I have staffed enough camp and youth group trips to fill three lifetimes and sure enough every single time someone MUST ask, are we there yet? It doesn’t matter if it’s an eight-hour ride or a quick jaunt around the block. I’m not sure if it’s a trait that children have or I can chalk it up to the fact that it’s stereotypically a Jewish trait. Are we there yet? Four words that make me cringe every time I hear them. I have gotten in the habit of sharing the itinerary at nauseum with anyone traveling with me. You won’t be able to leave the room without knowing the exact times, routes, and even who is driving (the bus). Does it help? In all honesty I’m not all that sure. I do know that it’s important that no matter what, I do need to be patient with people. It’s also alright to be frustrated. You should see me when the dreaded question is asked. Cooler heads eventually prevail. This all brings me to this week’s parsha.
In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Beha’alotcha, the Israelites, still wandering in the desert, become weary of traveling and grow bored with their diet of manna. They begin to complain:
The riffraff in their midst felt a gluttonous craving; and then the Israelites wept and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to! (Numbers 11:4-6)
The Torah in no way romanticizes the Israelites wandering in the desert. It’s a harsh reality for the people who thought their exile from Egypt would bear better times. They glorify the conditions of slavery and complain to God for freeing them. This is in stark contrast to the countless prayers in which we thank God for delivering us from Egypt. The portion also shows that our ancestors’ relationship with God could grow strained and become colored with doubt or anger. So too might our relationships with God feel challenging.
Just as it is our right to praise God, so too is it our right to become angry with God. While the example in this week’s Torah portion may seem mundane (a spicier diet), it is connected with the realities of the Israelites’ condition. Our ancestors were disappointed, they were scared, they were tired, and they felt that God and life had dealt harshly with them. Indeed, this week’s Torah portion is a reminder that we all feel like complaining or crying out at times. It is also a reminder that God is present to hear our cries.
Our tradition doesn’t paint a perfect picture either of God or of us. In this way, we can take comfort knowing that Judaism has always made room for our full selves. We are comforted this week knowing that there is space in our community for us at our best and at our worst.
On this Shabbat, let us find the strength to both praise God and cry out to God. Let us remember that we can pour out our full selves to the Divine and know that we will be heard. And, let us take comfort in knowing that our tradition never expects us to be “perfect,” but mirrors to us our full selves.
- Shabbat Bo - January 9, 2019
- Shabbat Miketz - December 4, 2018
- Shabbat Chayei Sarah - October 31, 2018
- Shabbat Ha’Azinu - September 18, 2018
- Shabbat Shoftim - August 15, 2018
- Shabbat Pinchas - July 3, 2018
- Shabbat Beha’alotcha - May 31, 2018
- Shabbat Emor - April 25, 2018
- Shabbat Tzav - March 21, 2018
- Shabbat Mishpatim - February 7, 2018