You may have heard me tell this story before. Once I was at an interfaith Thanksgiving service, sitting next to a fellow rabbi, listening to the minister who was giving the message for the evening. He referred to, “how there is always that one person in church who complains about everything.” Turning to each other, without missing a beat the other rabbi and I said at the same time, “they only have one?”
Ki Tavo, our Torah portion this week, provides for us an insight into the Jewish love for complaining. In Deuteronomy 29:4 it says, v’lo natan Hashem lachem lev lada’at v’eynaim lirot v’oznaim lishmoa ad hayom hazeh, “Yet not until today has the Lord given you a heart to know and eyes to see and ears to hear.”
The Torah commentator Rashi explains to us what this refers to. Moses gave the copy of the Torah he had written to the tribe of Levi to keep. The other tribes came to Moses and complained – why was he giving it only to them and not everyone?
What was Moses’ reaction? Rashi says he rejoiced and then spoke the words of this verse. Why was Moses happy? The people, with their complaints, were showing that they cared about the Torah – they wanted it to be theirs! Sure, they might still be annoying and prone to whining and all that, but the story here is Moses was able to see past all that and recognize that the Torah really did matter to the people.
That is perhaps why we Jews do so much complaining, complaints mean you care – that things matter!
I hope I hear a lot of complaints from you all because it will mean you are concerned with things. And if ever I offer a complaint to you, well, I hope it will be for the same reasons!