Everything seemed to have been going well for the Jewish people in the desert. Yes, there was one major glitch when the Jewish people worshipped the golden calf but, entering this week’s Torah portion we have a pretty good feeling about the direction that their travels are headed in. The Tabernacle has been built, leaders have been appointed, and Moshe seems to be giving off queues that entry into the Holy Land is imminent.
And then everything changes.
“The people became complainers, it was evil in the ears of Hashem, and Hashem heard and his wrath flared, and a fire of Hashem burnt against them, and it consumed at the edge of the camp.”
This incident begins a continuous stream of complaining by various facets of the Jewish people, the first in a series of incidents that would include their complaining about the Manna, Moshe complaining about the Jewish people, Miriam and Aharon complaining about Moshe, the spies complaining about Israel, Cousin Korach complaining about Moshe, the Jews complaining some more about the menu, all this leading up to a 40 year extension to their desert wandering and the ultimate untimely death of Moshe.
What is fascinating and unique about this first incident of complaining, is that it is the only incident of complaining that the Torah doesn’t mention what they were complaining about. One can guess that the traveling was difficult, they didn’t love the food, they just had 613 new rules and regulations to put on them, but the Torah remains completely silent.
The great Chassidic master known as the Meor V’Shemesh explains this with a profound idea about our behavior. Often a person feels sadness in his heart and complains. The assumption is that whatever he is complaining about is the source of his sadness. But, in fact, most often the opposite is true. The sadness in his heart is coming from some place much deeper, an inner void and an emptiness that he himself cannot identify. And because of that sadness, the person will immediately look around and find something to pin it on to try to explain and justify why he feels sad.
The Torah doesn’t tell us what the Jewish people were complaining about in order to teach us an important lesson. The Jewish people were complaining because they were struck with sadness. Where did that sadness come from? Didn’t they have so much to be happy about with the Tabernacle newly built and the upcoming trek towards Israel?
The answer is that sadness doesn’t always come from something bad happening. Often sadness can come from knowing something amazing is happening and we just don’t feel ready, or deserving, or an active part in making it happen.
The Jewish people were being swept away by a hurricane of holiness, on an adventure leading them to a place where they would have to answer to the highest standards. They were thrilled and excited, but internally they were scared. And that is when sadness creeped in. Sadness led to complaining about whatever there was to complain about. Complaints led to arguments. Arguments led to Sin. And before long, the story would be rewritten with a bittersweet ending.
How important it is to always be on guard about the sadness in our heart and uproot it with daily doses of joy and Simcha, to refrain from complaining and fill our conversations with positive speech, all of the time!