Ignore the Complainers!

Vayehi ha’am k’misonenim ra b’aznei Hashem (Bamidbar 11:1)

Although the Torah had until now recounted a handful of isolated sins committed by the Jewish people, in Parashas Behaalos’cha they begin a pattern of repeated complaints — against Hashem, against Moshe Rabbeinu, against the mann and against the laws of forbidden relationships. Commenting on the general phenomenon of complaining, Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, notes that quite often the people who are protesting have no basis for their objections but are merely seeking a pretense to express their dissatisfaction.

Dovid Hamelech writes in Tehillim (106:16), “Vayekanu l’Moshe b’machaneh l’Aharon kedosh Hashem — The people were jealous of Moshe in the camp; of Aharon, the holy one of Hashem.” Quoting his father, the Steipler Gaon, zt”l, Rav Chaim homiletically explains that they argued that as their leader, Moshe belonged in the camp among the people, and it was therefore improper for him to spend so much time away from them on Mount Sinai and in the Mishkan communicating with Hashem.

In contrast, Aharon excelled in promoting and facilitating peace and, as such, spent most of his time in the camp amongst the populace. In response, they argued that as the holy one of Hashem, Aharon should not be spending his time on such mundane activities, but should instead devote himself to serving Hashem on Mount Sinai and in the Mishkan. The lesson this teaches us is that there are people who will always find something to criticize, and a truly wise person will be able to discern when to take their protests to heart and when to tune them out.

To illustrate the point, Rav Chaim cites a mashal of a father and son who were traveling together with a donkey. Initially, the father was riding the donkey while his son walked beside him. Along the way they encountered a person who remarked that the father has no compassion for his son, as he comfortably sits on the donkey while forcing his son to walk. When the father heard this perspective he decided to reverse the arrangement, placing his son on the donkey while he walked alongside them.

A short while later they encountered a second person, who commented that this new arrangement was inappropriate and demonstrated the son’s lack of respect for his father, whom he compelled to walk while he rode the donkey in comfort.

Upon hearing this accusation the father decided to join his son, and they proceeded with both of them riding the donkey. The next person they met was shocked by their lack of mercy for the donkey, as evidenced by the unreasonable burden they were imposing on it, to which they responded by both dismounting the donkey and walking alongside it. As they continued they encountered a fourth person, who claimed that it made no sense for all three of them to walk, when one of them could easily ride on the other. Having exhausted all the other possibilities, this left the father and son with no choice but to lift up the donkey and carry it the rest of the way.

Rav Chaim comments that this nonsensical conclusion is indeed the appropriate outcome for a person who lives his life worried about every complaint he hears, no matter how illogical, and allows them to govern his decision-making process. Rather than obsessing about obtaining the approval of the donkey-toting society around us, we should instead seek to live lives and make choices with which we are comfortable, while remaining open to constructive criticism from those whom we trust to have our best interests at heart, secure in the knowledge that we are acting correctly and not worrying about the opinions of those who will always find something to complain about.

Q: Moshe asked (10:31) his father-in-law, Yisro to remain with the Jews in the wilderness in order to serve as eyes for them. Why did they need Yisro’s advice or guidance when all of their travels were conducted based on Divine instruction (9:17-18)?

A: Rabbeinu Bachya answers that although the Jewish people traveled based on Hashem’s guidance, there were still many Jews who lacked proper faith and trust in Hashem. Because they felt more secure with a human being upon whom they could rely, Moshe suggested that Yisro remain to reassure them.

Alternatively, he suggests that Moshe’s intention was that Yisro should serve as eyes not for the Jews, but for the non-Jews. In other words, he would be a witness to all of the miracles that Hashem performed for the Jews, which he could then relate to the non-Jews to inspire them to believe in Hashem. Harav Eliyahu Meir Bloch, zt”l, explains that unlike tzaddikim such as Moshe and Aharon who were born righteous, Yisro was unique in that he was self-made and self-taught. Many Jews had difficulty looking to Moshe as a role model, as his greatness seemed so far removed from them. Moshe therefore asked Yisro to stay and serve as an example of what every person can become if he only recognizes and uses his latent potential.

Q: How were Eldad and Meidad (Bamidbar 11:26) related to Moshe Rabbeinu?

A: Targum Yonason ben Uziel writes that when Pharaoh decreed that all male babies would be killed, Amram divorced his wife. During this time she married Eltzaphan ben Parnach and gave birth to Eldad and Meidad prior to remarrying Amram and giving birth to Moshe. The Daas Zekeinim and Rosh write that when Hashem gave the Torah and prohibited relations between certain relatives, Amram again divorced Yocheved, who was his aunt and was now forbidden to him. Amram remarried, and together with his new wife gave birth to Eldad and Meidad.

They add that they found a journal written by a Rav Amram, who quotes a Rav Hillel who lived in Eretz Yisrael. Rav Hillel testifies that he saw the tombstones of Eldad and Meidad, and on them were written, “Eldad and Meidad, the brothers of Aharon through their father but not through their mother.”

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.