This week we find the Israelites in the desert and they begin to complain, as is their wont, about their lives. They are bored, frustrated. All their needs are met, they are provided food by God in the form of manna every day, they do not have to toil for a living, they do not have to worry about their next meal, where they will sleep, what they will do, their lives are laid out before them, leaving them absolutely no concerns and one would imagine, absolutely nothing to complain about. They are free people whose only task is to enjoy being free. And yet it seems that it is not enough. And they start to complain. They remember the food that they enjoyed in Egypt, the leeks, the free fish, the cucumbers, they want meat, they want to go back to Egypt, back to the ‘good old days.’ The good old days, can you believe it? Conveniently forgotten is the slavery and oppression. Not mentioned is the fact that they were worked to the bone, they suffered under a tyrannical pharaoh and his homicidal rages. Instead they wistfully remember the food, the cucumbers, leeks and best of all, the free fish! What on earth is going on? What has happened to the memories of the Israelites? When it seems they finally have it all, they find fault with their lives, wanting something different, something more.
When we read about the Israelites and their striving for more it is so easy to judge, so simple to see them as ungrateful, complaining whingers. But how different are they from us? A number of years ago I heard a researcher on the radio saying that many of us have more possessions than we could possibly need for the rest of our lives. He said that if we never buy another material possession we would not want for anything. And yet we are not satisfied, too often we do not recognize the blessings of abundance that we have and instead search for the latest, the best, the newest. We have taken the relatively new term “upgrade” and applied it to our lives, upgrading everything from computers, phones and televisions, to cutlery, clothing and toys. Often those items are not used up, they are perfectly good, they work, they meet our needs, yet we are not satisfied, we want the newer, better, faster model. Just like the Israelites, we are not happy. Our society has become a disposable waste producing culture where we discard and buy new and we do not seem to treasure and appreciate what we have.
We are in a culture where we are quick to replace and have the new and latest version of something we already have, not because we need it but because we want it. Like the Israelites, we can become complacent, not stopping to realize and appreciate what we have and instead striving for the unattainable. This week our Torah portion reminds us to be grateful for what we have, to see that for most of us, we have more than enough and instead of buying more, perhaps we could share what we have with others who are in need. Take a moment to count our blessings and be grateful for what many of us have; a roof over our heads, food on the table and warmth.