The Complaint Game
I feel like I live in the world of gripes. It’s on social media. It’s in person. It’s everywhere. People are constantly complaining. I am also guilty of it, mostly about being hot, but I digress.
Complaining is cathartic. It feels as if we are expressing righteous indignation. Sometimes we are. More often for me though, I am not. So I have begun to ask myself when I feel a complaint coming on, “is this really about ______ or is it about_______?” In doing this, I am trying to identify what’s really lurking beneath the gripe. It doesn’t always work but it has allowed me insight into my general psyche.
The Israelites in the Torah narrative are great complainers. In this week’s portion, b’haalotcha, their issue is hunger. Specifically, they note (Number 11:4-6):
“If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, melons, leeks, and onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled.
You don’t have to be a biblical expert to wonder what memory of slavery are they having here? After all, as we recall from the story, the Egyptians didn’t even give them enough supplies for their building, let alone free food. The commentators take this as an opportunity to delve into what is really happening for the Israelites in this moment.
Professor Nechama Leibowitz, noted Torah scholar, posits the following:
A community will accept suffering and want with enthusiasm and eagerness, provided the ultimate aim of it all is one which appeals to them or with which they can identify themselves. On the other hand, when discontent lurks in the heart of the public or individual, grumblings, murmurings, criticism, and defamation will flare up at the slightest pretext. The most trivial difficulty will be magnified sevenfold and even the tiniest inconvenience demanded is regarded as a major violation of their rights.
When something, even in as bad a situation as slavery, appeals to us, we can roll with it. Apparently that was how it worked with the Israelites. Once they were free and dealing with the sufferings of wandering in the desert, they were so unhappy that it had the power to alter the basic fabric of their memories. This wasn’t because of how bad their hunger was. It was because of how discontent they were. In their minds slavery>freedom.
It’s this note that has guided my own recent intrigue about my gripes and those of the world around me. Am I really *fill-in-the-blank* or is there something else going on? It’s another example of our tradition’s vast wisdom for a modern world. So get curious and see what’s happening inside of you!
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Weekend!