What Does G-d Do with our Complaints?
With the high drama of the “plague” behind us many exhale saying, “I can’t wait for life to go back to normal.” Yet, I recall with great clarity how many of those same complainers were dissatisfied when life was “normal.” People have short-term memories and tend to be reconstructionists when traveling down Memory Lane. I can’t help but feel sorry and much worried for those whose future is obstructed by renovated nostalgia. Firstly, the alleged “normalcy” of the past is problematic in and of itself, i.e., please define normal. Secondly, we are never going back to that world of imagined happiness.
The courageous and honest amongst us will start to remember our complaints and gripes, our disappointments and the gnawing emptiness that materialism and success could not fill. Some of us will even recall in the echo chamber of our conscience that rumbling grumbling sinful sentence we oft repeated: “I hate my life.”
We read about people just like us in this week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha: After being freed from slavery, “The people were looking to complain, and it was evil in the ears of the Lord.” (Numbers 11:1) The Egyptians had enslaved the children of Israel and embittered their lives with back-breaking labor. They cried out to G-d and He freed them. Do they in turn send G-d a jumbo thank-You note for their miraculous rescue? Not really. Contrary to the famous words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” the Israelites, once having obtained liberty, said give me slavery. They lamented the fact that were ever taken out of Egypt. “We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” They wanted to go back to “normal.” But as the commentator Rashi points out, it is written that the Egyptians wouldn’t even give them straw to make bricks. So, if straw was not given “free of charge” were these delicacies given to them free of charge? Nostalgia is a distortionist.
Some people’s eyes have been opened because of what the world went through for the past few years and they have pivoted their priorities. They saw through the shallowness and the fake and phony of their lives and decided to move, change careers and embrace family and G-d. Others, however, still cry for their figurative return to Egypt. After all, slavery offers routine and therein we find comfort even while serving fake shiny gods.
The Israelites were given manna from Heaven, the food of angels. It was a perfect food meant to maximize spiritual health. Whatever food the eater desired, it assumed that taste. If that wasn’t enough, it was also completely ingested by the body and therefore the Israelites never had bathroom needs their entire 40 years of wandering. Further, their clothing never wore out and was laundered by the Divine clouds which escorted them through the dessert. Also, Hashem promised them He would fight their battles if they’d behave and would bring them to a Land flowing with milk and honey. He would elevate them above all the other nations of the world to be His treasured people. They left Egypt with all its wealth. Still the people cried and complained mostly for one reason: They missed sinning. Yes Egypt was “free”--they could sin without having to answer to G-d.
It’s time to choose my friends, who and what we are serving. G-d or the fake over-materialistic world that is killing us slowly? It's time to stop complaining and start counting our blessings. It's time to serve the source of all blessings. We must learn from the desert Jews who were never content and craved meat despite all their blessings. And so G‑d gave them as many quail as they could eat, but he punished their gluttony. Many of the complainers died there, giving it the name Kivrot Hatava, “the graves of those who craved.” Will we too let our cravings for sin become our graves?
If normal as we knew it were such a noble enterprise, why would it be called “a rat race.” G-d Himself sees the G-dly in us. He tells us be holy because I am holy. Be a royal nation. But we prefer to emulate the rat instead of royalty and eat all the garbage and lies that this idolatrous world feeds us. Yet, we learn from Perek Shira that even the rat praises the Almighty and knows its place and says, “The entire soul praises G-d. Hallelujah!"
Back to normal! What a sad joke. G-d opened the sea before us and gave us the Book of Life. Don’t look backward? There is nothing left for us there! “…For the L-rd said to you, ‘You shall not return that way anymore.’”