What Are You Complaining About?

V’hamann kiz’ra gad hu v’eino k’ein ha’bedolach (Bamidbar 11:7)

During their travels in the wilderness, a group of complainers began to protest the mann that they were forced to eat day after day. They wailed that they missed the succulent tastes of the meat, fish and vegetables that they ate in Egypt, and now they had nothing to look forward to except mann. Rashi writes that in response to their complaint, Hashem wrote in the Torah a description of how wonderful the mann was, as if to say, “Look, inhabitants of the world, at what My children are complaining about!”

Harav Avrohom Pam notes that although we don’t merit hearing it, a Bas Kol (Heavenly voice) still frequently expresses similar frustration over the things we complain about. We live in a time of unprecedented freedom and material bounty. We are surrounded by a society that influences us to believe that we are entitled to immediate gratification and to have everything we want exactly how we want it. If we would only step back and view our lives in the proper perspective we would be so overwhelmed by the blessings we enjoy that there would be no room to complain about trivialities.

Although we don’t normally hear Hashem’s direct communication on this point, sometimes He sends us the message about priorities and values through a human agent, as illustrated in the following story:

A group of yeshivah students was once complaining about the quality and selection of the meals they were served. Each boy heaped more and more criticism on every aspect of the food, until they were jolted to their senses by one of the elderly teachers in the yeshivah. The Rabbi couldn’t help but overhear their loud complaints in the dining hall and walked over to teach a succinct lesson: “In Auschwitz we would have done anything to have gotten such food.”

Every time that a husband comes home to a messy house, filled with children’s toys and dirty clothes, and berates his wife over her inability to keep their house clean, a Heavenly voice challenges, “How many families would do anything to have children and would gladly clean up the mess that accompanies them, and here is somebody who has been blessed with healthy children and is upset that they make his house disorderly? Where are his priorities?”

When a husband or a child complains about eating the same supper for the third consecutive night, Hashem can’t help but point out how many poverty-stricken families would do anything to eat this dinner every night for a year, if only to enjoy a nutritional and filling meal.

Every time the parents of a bride and groom quarrel over petty wedding-related issues, a Bas Kol wonders how many parents will cry themselves to sleep that evening over their inability to find a proper match for their aging son or daughter, and who would gladly accede to any terms the other side set… if only there would be another side.

The next time we find ourselves upset about issues that are objectively nothing more than nuisances and minor inconveniences, we should remember the lesson of the mann and open our ears to hear Hashem’s response to our complaints.

Q: The Torah testifies (Bamidbar 12:3) that Moshe was more humble than any person on the face of the earth. Does this mean that it is physically impossible for another person to be more humble than Moshe, or is the Torah merely stating the facts and teaching that in reality nobody was ever more humble than Moshe, even though it is theoretically possible to be so?

Q: The Rambam writes (Hilchos Tumas Tzaraas 16:10) that Miriam didn’t intend to disparage Moshe with her comments to Aharon. Rather, she erred in equating the level of Moshe’s prophecy with that of other prophets such as herself and Aharon. The Rambam lists 13 fundamental principles of Jewish belief and writes that a person who denies even one of them is considered a heretic. One of them is that the level of Moshe’s prophecy is unparalleled among all other prophets. Does this mean, G-d forbid, that Miriam was a heretic?

A: Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, quotes Rashi, who writes (Devarim 1:17) that Moshe was punished for using a certain inappropriate expression that seemed to demonstrate a minuscule element of arrogance. This seems to indicate that it is theoretically possible to reach a higher level of humility than that reached by Moshe, as otherwise it wouldn’t be fair to punish him for not reaching a level that is humanly impossible to attain.

Additionally, he notes that one opinion in the Midrash maintains that the verse only intends to compare Moshe’s humility to his contemporaries, but not to those who lived before him, explaining that the Avos were indeed even more humble, which clearly proves that it is within the realm of possibility to reach a higher level, and the Torah is simply stating that nobody else was able to do so.

A: Harav Elchonon Wasserman, Hy”d, answers that the very source for this fundamental principle of belief regarding the uniqueness of Moshe’s level of prophecy is this incident involving Miriam. After Miriam spoke negatively to Aharon about Moshe, Hashem rebuked them and explained (Bamidbar 12:7-8) that Moshe’s prophecy is not on the same level as all other prophets.

In other words, at the time that Miriam made her accusations against Moshe, this principle hadn’t yet been clearly stated and established in the world. Even though a person today who repeated Miriam’s argument would indeed be labeled a heretic, her position at that time wasn’t considered heretical because it didn’t contradict any known and established belief.


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.