In any international kvetching contest, we Jews will undoubtedly qualify in the top tier (“What?! Such a bad-tasting sandwich, and such small portions, too?!”). We all too often have a knack for seeing the Cup of Life half-full, searching for the dark cloud.
The Gemara says: What is the definition of a faithless person? He who has bread in his basket yet still asks, “What will I eat tomorrow?”
Our sedra is popularly known as Parshat Ha-Mit’on’nim (or Ha-Mit’Lon’nim) the “Chapter of the Complainers.”
We grouse about the lack of fresh meat, the lack of water, about having left Egypt (it was such a Paradise?!); about the new sexual restrictions given at Sinai; even about the miraculous Mahn that fell at our doorstep daily and which contained virtually every taste within it. Later, Moshe himself would be the target of criticism – this time by his own brother and sister! Moshe becomes extremely despondent – even suicidal! (see 11:15) – and Hashem’s anger “flares like a fire.”
But hang on, let’s backtrack for a moment. Before all this whining started, earlier in the sedra, the people lodge yet another complaint that engenders a markedly different response from both Moshe and the Almighty.
A group of people – either those who had carried Yosef’s casket out of Egypt, or had attended to an unburied corpse – had been prevented from offering the Pesach sacrifice in its proper time due to their being spiritually-impure (tamei). So they petition Moshe: “Why should we be diminished (“nigara”) by having to miss out on this very special Mitzva given to all Israel!?”
Moshe reacts calmly: “Let’s hear what Hashem has to say on this.” And G-d answers positively, by adding a new law and a new semi-holiday to Jewish life – Pesach Sheni. What is the difference between this complaint and the other?
The answer is clear. Hashem wants us to lead and live meaningful, satisfying lives. But that is not something we achieve through material means.
Richer food, bigger houses, more and more “creature comforts” will not satisfy our souls and validate our existence. And so when we complain about those kind of things, G-d is disappointed in us and clearly not pleased with our choice of priorities.
But when we speak out about the spiritual things being denied to us – Mitzvot, Torah learning, Chesed, etc. – that is constructive criticism, and strikes a responsive chord in Heaven. It moves G-d to help us in any way He can, and allows us to construct and to build a better – and truly richer – Jewish life.