Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Complaint with G-d

Is it okay to be angry at G-d ? Is it okay to complain to Him? We all know we are invited to pray for our needs. But what about when we feel we have been treated unfairly. Is it acceptable to voice to G-d our bitterness,our sense of having been wronged?

I do not believe the answer to those questions is simple. Yet they are important questions to process. And this week's Torah portion sheds light on the topic.

The Torah at the outset of Chapter 16 tells us that the Israelites complained to Moshe and Aharon. They said "Would not it have been better for us to die in Hashem's care in the land of Egypt where we had pots full of meat and plenty of bread to eat. Did you need to take us out here to the wilderness to cause all of us to die of famine".

Hashem responds immediately to the Israelite's complaint. He promises the mann in the morning and the slav in the evening as miraculous food sources for the people. When Moshe and Aharon tell the people their complaints have been heard they include the following "v'nachnu ma kee taleenu alainu, and what are we that you voice your complaint at us".

The Talmud derives from here insight into the incredible humility of Moshe. They saw themselves as ma, which essentially means as nothing. The Rabbis point out, even more humble than David who in Psalms referred to himself as a worm and not a person, and still more humble than Avraham who referred to himself as dust, Moshe refers to himself and Aharon as absolutely nothing.

Moshe and Aharon could not understand how the people could have complained to them for having taken them out in the wilderness to starve. Not because the people were not in fact starving and not because they never would do something so heinous. Rather they could not imagine how anyone could think they were the authors of the Exodus. The humility of Moshe and Aharon was so great that they never saw themselves as the people did. They never saw themselves as the facilitators of the liberation. They were just doing what was asked of them by G-d. How could they be held accountable....vnachnu ma.

True humility is where one does not even think s/he is worthy of being the object of praise, much less its recipient. Anivut is more than when one feel the honor s/he receives is not deserved. Its when a person cannot understand why one would even want to praise and honor him/her. Anivut is where the person feels s/he has done nothing praiseworthy! A high madreiga indeed!

But that first v'nachnu ma is not what I want to focus on with you. Rather its the second v'nachnu ma. Yes believe it or not Moshe makes essentially the same statement a second time, and only one pasuk later. There Moshe speaks alone, rather than with Aharon. He says
"Hashem will give you meat in the evening to eat and bread in the morning to sate you for Hashem has heard your complaints on Him, Vnachnu ma (what are we), your complaints are not with us, but with Hashem."

We might well wonder why does Moshe repeat the same message over, telling the People their complaints do not belonging to him and Aharon? What is the second pasuk giving us that the first did not?

I believe the answer is germane to the question with which we began our reflection. In the first verse Moshe is simply telling the people he is not the liberator. Their complaints to him make no sense to him at all. That is for us a lesson about humility.
In the second pasuk Moshe is saying something else. He is saying to the People "You have every right to complain. That's not the problem here. In fact G-d heard your complaints and is taking care of them. But you need to know that its not Okay to displace your issues with G-d by directing them towards other safer targets, like Aharon and me. You need to raise them directly to Hashem".

In the second verse the v'nachnu ma was not meant as a statement of personal humility but as a challenge to the People to have the courage to bring their complaint to its source. Moshe, as it were, says to Israelites, if you honestly feel your complaint has merit then bring it to G-d and He will receive you. Do not be afraid to claim what feels true to you before G-d. Do not let intimidation cause you to displace your hurt and worry and either keep silent or put it where it does not belong.

So often people find themselves in desperate circumstances. Life may have been very unfair to them. Perhaps one has pains that won't go away or faces a financial crisis with no source of help. Is it alright to complain to G-d. When ravaged by cancer does one have the right to angrally ask G-d "why?". When overwhelmed with loss does one need to remain stoic before G-d?
In the Psalms David says "My G-d, my G-d, why have you forsaken me". Sounds like a complaint to me. When the Israelites have no food Moshe tells them complain indeed, but bring it to G-d. That's what it means to be in relationship with Him.

It does no good for a person to live with suffering in silence. If we are to have a true relationship with Hashem we need to give voice to our heart, even when that heart is aching and feels cheated. My sense of Tehilm teaches me that only when I bring all of me to Hashem can I feel His saving closeness and only then can the love of G-d be realized in it fullness.

It takes courage to express all of myself to G-d. Yet that is what G-d wants of me. Would any loving parent want less from their child?

Shabbat Shalom

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