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September 27, 2016 / 24 Elul, 5776
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The Complainers are Alive and Well in America

To all my blogger colleagues in America: if you want to complain about things in Israel, at least come live here, and play your part in the building.
Moses Strikes Water from a Rock, by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665).

Moses Strikes Water from a Rock, by Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665).

In this Shabbat’s Torah portion, we met the complainers. Among the different types of personalities and personality disorders, there are complainers. There are people who complain about everything. Wherever they are, whatever they’re doing, they always have the need to complain. “This is no good, and that’s no good. This should be done that way, and I could have done the same thing better.”

We meet them right after our incredibly miraculous salvation from the armies of Egypt, as the Egyptians are still drowning in the sea, and our spontaneous song of joy is still echoing over the wilderness mountains, the people started complaining. Not all the people. The complainers.

First they complained that there wasn’t any fresh water – as if King of the Universe, who split the sea five minutes ago, couldn’t give them a little fresh water! Then they complained against Moshe and Aharon, finding fault with the greatest leaders in the world! Then they complained about the menu, which ever since has become a very Jewish thing to do. “Waiter, this steak is too rare.” Or, “Waiter, this steak is well done.” Then, once again in the wilderness, they complained about the lack of water, accusing Moshe of trying to kill them! A little later on, they are going to start complaining about having to live in Eretz Yisrael.

I’m sure you are familiar with the type. For instance, there is no shortage of them amongst Jewish bloggers in America. Surely you’ve noticed. Some are always complaining: “This in Israel is no good, and that’s no good, the country is too secular, or the religious have too much power, you can’t make a living there, the Israelis are rude, and on and on and on and on.”

After reading this Shabbat’s Torah portion, I realized that they’re the modern-day complainers. Apparently, it’s something genetic. It’s not their fault. They can’t help it. I suppose a doctor would call it an obsessive compulsion, and a psychiatrist might term it a neurotic disorder. It could be there are medicines that can help the problem, like the drugs that doctors prescribe for just about everything else. Maybe anti-depressants would work. After all, they don’t seem like very happy people, the way they’re complaining all the time.

The only other thing I can think of that might help them is to learn Emunah, which means faith. Rabbi Kook would always say that Emunah must be learned. True faith in God doesn’t grow on trees in Brooklyn. Every Jew has Emunah deep down inside. But it must be developed. Emunah is more than eating bagels and lox and putting on tefillin. True faith in God requires learning. Not just any type of learning, but learning designed to bring a person to a living connection with God, and to put his life in line with what God wants for the Am Yisrael, the Nation of Israel.

Books like the “Kuzari” and the writings of Rabbi Kook are a good place to start. And a true reading of the Torah is the best place of all. Like they very thing that we are reading about now – how God doesn’t want us to live in foreign countries, and how He even turned the world upside down with the greatest miracles ever, to teach us this lesson and bring us to the Land of Israel where He wants us to live. But the complainers didn’t like the way God was handling things.

For example, the Spies were outstanding Torah scholars, but they were the biggest complainers of all. They believed in some things, but they didn’t believe in others. They agreed to keep Shabbat and put on tefillin, but when it came to making aliyah, they didn’t believe in God, as the Torah says, “In this matter, you did not believe in the Lord your God” (Devarim, 1:32). In the matter of going to live in Israel. They wanted to live in Brooklyn, and Chicago, and Texas instead.

Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook taught:

The Gemara talks about types of “Tzaddikim who don’t believe” (Sotah 48B). They choose words of Torah and commandments, saying, “This matter is arranged properly by the Almighty. It’s very nice; it pleases me; it’s easy; I agree to abide. However, this matter is not so good.” This approach to Torah leads to dangerous consequences and heresy. There is a startling saying of our Sages in the Gemara regarding someone who says, “This precept is pleasant, and this one isn’t pleasant; this matter is pleasing to me, and this other matter is not. Everyone who chooses between the mitzvot in the Torah, saying this one he agrees with, this one he doesn’t, loses the richness of Torah” (Eruvin 64A).

In contrast to this comes the true approach to Torah of, “Everything that the Lord said, we will do and listen” (Shemot, 24:7). We will do it whether it pleases us or not; whether we intellectually understand, or whether the matter is above our limited human logic and reasoning; whether we agree with the way things are, or whether we have criticism. When the Torah is seen in its true light, there isn’t any criticism of the way Hashem does things. In place of criticism comes Divine attachment, harmony, and complete Emunah.

So, to all my blogger colleagues in America: if you want to complain about things in Israel, at least come live here, and play your part in the building. Remember, if you are not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem.

Tzvi Fishman

About the Author: Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.

The author's opinion does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Jewish Press.

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Tzvi Fishman, author of the Jewish Press blog Felafel on Rye and author of more than a dozen books.
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