23 June 2016
In this week’s parasha, Beha’alotecha, the Israelites – after being in the wilderness for what seems like an eternity – are hungry, thirsty and uncertain about whether they will ever reach the Promised Land. We can almost hear them in the backseat saying, “are we there yet?” They criticize the leadership of Moses and Aaron, wondering aloud if they were not better off as slaves in Egypt. And finally, we read, “The people took to complaining bitterly before God.”
Interestingly, God responds in different ways. When the Israelites made reasonable complaints about immediate needs, God responded with kindness. But when they were merely grumbling “like complainers,” God became incensed, lashing out in disappointment and anger.
The lesson is clear. When we face moments of difficulty in our own lives, we need to reach out to others and ask for their help and support. But if all we do is kvetch, though we may find momentary catharsis and perhaps even receive kind words and expressions of genuine sympathy, we will accomplish nothing concrete to resolve our problems. The former takes a special focus that often comes in the face of adversity. But focus doesn’t necessarily mean “going it” alone. Reaching out to others takes – and gives – strength.
As you read this, I am traveling to Paris for meetings of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), one of our primary overseas partners the largest single beneficiary of Federation’s annual unrestricted campaign. The focus of our meetings will be about the French Jewish community – its long history, its challenges and its future. How will France handle growing jihadism, and how can Jews protect themselves? There is a growing unease among many French Jews about remaining in France, due to anti-Semitism and the stagnation of the French economy, where 24% of the general population under age 28 is unemployed. Aliyah to Israel is increasing. I look forward to reporting more about what I learn.
Reflecting on this week’s Torah portion, rather than “complain bitterly,” we can take – and give – strength from partnering with the French Jewish community to meet the challenges.