Torah Reading for Week of January 29 – February 4, 2012
“Kvetch, for Goodness Sake!”
By Gregory D. Metzger, AJRCA Third Year Rabbinical Student
Crying out loud for reform is a legacy of the Jews. It is not just the right of free people, it is their responsibility.
“In the wilderness, the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “if we had only died by the hand of the Lord in Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots, when we ate our fill of bread! For you have brought us into this wilderness to starve the whole congregation to death.”” – Shemot 16:2-3
We know that these gripes were not real. Lack of meat was a problem in slavery, but not in liberation. We know that the Israelites left Egypt with “much livestock, herds and flocks.” It was not the real problem.
Having just tasted freedom, our complaints were selfish and unrefined. Saddled with a history of oppression and no Torah to guide us, we were not yet free to see the truth. Not much has changed in 3000 years. We still complain about perceived problems and actively seek to deny real ones. We are constantly trying to fill emptiness in our souls with material things. We mistake spiritual concerns with physical ones.
When we were given Torah, we said we would “do and then we would understand”. G-d understands that we will find great difficulty seeing the connections between Torah’s solutions and our perception of the problem. By applying Torah’s solutions to our souls’ problems, we not only find wholeness within ourselves, we create Shalom in the world.
Today, we are free and guided by Torah. We can “kvetch” for goodness sake. This is our very great legacy. Like the freed slaves, each of us, occasionally or often, must relearn what was taught to Abraham: Our purpose is to extend the boundaries of righteousness and justice in the world.
This is not a new idea, this is ancient wisdom. In fact, in a recent excavation, Gershon Galil, Professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa, discovered what is considered to be the oldest fragment of Hebrew writing, dating to the 10th century BCE. It reads as a plea for justice and righteousness:
. . .you shall not do it, but worship G-d
Judge the slave and the widow. Judge the orphan
and the stranger. Plead for the infant. Plead for the poor and
the widow. Rehabilitate the poor at the hands of the king
Protect the poor and the slave. Support the stranger.
In our lives and in our society, we still experience slavery and distance ourselves from Torah and goodness. We cry out for our own wants and confuse them with needs. Yet the free among us remind us to cry out loud as in the days of old. Giving of one’s self to the world and the community is the solution. More than anything else, Torah commands us to care for the most vulnerable in the world, to protect their lives and their dignity. We too can “kvetch” about our own problems -real or fancied – or we can cry out for others. We may not understand it, but these actions we take to heal the world, will also heal ourselves. Give it a try “Kvetch, for goodness sake!”