Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Beha'alotcha
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

It is a terrible personality trait to be a complainer. It is hard to live with complainers at home, in the work place and in the community. In this week’s parsha we are made aware of the dismal consequences of complaining. Rashi points out that the complainers in the desert had no real basis for that complaint. They were just dissatisfied somehow and so they complained against Moshe and eventually against God. Moshe in his final oration to the Jewish people in the book of Dvarim will himself complain about the people of Israel that they are unnecessarily quarrelsome and a bunch of complainers. There is a Jewish joke, more ironic than funny, about three Jewish women matrons eating lunch at a restaurant in New York and the waiter approached them in the middle of their meal and asked them "Is anything alright?" Rashi’s interpretation of the lack of justification for complaints in the desert portrays for us a very serious character defect within the Jewish people. They are chronic complainers and a vast majority of the time their complaints are really baseless. The many complaints in the desert follow the usual pattern - food, Moshe’s leadership, the unfairness of life and the difficulty of living up to the role of being the chosen people. All through First Temple times we find that the prophets of Israel were barraged with complaints about their mission and words. The prophets were the solution to Israel’s troubles. The people complained that they were the problem. And so destruction and exile came in the wake of the unjustified complaints.

I am not a mental health professional by any stretch of imagination. Yet my instinct tells me that chronic complainers are really not happy with themselves and project that dissatisfaction outwards on events and humans that are not the cause of their original dissatisfaction. There is something deep within us that requires self-justification and self-empowerment. When that need is fulfilled we are on the whole happy, contented and optimistic. When that ingredient in our soul and psyche is absent we are complainers, carpers, sad and sometimes destructive people. We recite in our daily morning prayers the statement as to how fortunate we are to be the special people that God has chosen to lead the world in service to Him. We may all recite that prayer but how many of us are really convinced in our heart of hearts of its truth? The rabbis of the Talmud harshly disdained the chronic complainer - "Is it not sufficient for you that you are alive?" Nothing is perfect in life but that is not a justification for complaints. We are bidden to deal with problems to the extent that we can and not to dwell on them overly and constantly complain about them. We have to seek an inner peace that will allow us an optimistic attitude and an avoidance of complaints. Our parents, schools and society should somehow concentrate on achieving this goal with our coming generations.
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