great deal of effort and energy in trying to make sure that, to the best of our ability, everyone would be satisfied, and no one would be unduly disappointed.

Nevertheless, people being people, there were those who felt that they were not seated in a manner appropriate to their standing and social status. Or, they wanted to be seated with certain friends of theirs and somehow my wife and I were unaware of these relationships. There also were some people who were unhappy because they were too close to the band while others were not so happy because they were too distant from the dance floor itself.

Because of these occurrences, we developed a family tradition. We kept a book of complaints and we dutifully wrote down everyone's complaint in that book so that it would be preserved for posterity. Naturally, since our awareness of these problems were not apparent until after the wedding had already taken place, there was nothing that we could do to redress the situation, but since we noted it in our book of complaints, we felt that we had addressed the situation to the best of our abilities.

There are people who are, because of their very nature, complainers. I will admit that there is much to complain about in our daily lives and in our social circumstances. However, complaining and carping about the frustrations that confront us daily, is of little avail and the cause of much damage in society at large and to the complainers particularly.

We read in the Book of Eicha, a book of sadness and tragedy, that human beings should not complain regarding their lot in life and circumstance that befalls them – as is it not sufficient for them that they are still alive?

This is a strong statement and is meant to bring us up short when we start complaining about matters in life and society that, in most cases, are unimportant. Nevertheless, one must always be provided with an outlet for one's frustrations and not to keep them permanently bottled up.

If we do so, then we corrode the entire structure of our personality and will always have a jaundiced view of life and of others. Having a book of complaints is a good idea for everyone. It releases tensions and provides a touch of lightheadedness to matters which can be unnecessarily weighty. And, if we read the book of complaints often, it will give us a clear indication of the pettiness of most of the issues that are revealed and obvious.

We have passed through a very bitter year due to the Corona pandemic and its deleterious effects on society and our personal lives. As we emerge from it now, with the effectiveness of the vaccines being proven daily, people looking back on what has occurred, naturally have different reactions.

A great deal of this is dependent upon how severely we were impacted in our families, physically, economically, and psychologically. I notice that there are those who are given to complaining, even bitter complaints over what they deem to be a lost year of opportunity and, for some, of income. I notice also that there are others who somehow, almost cheerfully, pick up the pieces and put their lives, businesses, and families back together again without complaint or bitterness.

I have come to realize that there are many for whom even having a book of complaints to release their tensions, refused to do so and would prefer to nurture their hurts and frustrations rather than moving on in life.

There are so many things that we do not control or understand. They are the hidden things that belong, so to speak, to Heaven. But what is clear, is that we proceed with our lives and our mission. As such, keeping a book of complaints can sometimes be a valuable asset in this task.

Rabbi Berel Wein is a noted scholar, historian, speaker and educator, admired the world over for his audio tapes/CDs, videos and books, particularly on Jewish history. After many years serving as a community rabbi in Monsey, NY, he made aliya and is rabbi of Beit Knesset Hanassi in Jerusalem.