This week’s Torah Portion, P. Pekudei, includes the completion of the building of the Tabernacle. Moses saw the entire work and blessed the people, but there is no mention of God’s response to the completion of this awesome project, which God had commanded. What’s that about?
A midrash tells us that God did have a response. When God saw that the Tabernacle was finally done, God said, “Oy.” Why? The midrash explains God was tired of hearing the constant litany of complaints from the Jewish people, so God commanded the work of the Tabernacle as a distraction, figuring that the people would be too busy to complain. Once the Tabernacle was finally erected, God realized the complaints would start up once again. Here we have early evidence of a favorite Jewish pastime – the art of kvetching.
Kvetching, or complaining, is generally dismissed as undesirable behavior. We applaud the positive, abhor the negative, and so confidently tell our peers (and children) that all their complaining is really quite unattractive. Even God doesn’t like a kvetch (complainer). But rather than merely condemn it, God thwarts it, by assigning the kvetchers a grand project.
Complaining comes from a place of loneliness and powerlessness. When a situation is aggravating, and the circumstances are beyond my control and with no one on my side, I’m apt to feel the urge to express a little frustration. Having a project to create something; especially to create something beautiful together as a community, can grant us the relief of a sense of camaraderie and purposefulness. It can’t solve the root problem. After all, total control in life is ultimately illusory; and, ultimately, we are alone. But sharing a burden devoted to a higher purpose can restore a sense of control and solidarity to our somewhat beleaguered lives. Evidently, this is what erecting a Tabernacle; creating together a place of worship, was intended to be about.
Rabbi Mitch Levine