Moses did not have it easy. God elected him to redeem the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. After some hesitation Moses accepted the task. He quickly found it far more challenging than expected. Not only did he have to contend with Pharaoh’s recalcitrance but he also found himself trying to create community surrounded by Israelites who, at times, seemed more practiced at complaining than anything else. Even long after they had crossed the Sea of Reeds, the Israelites’ whining continued unabated. Central to their complaints was that the manna God sent from the heavens each day wasn’t satisfying. The situation then went from bad to worse. Moses discovered that not only were the Israelites unhappy, but his brother Aaron and his sister Miriam were speaking against him as well.
Clearly the Israelites were unable to appreciate all they had. They did not understand gratitude. They constantly lost perspective. In fact, their actions reveal that they wouldn’t know a miracle if it was placed right in front of them. But of all their shortcomings there is one that truly stands out.
In Numbers 11 we read:
…the Israelites wept and said, “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!”
Time and time again the people challenged Moses’ leadership and complained about what they did not have.
They complained about a lack of water. God sent them water.
They complained they were hungry. God sent them manna.
They complained that the manna was unsatisfying. God sent them quail.
But of all these grievances, the nature of the last complaint reveals their greatest blind spot. When the Israelites stated, “We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic,” it becomes clear that, despite all that God and Moses have done for them, they continued to look back to a romanticized past rather than appreciate what they now had. The result? They were unable to be fully present for one another. They were incapable of preparing for the future.
History is important. Our past shapes us. Our memories remind us who we are. But it is only when we allow ourselves to be fully present that we can recognize what a blessing it is to be alive.
As a beautiful Shabbat begins this evening, take a moment to pause and to recognize the blessings surrounding you. I suspect there are many more blessings than you realize.
Rabbi Dan Cohen
An Invitation to be Part of a TSTI Mission to Israel and Petra Spring 2018.
We are planning an adults-only “Israel off the Beaten Path” trip next spring. The draft itinerary looks amazing and I/we are excited to spend a week in Israel and a day in Petra as well. If you are interested, please contact Sunny at firstname.lastname@example.org