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Parshat Shlach: Whiners and Complainers

In this week’s Torah portion we have one of the more depressing lowlights of biblical Jewish history. Faced with the imminence of entering into the Promised Land and having to start a life for themselves beyond slavery, the Israelites – who have shown a pattern of self-doubt and a lack of confidence in their leader despite his great track record – believed an extremely negative report about conquering the land from the spies that were sent ahead to scout it out. They wept and bemoaned their fate and began an outright rebellion against Moshe and his leadership.

Upon witnessing this, God declared that enough was enough. He was done and fed up with this generation and their incessant complaints and kvetches. They would die out in the desert for the next 40 years until a newer, less-jaded generation would replace them and go on to the Land of Canaan/Israel. 

Jewish tradition points out that this outcry was בכיה של חינם  bechiah shel chinum – a complete and wholly unnecessary weeping. It was a sniveling behavior that was totally unfounded. It was forever marked as Judaism’s blackest day on the calendar – the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av – and became a day for repeated reasons to cry throughout our history. Both Temples were destroyed on Tisha B’Av along with other Jewish tragedies.  

In essence, because the Israelites cried for nothing, God gave them a real reason to weep. And herein lies a very meaningful lesson for us all.

Today we live in perhaps the greatest time ever in the history of mankind. Certainly we who live in Western nations do. We have food, wealth, ease and comfort beyond the imagination of our grandparents and even parents, let alone any generation before them. Very few of us have to worry about having enough food, nay we have so much that obesity is an issue. Our complaints consist of such hardships as our computer not running fast enough, our cell phone running out of battery too quickly or carpool being a bit too demanding. 

And yet, despite a lifestyle of ease and convenience that surpasses even that of Kings and Queens of long ago, we constantly hear how “crazy my day is” or “how slammed I am at work” and “how insane things are in my life right now”. People love to express to others how hard they are working, how much is being demanded of them from work and family and how difficult it is for them to carry on the great burdens of their lives. 

 I recall once that my daughter’s friend was expressing how much pressure she was under with school and other matters, whereupon her father’s response was, “Auschwitz is pressure – this isn’t pressure.” While most might see his comment as not the most sensitive and tactful and a bit over the top – he does have a point. 

We really need to get a perspective as to what is truly a difficulty in our lives. Are we complaining about real issues and hardships or are our complaints the expressions of those whose lives are truly in the lap of luxury; the moanings of the comfortable and the spoiled. 

We need to be sensitive to our own bechiah shel chinum – the times when we cry and complain over absolutely nothing in the larger scheme of things. We need to note when we grumble and whine to get attention or to have others think that our lives are significant and worthy of sympathy. 

God does not look too kindly upon those whom He showers with good but find a reason to complain anyway. It was one of the gravest sins committed by the Jewish people back then and continues to be so. “You want a reason to complain? Fine I will give you a reason to complain!” 

It is pure mida kneged mida – measure for measure. If you appreciate the good that God gives you and express as much in your words, thoughts and deeds, then He has many more gifts to offer you. But if you diss them through a crabby attitude, behavior and kvetching, then not only will you not enjoy those gifts but He will provide you with some real issues to moan about. And you certainly don’t want to go there.  

Complaining didn’t get the Jewish people anywhere thousands of years ago and its miserable track record continues. It gets you nowhere today either. Learn to drop the complaints and you will be amazed at how quickly you’ll reach The Promised Land. 

It is time for you to stop all of your sobbing
Yes it’s time for you to stop all of your sobbing 

There’s one thing you gotta do
To make me still want you
Gotta stop sobbing now
Yeah yeah stop it stop it
-The Kinks/The Pretenders

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