By: Rabbi Grisha Abramovich, head Rabbi of the Religious Union for Progressive Judaism in the Republic of Belarus
Stop Just Complaining and Do Something
Question – What technology, instrument or human resources do we need to run a Jewish community, its programs, services and events? There are many books, instructions, lessons and ideas that help us reach success, and perhaps this week’s Torah portion may help us with that task. It begins with the instruction on how the menorah should look and be used by Aaron and his descendants. The high priest lighting the menorah is presented as one of the visual symbols for maintaining the holiness and glory of the Temple. The next symbol in the chapter is the two silver trumpets that were used to assemble the community or set things motion: an audial symbol.
We read in commentaries that their sound supplemented the visible sign of God’s presence – a cloud – which indicated whether the children of Israel should make camp and remain for a while or to continue their journey. Yes, the light in the Temple is important both physically and spiritually, and the ways to call and reach out to the community are essential. We, equally, have to strengthen our existing camp and goals as well as to move toward new goals.
In our parsha, as in our communities, people (may) complain about having enough light on the services and events and attention from staff and leadership. “We remember the fish that we used to eat for free in Egypt,” the children of Israel complained. We read in the next paragraph (Numbers 11: 10) after that “the Eternal One was very angry and Moses was distressed”. Nevertheless, God answers the request of Moses not to bear it all alone and to have more leaders to share the burden of the people. God, also, hears their request to have more than just the manna and eventually sends the Israelites quails. God pays attention to the needs of the people showing Moses and the leaders the importance of doing the same.
By hearing feedback, good and bad, we are planning next steps, and yet from time to time we are tempted to say “Stop complaining and do something”. One may say that the number of unfair complaints is high in this portion. It even ends with Miriam and Aaron complaining about Moses’ choice of a wife! Five years ago I received many complaints from Orthodox and Reform colleagues, as well as city officials, members of the congregation, youth leaders and even family members. Why? Because of the dedication of the
Sandra Breslauer Reform Center
, the first ever Reform presence in the heart of the capital in the Republic of Belarus, took place in June. They wanted a different date for the community to gather and celebrate in bigger number. It is true that the other dedications of our centers in Moscow and Kiev took place after Simchat Torah. I did not know what to answer, but preparing the dedication with Minsk and Jerusalem office staff we noticed that the chapter of that week was the same, with a number of unfair complaints to God and Moses. Ironically, the Israelites in the chapter want the fish for free, but got free quails instead. Moses’ complaint to the Eternal with the request to share responsibility with others brings Eldad and Medad, who are not just helping with management but accepted by the Israelites as prophets. Miriam disagrees with the dark color of Moses’ wife skin, and she was stricken with snow-white scales as a result of God’s punishment.
We have to be honest, notice mistakes and indict weaknesses, but is it really thinking about the final purpose and results or just complaining for the sake of saying something? One more irony from this year and this month: some of those who were so worried five years ago and even complained, asking to change the date of the dedication in Minsk, were involved in the fifth year anniversary without a single complaint regarding the date. There are times and reasons and motives to complain, there are also times, reasons and demands to do something and bring more light of hope, sound of truth and words of peace.