Excuse me. I have to repeat an old joke.
Did you hear about the women from Boca who were out to lunch? The waiter dutifully comes to their table and asks: “Ladies is anything alright?” I repeat this joke for a reason.
In three separate classes which I taught this week the same theme repeated itself from three separate sources in the Torah. Each text was about the complaining of our ancestors in the Torah. After liberation from slavery, as the people wandered in the wilderness, they complained. They complained to Moses and to God. They complained about the fact that they had more security in Egypt. There they could die comfortably! In the wilderness, there was great uncertainty and they initially feared being overtaken and killed by the Egyptians who pursued them. They complained about the food. They complained about lack of water. Perhaps a stereotype of Jewish people was born!
However, I think it goes much deeper. There is a cultural aspect to how people respond to hardship and challenge. Yet we know there is a tendency amongst all people to complain and perhaps, complain too much. In my classes, we had conversations about this. Why do people complain as much as they do? Why do we complain as much as we do?
The answers can be found in our tradition, through psychological insight and inside of ourselves. Our tradition speaks about complaining as a sign of a lack of faith. If we believed that things would be better, we would have greater patience. It may have to do with a tradition that encourages debate and disagreement. But too much complaining is not about disagreement; rather it is about being disagreeable. Complaining may come from the establishment of standards that are unrealistic. Complaining may come from a sense of entitlement. We may complain when we feel like we have no control to make changes, and so there is nothing left to do.
It is interesting to note that we live in times when we have never had it better, never had more and never had it so easy. And yet, these are days of great complaint. There are times when our complaining releases us of frustration. And there are times when our complaining makes us feel worse.
So what’s the antidote? Let me suggest a few things. One is that we always need to be cultivating an eye for gratitude. When we feel thankful, we are less likely to be complaining. We need a modicum of modesty. There is no reason to think that we deserve everything or that everything must be either perfect or up to the standards we set. This simply isn’t real life. So we can also say, I accept an imperfect world and I need to live in it. None of us should feel compelled to comment or critique everything and everyone. Sometimes it is more productive to simply observe, to remain silent and to find acceptance. Tikkun Olam in our tradition is not about perfecting the world; it is about placing things in balance. So the real question, of course, is, “Is everything alright”. And the most authentic answer we should consider is “No, but that’s ok.” There is never a situation where “everything is alright.”
Sometimes we simply need to reframe our situation. And finding acceptance in ourselves leads to being acceptable to the world.
And finally, there is the complaining we do about the things happening in our world. And we know there is a lot wrong. But, we do ourselves and our world a big favor when we respond with positive actions. When we don’t simply sit back and complain but become activists in our causes, however simple that might be; then we don’t complain as much.
We live in sunny Florida. I have learned a lesson from Tobi. There are days we wake up and it is cloudy or rainy, windy or stormy and she will say: “Isn’t it beautiful outside!” And I have learned to agree! Gratitude, humility, and acceptance of the way things are, including imperfection all make us less likely to be like the complainers.
This Shabbat is Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of song. I recall the words of the children’s singer Raffi: “All I really need is a song in my heart, food in my belly and love in the family!”
See you in shul