Whine. Kvetch. Whine, whine, whine. Kvetch.
And this reading starts out so positively. As if we’re having a lovely dream or a happily-ever-after story read to us as we drift off. Then we wake up to a bleak reality.
The Israelites, after over a year at Sinai, are preparing to set out on their journey to the Promised Land (why does “a 3-hours tour” spring to mind?). Aaron lights the golden menorah; and the lighting of a menorah is the focus of the haftarah, Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 (also read on Chanukah), where light is a symbol of the spirit of the Lord. The Levites are ritually purified, offer sacrifices, and formally take up their duties as substitutes for first-born Israelites. A second Passover (Pesach Sheni) is set a month later for anyone who was unable to celebrate at the right time because of ritual impurity. The cloud-by-day, fire-by-night phenomenon starts up. Two silver trumpets are made for summoning the people to war and for celebrating holidays and the like. Jethro decides his son-in-law Moses has matters under control and returns to Midian. Finally, the march toward the Promised Land begins, and we read verses that are part of the Torah service to this day, 10:35-6:
“When the Ark was to set out, Moses would say: ‘Advance, O LORD! May Your enemies be scattered, and may Your foes flee before You!’ And when it halted, he would say: ‘Return, O LORD, You who are Israel’s myriads of thousands!’”
The people start whining. A dysfunctional pattern emerges: The people complain, the Lord wants to punish them, Moses prevents their total destruction (just wait until the Korach rebellion), but they’re hit with a plague or fire, or whatever anyway, whatever fits. For example, after the people complain about missing meat, they are sent thousands of quail, followed by a plague (food poisoning?). Even Miriam and Aaron act up, slandering their brother because of his marriage (details are fuzzy). They are bawled out by the Lord and told that, yes, Moses actually is more special than his siblings. Miriam is stricken with tzara’at (a skin disease that is not leprosy), recognized by the rabbis as a punishment for gossip and slander. Moses, far from being vengeful, simply prays that she be healed, and the people wait for her for her week of quarantine.
The people’s grumblings are of great interest to the reader (they’re really complaining about missing cucumbers?) and their crankiness probably derives in large part from boredom (“Manna again?”), fear of an ill-defined future, and a lack of daily purpose. All their needs have been met, as if they are (spoiled?) children. This year, however, let’s look more closely at how all this is affecting Moses.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his d’var Torah Faith and Friendship, points out that, in this reading, Moses reaches his nadir emotionally, and he cries out to the Lord (Num. 11:11-15):
“Why have You brought this trouble on Your servant? What have I done to displease You that you put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do You tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land You promised on oath to their ancestors?… If this is how You are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favour in Your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.”
And how does the Lord respond? By scolding Moses, saying he has no “right” to feel that way? By urging him to cheer up, it’s not that bad? No. The response is quite practical. The anguish Moses feels is in part because he is alone and, contrary to his father-in-law’s earlier advice, trying to do too much himself. What would be of the most use immediately is what the Lord prescribes (Num. 11:16-17):
“Gather for Me seventy of the elders of Israel…I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself.”
Rabbi Sacks writes, “What is moving about this episode is that, at the moment of Moses’ maximum emotional vulnerability, God Himself speaks to Moses as a friend. This is fundamental to Judaism as a whole… He is not just a supreme power. He is also a friend. That is what Moses discovered in this week’s parsha…(And the seventy elders) did alleviate his isolation. They shared his spirit. They gave him the gift of friendship. We all need it. We are social animals. ‘It is not good to be alone.’ (Gen. 2:18)”
Much research has been done identifying the huge effects – behavioral, emotional, physical – that friends have on us and how we “tend to become what our friends are. So choose as friends people who are what you aspire to be.”
Rabbi Sacks concludes,
“Judaism has foundational beliefs, to be sure, but it is fundamentally about something else altogether. For us, faith is the redemption of solitude. It is about relationships – between us and God, us and our family, us and our neighbours, us and our people, us and humankind. Judaism is not about the lonely soul. It is about the bonds that bind us to one another and to the Author of all. It is, in the highest sense, about friendship.”
Our current state of polarization has ruptured too many bonds and broken too many friendships. I remember when my mother, as an elementary school teacher, walked a strike line for the first time, her colleague and close friend Ruth refused to strike. They nearly severed a friendship that went back to childhood until it was pointed out to my mother how very much more important that friendship was than politics. Maybe, despite the present mishigas, we can all start healing our broken friendships.
Irma Kurtz (2013) The joy of kvetching, Jewish Quarterly, 52:3, 88, DOI: 10.1080/0449010X.2005.10705252
Grumbling and kvetching, though both based on complaint, are not the same thing. Grumbling is muttering and solitary; kvetching is vocal and wants comradeship. Grumbling is established and dangerous: volcanoes grumble. Kvetching is lilting and portable, like a violin. The goyim grumble; only a Jew can kvetch.
Kvetching is not whining, either; certainly not when undertaken by a virtuoso. My father became a consummate kvetch in his old age, the wintry season when kvetching, like wisdom, normally achieves its peak. We used to visit my grandparents every summer at Grossinger’s Hotel in the Borsht Belt of the Catskill Mountains. There, every evening on the porch, old people of both sexes retired to rock in unison, and sigh, and intone kvetch after kvetch about the food, the weather, the entertainment, their health, and mostly about their wayward children. The sound of kvetching was not unlike prayer, except prayer beseeches for the tribe; a kvetch is every man for himself, albeit in unison with landsmen. My father had the advantage, practically a necessity when it comes to world-class kvetching, of speaking Yiddish as his first language. How often nowadays do I wish his generation had not refused to let us learn Yiddish, the tongue of philosophers and peddlers, with its melancholy cadence and a built-in shrug of resignation that is the keynote of Jewish complaint? A kvetching shrug is unlike any other in the world; it does not say, as Nordic and Latin shrugs do, ‘Who cares?’ but says instead: ‘Who cares that I care? That we care? So who should care?’
Quotes about Bonds and Friendship
The strong bond of friendship is not always a balanced equation; friendship is not always about giving and taking in equal shares. Instead, friendship is grounded in a feeling that you know exactly who will be there for you when you need something, no matter what or when. Simon Sinek
I define friendship as a bond that transcends all barriers. When you are ready to expect anything and everything from friends, good, bad or ugly… that’s what I call true friendship. Harbhajan Singh
In all our contacts it is probably the sense of being really needed and wanted which gives us the greatest satisfaction and creates the most lasting bond. Eleanor Roosevelt
I don’t have a twin, but I do have a brother and sisters, and I do know that there is a special bond there that is – I’m going to say – closer. It’s different. It’s closer than having a best friend. It’s easier to forgive them. I think it’s also easier to get mad at them. You feel a little piece of yourself in them. Justin Hartley
A member of the United States Senate, known for his hot temper and acid tongue, exploded one day in mid-session and began to shout, “Half of this Senate is made up of cowards and corrupt politicians!”
All the other Senators demanded that the angry member withdraw his statement or be removed from the remainder of the session.
After a long pause, the angry member acquiesced. “OK,” he said, “I withdraw what I said. Half of this Senate is NOT made up of cowards and corrupt politicians!”
sarahkeilman94 wrote: when i was little i thought food poisoning meant that someone had literally poisoned your food and one time my sister got food poisoning from mcdonalds so i told everyone at school that the drive thru guy tried to kill my sister