Parshat B’shalach: The Bigger Picture: No Judgements, No Complaints.

Exodus 15: 23 “They came to Marah, and they could not drink water from Marah because it was bitter.”

Exodus 15:24 “The nation complained against Moshe, saying, What shall we drink?”

Exodus 15:27 “And they came to Elim, and there were twelve water fountains and seventy palms, and they encamped there by the water.”

In this week’s Parsha, the Jews leave Egypt and begin their forty year journey through the desert.

Although entering a life of freedom from servitude is definitely a reason to rejoice, my teacher and mentor, Nechama Carter, points out that the Jewish people were leaving Egypt with only 1/5th of their original number. Four out of every five Jews had died in Egypt, meaning that each and every Jew must have known at least one person who had recently passed away… yet the Jews did not complain.

Instead of going through the shortest route directly to the Holy Land, they were taken a much longer way around. The Jews did not complain.

They ran out of food and could not find water. The Jews did not complain.

Only once they reached Marah, after roughing their way through the desert with no food or water, after finally reaching some water, excitedly assuming that it was drinkable, and discovering that it was too bitter to drink, did a few finally complain.

I found this point enlightening as it gave me a better understanding of how great of a nation the Jewish people were. Often, when we are raised learning the stories of the Torah on an elementary level, we may think of the Jews of the Torah mostly in relation to their mistakes and possibly forget the bigger picture. But merely looking at these moments and forgetting the bigger picture would mean forgetting that they were a holy people whose few mistakes recorded in the Torah happened over the course of forty years.

At times in life we may see another person in the moment: a man rushing out of a door neglecting to hold it open for the person right behind him; a lady talking loudly on her phone in a quiet shop; a person leaving no tip with no apology for a gracious waiter. We may make assumptions and judgements about their character in relation to those moments that we witnessed. But in reality, if we would understand the bigger picture, we may find out that the man who neglected to notice the person behind him is an EMT who had received an urgent call with little time to spare. The lady may have been answering a call from her lonely grandmother who was hard of hearing. The person leaving no tip may perhaps not be accustomed to eating out and not understand the importance of leaving a tip.

Or possibly those individuals don’t have any real excuse. Maybe they are generous, kind people just having bad days or oblivious moments. I’m sure we’ve all had days when we didn’t act our finest and I’m sure that we’ve all excused ourselves at times since we know that we’re generally more sensitive or polite. The difference is that with ourselves we tend to look at the bigger picture while with others we may only see the moment.

We would have less complaints about others if we viewed each individual as a person with a past and a future, with struggles and sensitivities; if we viewed each person as a whole and each seemingly negative moment or trait as one small thread in an immense tapestry.

The Chofetz Chaim develops this idea a step further and remarks that human beings naturally have limited vision, and that it is because of our limited vision that we could ever even  consider complaining. Imagine if instead of the Jews approaching the bitter water and complaining, they were aware that Marah was just a stop along the way to the beautiful area of Elim, which flowed with an abundance of water. Would they have complained?

…What if rather than complaining the moment that something seems wrong, we trusted in Hashem? Wouldn’t it make sense that our God has a plan for us? That He knows what He’s doing? That if we would just have patience God might even be so generous as to show us the good that is sure to come?

Just a little more patience and a deepening of our trust in God, says Rabbi Zelig Pliskin in his book Growth Through Torah, could help us lessen our complaints. Not only that, but turning to Hashem in trust and love rather than in anger or frustration, could make a seemingly negative situation itself feel more positive. We cannot decide what our experiences will be, but our perspective is our decision. What will we choose?

By Aviva Lasky

Aviva Lasky is a Jew who appreciates learning and sharing Torah wisdom.

(Special thanks to chabad.org for their translation on the Torah portion and to Mrs. Nechama Carter and Rabbi Zelig Pliskin for their insights on the parsha.)