July 13, 2024
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July 13, 2024
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“Life is great!” is usually not the typical response we are used to hearing. More often than not, we are usually met with a simple “Baruch Hashem,” or “I’m hanging in,” “not bad,” and if we’re lucky, “things are OK.” It’s normal to be caught up in the things that aren’t going the way we would like them to be. The Jews in the desert couldn’t have realized this more: stranded in a vast, empty, and seemingly endless desert, Ramban explains that the Jews were in a state of utter bitterness at their situation, saying, “What will we do, how will we survive, what will we eat, what will we drink, and how much longer will we have to endure this painful situation!” Yes, the Jews complained, and we would think that they were justified. After all, could anyone blame them? Yet, Hashem found this extremely negative, “and it was evil in the eyes of Hashem, and Hashem was infuriated” (11:1). Why?

Ramban explains that the reason why Hashem found their complaining so displeasing is because they were expected to demonstrate a polar opposite attitude. Instead of being bitter, they should have “went after Hashem in joy and peace of mind for all the good that he has given them.”

We can perhaps ask: Was it really expected of us to be in such good spirits like Ramban is saying? Ramban indicates that if we were in the middle ground attitude—meaning, we were neither here nor there, neither happy but also neither sad—even that wouldn’t have been enough. We were not only supposed to not complain, but according to Ramban we were supposed to be jubilant and serene! Ramban strongly indicates that at least part of the evil that Hashem found in our behavior is that we were not optimistic and calm. The question is, how could that have been expected of us while living in a desert where there is seemingly no practical security in regards to anything necessary to survive? Granted Ramban says that Hashem gave them much good, but their dire straits seem to be far more overpowering than the good they have been given!

Perhaps we can suggest that Ramban is teaching us the power of positivity that we all can utilize. Even if life seems extremely unstable, hopeless, and feels like the situation will never end (much like the situation in the desert in the Jews’ perspective), nevertheless, if there is some good in one’s life, one has the ability to tap into that good, focus on it, and become extremely happy, and even content. The Jews in the desert had much to complain about, but they should have focused on the good Hashem gave them, which would have given them the ability to be joyous and at peace despite their situation.


Binyamin Benji currently learns in Rabbi Shachter’s kollel at Yeshivas Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan, and is a semicha candidate there as well. He holds an MSW from Wurzweiler School of Social Work and is the author of the weekly Torah portion in the Sephardic Congregation of Paramus’ newsletter. He can be reached at [email protected].

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