Some people just can’t take yes for an answer. They are so committed to complaining about life, searching for things to be upset about, reveling in their role as victims of others that they simply can’t accept that things are going well for them no matter what.
I know a woman who has been divorced for nearly 40 years, and in all that time has been so consumed with her anger at her ex-husband that she has devoted her entire life to being unhappy. For the past twenty years that I have known her, she has refused to see anything in her life as good, or positive, loving or successful out of her emotional commitment to continue seeing herself as a victim of her ex-husband who “threw her out into the gutter.” She acts as if her need to be a victim is more important than her need to be happy. As if acknowledging that she actually could choose to enjoy life, or have a relationship with another man (several have tried over the years), would somehow invalidate all those years of her suffering and render her life a meaningless waste.
And she isn’t alone. I see so many people in the course of my life and work who are so invested in being victims of others, that they simply can’t let go of the past or take any responsibility for how their own lives have turned out.
Last week in the Torah we read about how in spite of all that God had done for the children of Israel they, too were never satisfied or able to assume responsibility for their lives. Here were people who experienced the signs and wonders of the plagues in Egypt, the liberation from Egyptian slavery, parting the sea of reeds, being fed with manna every day for free, having clothes that never wore out, water that flowed out of rocks when they were thirsty, quails that flew from the sky when they wanted to eat meat, and a cloud by day and fire by night to guard them and lead them through the wilderness. Yet with all of these miraculous events that happened to them, they still had no faith.
When they arrived at the border to Israel, the scouts reported to the community that the people who lived there were giants, that they seemed as tiny as grasshoppers in their own eyes and so must have seemed that way to the inhabitants of the land as well.
I am always reminded of the famous saying, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.”
And the same never ending kvetching and lack of faith seems to be the theme of this week’s portion as well. After the leadership of Moses is challenged both by his own cousin Korakh and by the other rebellious leaders Dathan and Abiram, God creates an earthquake, opens up the earth and swallows all these leaders along with 250 of their supporters and their entire families.
You’d think the Israelites would be awed, cowed and silent after such a display of God’s might and fury. But instead, they should have been called “the kvetching people” rather than the “chosen people” all along, for the very next day they are at it again. “And all the congregation of the children of Israel complained the next day against Moses and against Aaron…” (Numbers 17:6)
It seems as if the Torah is teaching us something important about human nature. No matter how many miracles we experience each day in life, the very fact that we experience them reduces their value to the ordinary and everyday in our minds and hearts.
Ralph Waldo Emerson who once said, “If Spring came but once in a century, imagine the wonder with which we would greet the unfolding of every flower.” The fact is that every single day we are surrounded by more miracles than we can count – from the air we breathe to the food we eat, the incredible complexity of our own bodies to the miracle of love that forges an indelible bond transforming two individuals into one intimate spiritual partnership. Yet every day most of us walk sightless through the miracles that surround our every moment.
Like the kvetches in this week’s portion, we look back longingly at the Egypts of our past and refer to them as the land flowing with milk and honey, blinding ourselves to the reality of how privileged and blessed we are, instead of setting our sights on the gifts of the spirit that await us if we only have the courage to enter the promised land.
I believe the Torah this week is a reminder to open our eyes, feel the earth and wind, smell the scent of the ocean, hold the hand of someone we love, give thanks for the tiniest blood vessels and nerves and capillaries that enable us to live, and let go of the heavy weight of victimhood.
I remember one day when my daughter asked me when I though someone was grown up – and I answered the minute they were willing to assume responsibility for the quality of their own lives, and stopped blaming others for how their lives were turning out – then they were finally grown up. The Torah tried to teach us this same lesson over 3,000 years ago – sometimes I guess we are just slow learners.