Nobody likes a complainer, including God. When the people complain without even bothering to name the problem (Numbers 11:1), God hurls a fire at them. In contrast, God doesn’t display any umbrage whatsoever when Moses
complains just a few verses later. God offers Moses concrete ideas to address Moses’s concerns. Why does God react with hostility to the complaints of the people, but conciliatory toward those of Moses?
The people subsequently weep that their todays are much worse than their
yesterdays. They romanticize the past and lament it can never again be the
present. Their venting reveals they are focused entirely on their embittered
circumstances and they are less interested in finding real solutions to their
problems than in making sure their complaining is heard. They are disinterested in exploring change to improve their situation. Rather than illicit sympathy, they evoke divine wrath.
Moses’s complaint goes beyond naming and bemoaning a problem. He
identifies its cause and seeks a solution. The scope and weight of his
responsibilities are simply too great for a single individual to bear. God
responds by advising the recruitment of 70 elders with whom to share the
burdens of leadership. Moses points out that delegating won’t cover expenses. He literally asks, “Where’s the beef?!” (11:13) God assures him that God’s got this. Problem solved.
All complainers anticipate a response. Mere venting can heat things up, but
positive results can be earned through focusing on the possible, asking the right questions, and being open to change.
Rabbi Mitch Levine