If you’ve read even a few of my blog posts, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I am a little obsessed with the ancient Israelites’ penchant for kvetching. With the story of the Exodus from Mitzrayim (Eygpt) and their 40-year wandering through the midbar (wilderness) so prominent in 4 of the 5 Books of Moses, their moaning, groaning and constant trope of “woe-as-us” ever streaming from their lips, is either a serious character flaw or meant to be something to which we really need to pay attention.
This week in “Parashat Chukat,” the Israelites are once again bemoaning their plight – hungry, thirsty, tired, distressed, and even longing for the “good ole days” back in Egypt. As the saying goes, “The Pharaoh you know is better than the one you don’t!” While this isn’t at all true, it appears that for the Israelites (and let’s face it, us too), its a very difficult default to resist. This week, as a punishment for their “High Crimes and Kvetching,” God sicks snakes on them, with their only recourse being that they must look towards Moses’s staff with a snake sculpture at its top, in order to then be healed. Why must they look to the staff instead of, as has happened in the past, cry out to God in order to then be healed?
I would argue that this is a part of God’s “learning curve.” We human beings need symbols, representations and physical reminders of the potential for healing, renewal and hope. If God’s redemptive power remains ethereal, unable to be even temporarily concretized, God remains far too transcendent for us to connect. I know that the 2nd commandment appears to be an injunction against this concept. However, what does the 2nd commandment truly say? Al taaseh lecha fesel – “Do not make yourself a graven image.” The fluidity of life that swings from concrete to symbolic, from elusive to present, from life to death, from slavery to freedom – this is the reality, or…these are the reality. Life is always changing and we will notice if we pay better attention to that fact. We just have to remember that everything we look at or feel or touch or experience is part of a moment that with time, will pass. Ever to be replaced by the next thought, symbol or vision. The trick is in paying attention without believing and acting upon every thought, symbol or vision we have. In this way, we learn to discern what is real and what is imaginary, what needs action and what can be left alone to resolve itself. If we do, we may be surprised by how less tired life can make us feel.