Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Please, Don't Complain

In Parshat Beshalach (last week's Torah portion), an unfortunate but instructive episode occurred during the Exodus from Egypt. Our ancestors started to complain to Moshe (Moses) over growing fears of a lack of food and water. Even after all the miracles God performed for the Jewish people during the process of redemption, they had the gall to complain to their leaders about something which would be provided. In response, Moshe and Aaron excoriated the people for their behavior and explained that the object of their impertinence was not them - mere human beings, but God - their Provider and Redeemer.

This episode reveals a behavioral tendency that occurs when there is a lack of faith. The people's complaints in the wilderness would have been understandable for anyone else traveling through similar conditions, but this was neither a regular group of people nor natural circumstances. As a result, the complaints were unfounded. Furthermore, the Torah is providing us with a blueprint on how to lead lives of goodness. In this instance, the lesson is to overcome our inclination to complain, even when we think we are justified in doing so.

Nobody likes to be around someone who complains. It's among the most annoying qualities an individual can have. We all have problems, but simply complaining about them won't fix anything. In fact, if people took the time to work on those problems instead of complaining, they might actually be able to implement solutions. It's unfair to both the complainer and the listener; the complainer gets nothing accomplished, and the listener has to suffer through their diatribe. However, there are times when people need to vent. It's important to clarify what you intend to get out of a given conversation: advice or relief. Seeking advice means conversing with the goal of solving a problem. Focus on a specific dilemma and see whether or not the listener can help advise some sort of solution. On the other hand, venting is when we become overwhelmed by events in our lives and just need to let it all out. In this case, the goal is one of relieving stress. This differentiation is important because it can reduce complaining. If you need to vent, do so privately. Just be clear to the listener that you're not engaging in a problem-solving session.

All of this brings up an interesting question: do we spend our time complaining or trusting in God? When it comes to our micro lives as well as macro events, the answer is usually some sort of combination. Most of us want to believe that better days are ahead, but we still bemoan the issues at hand. Whether it's dealing with a bad economy or worrying about Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, one would think that complaining is perfectly reasonable. However, the Torah teaches us otherwise. While it's not always easy, try your best to decrease complaints and increase faith in God.

Here's how Patrick Overton eloquently expresses faith:

"When you walk to the edge of all the light you have
and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown,
you must believe that one of two things will happen:
There will be something solid for you to stand upon,
or you will be taught how to fly."

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