The Israelites seems to have perfected the art of complaining. In this week’s Torah portion, Hukkat, we find the Israelites STILL complaining.
It was one thing for them to complain when they were newly freed slaves, for sudden freedom can be jarring and daunting.
But now decades have passed. These complaining Israelites are not weak slaves. No, these were relatively young Israelites, strong women and men of the wilderness.
Alas, their complaints were discouragingly similar to those of their parents. The journey is interminable, the food is inedible, the water is inadequate.
They truly had no reason to complain, for God had it covered! God, according to the Torah story, took care of the Israelites during the 40 year desert sojourn.
Their basic needs were satisfied – food, clothes, protection – but they remained needy and afraid.
In the prose-poem Desiderata, Max Ehrman writes, “Do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.”
Some of us are indeed plagued with dark imaginings, fears born not from accurate assessments of a situation, but from irrational worry.
The Israelites’ worry was not rational. Really, all they had to do was take one step after the other, following the divine pillar of fire to the Promised Land.
In our own lives, we do certainly face concerning situations. When facts point to danger, we must not pretend everything is copacetic. Rather, we must rather respond bravely and intelligently. This applies to everything from hateful humans to crackling glaciers. There is a time to be concerned. There is a time to act.
At the same time, we must not allow dark imaginings to dominate us. May we all be strong and resolute, facing challenges with strength while facing the future with optimism.
As Max Ehrman wrote, “Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
Rabbi Jeffrey Weill