21/22 June 2024, 16 Sivan 5784

I find the idea of complaining rather compelling. You may have seen the cartoon of a New York City Jewish restaurant table with three older women: “Is there anything else I can bring you to complain about?” the waiter asks them.

Complaining is often a pretext in our own lives for finding fault, creating negativity, avoiding gratitude and positivity. This is the scene we find in this week’s portion.

וַיְהִ֤י הָעָם֙ כְּמִתְאֹ֣נְנִ֔ים
The people were complaining.

Rashi suggests they were looking for a pretext a reason to fall out of favour, or out of connection, with God.

Complaining was a way of doing that. Recalling the plentiful food in Egypt allowed an amnesia of everything that came with the cucumbers, leeks and meat. They could be cross rather than assess their new situation out of Egypt, with less food but more freedom and safety. Instead, they complain.

The concept of complaining is complicated. Sometimes, it’s indulgent and self-serving. But sometimes, complaining is a form of protest and concern, raising alarms, seeking protection and calling to account. As a veteran complainer, I appreciate this reminder – that it is not only bad.

Last week, a group of parents of soldiers and combatants at the front line in Gaza wrote a letter of complaint (or beseeching perhaps) to the government. They joined with the hostage families critiquing their government’s policy of war and beseeching them for an end to hostilities and a deal that brings home their loved ones and ends the killing. We are out of time, they complained.

What a reminder that complaining can be powerful, heartfelt and hopeful.

Shabbat Shalom,