On June 7, we have witnessed two transitions….the election of a new Board and the promotion of our Jewlicious Learners. Many of us have graduations in our lives this month and last, and they, too, are transitions. Some of our dear friends have moved out of town this year and we have the prospect of gaining new friends as more and more people learn of Congregation P’nai Tikvah. Some of our members have lost jobs and some have found new employment. Some have been felled by illness and some have recovered from illness. Some of us have the joy of learning of new birth…and some have experienced the wrenching sadness of losing a loved one. All of these are transitions. Life is a constant ebb and flow filled with transitions. How we handle the transitions in our lives may be the mark of mentschlichkeit…and may be the result of expectations.
For the last month or so, our Torah readings have reflected how our ancestors handled the transition of slavery to freedom, and our Parasha this week, Korach, reminds us that we didn’t always handle the transition well. Korach, leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, and that is followed with yet more qvetching from the people, which leads to disastrous events for the Israelites, the death of 14,000 of our ancestors.
Qvetching? Us? Is that possible? G’valt! If there were a category for Qvetching in the Olympics, we’d be a shoo-in for the gold!
Think of it: We qvetched about the Manna….from heaven yet, in less than 30 minutes? What was Manna? Some of us are old enough to remember the cartoon, L’il Abner. There was a character, called a Shmoo (no offense, Shmu) who pretty much resembled a bowling ball with a mustache and stubby feet; but like the Shmoo, Manna could taste like absolutely anything the Israelites imagined! Steak, cookies, brownies….and only nutrition, no wasted calories.
Yet, the Israelites qvetched about not having the stale bread, leeks, and water they were provided in Egypt….oh, and the occasional fish that popped up from the mud during flood season.
Moses and Aaron had led us out of Egypet….mi-bet avadim l’vet chorin….from slavery to liberation. Wow! And yet we qvetched, numerous times, about their leadership.
My colleague, Rabbi Michael Simon tells a story about a woman who tells her hairdresser that she’s getting gussied up for a trip to Rome with her husband.
“Rome? Why would anyone want to go there? It’s crowded and dirty. You’re crazy to go to Rome. So, how are you getting there?”
‘We’re taking Continental,’ was the reply. ‘We got a great rate!’
“Continental?’ exclaimed the hairdresser, as she washed her hair. ‘That’s a terrible airline; they’re part of United Airlines now. Their planes are old, their flight attendants are ugly, and they’re always late. So, where are you staying in Rome?’
‘We’ll be at this exclusive little place over on Rome ‘s Tiber River called Teste.’
‘Don’t go any further, replied the hairdresser, as she styled and blew-dry the woman’s coif. “ I know that place. Everybody thinks it’s gonna be something special and exclusive, but it’s really a dump, the worst hotel in the city! The rooms are small, the service is surly, and they’re overpriced. So, whatcha’ doing when you get there?’
‘We’re going to go to see the Vatican and we hope to see the Pope.’
‘That’s rich,’ laughed the hairdresser, as she finished the comb-out. ‘You and a million other people trying to see him. He’ll look the size of an ant. Boy, good luck on this lousy trip of yours. You’re going to need it.’
A month later, after returning from her trip, the woman again came in to see the hairdresser. The hairdresser asked her about her trip to Rome.
‘It was wonderful,’ explained the woman, ‘not only were we on time in one of Continental’s brand new planes, but it was overbooked, so they bumped us up to first class. The food and wine were wonderful, and I had a handsome 28-year-old steward who waited on me hand and foot.
And the hotel was great! They just finished a $5 million remodeling job, and now it’s a jewel, the finest hotel in the city.
They, too, were overbooked, so they apologized and gave us the owner’s suite at no extra charge!’
‘Well,’ muttered the hairdresser, ‘that’s all well and good, but I know you didn’t get to see the Pope.’
“’Actually, we were quite lucky, because as we toured the Vatican, a Swiss Guard tapped me on the shoulder, and explained that the Pope likes to meet some of the visitors, and if I’d be so kind as to step into his private room and wait, the Pope would personally greet me. Sure enough, five minutes later, the Pope walked through the door and shook my hand! I knelt down and he spoke a few words to me.”
“Oh, really! What’d he say?’”
“ He said: ‘Where’d you get the lousy Hairdo?’ ”
Whether it was that hairdresser, the ancient Israelites or any one of a number of complainers we may each know…there are simply all-too-many people who like to complain.
What are some of the reasons people complain? Sometimes it’s simply because we have lousy attitudes— it’s easier for some to be negative than to be positive. Sometimes the situation seems overwhelming and our memories can’t remember better situations or imagine positive outcomes.
There are, in general, two major reasons we complain: One is attitude and the other is expectations. The higher our expectations, the more of a let-down we have when reality doesn’t live up to expectation. When we expect one outcome in a transitional time and experience something else.
Who knows what the real or imagined expectations of our Israelite ancestors were. We can’t do anything about the calf-builders, rabble-rousers, and qvetchers in our lives, but we can transform ourselves into more positive people. How?
Developing an attitude of gratitude sometimes takes some doing…and constantly needs to be reinforced. Look for the goodness in the situation…or the kernel of goodness in the person…That’s a good place to start.
My mother used to comment, “Gam zeh ya’avor”, this, too, shall pass; and “Gam zu l’tova,” this also is for the good. (There was a first century Jew, nicknamed Nachum Gamzu, because, even under Roman rule, his favorite expression was “Gam zu l’tova—-this, too, is for the good.” What a great attitude. We might call that “looking for the silver lining” but the truth is that when one looks for something positive, one can find it.
How many of us know people with cancer, who still find blessings in their lives; who live on the edge of poverty, yet give of themselves to others. Who deal with incredible challenges, yet find the strength to smile at one another. Let us emulate those and learn from the examples of our complaining Biblical ancestors
Chevreh, life, itself is a blessing…a G-d-given opportunity to experience transitions that can…and do…transform us and help us live up to the spark of the Divine that makes each of us filled with potential. Hold that in mind when surrounded by qvetchers.
Don’t let the qvetchers get you down, and don’t join the qvetching club. Be filled with radical wonder, as Rabbi Avraham Joshua Heschel would advise. Life is not perfect and people are not perfect, so let us not fool ourselves with expectations of perfection, which can lead to disappoint; let us simply find the goodness in whatever comes our way.
Rabbi Yocheved Mintz
Shabbat Parshah Korach
Congregation P’nai Tikvah