May 30, 2024
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Stop Kvetching, Make Coffee

In this week’s parsha of Beha’alotcha, all sorts of complaining takes place. We read that “The people took to complaining…” (11:1). This was not about anything specific, such as running out of food or water. The Ramban suggested that this was just general complaining about the challenges of rough living conditions in the desert. They missed their lox and salads. Times were tough and they reacted by “kvetching,” a Yiddish word best translated as whining. This was considered evil in the eyes of God. Even Moshe could not take the kvetching anymore. He basically said, “Just kill me now…” (11:15).

Later in the parsha we read that Hashem grew so fed up with the people who kvetched about wanting to eat meat. He obliged by having the meat fall from the sky. He gave them so much meat that they died with the meat still between their teeth. (Talk about indigestion!)

Finally, we read that even Moshe’s siblings, Miriam and Aaron, were kvetching and gossiping about Moshe. Apparently, they did not approve of his choice of wife. Then they added to the kvetching by saying, “What makes him so special? We are just as good as he is.” Miriam pays a price for her complaining too.

Several years ago, on Shavuot, I heard the late Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis speak about how people react to the challenges and adversities in their life. Everyone, at some point or another, will have challenges and adversities in their life that they can either adapt to or complain about. She called these challenges “the boiling waters of life.”

Rebbetzin Jungreis explained that, in her experience, there are three types of people who react in three different ways to these challenges of “the boiling waters of life.” There are the potatoes, the eggs and the people who make coffee.

There are people who act like potatoes. When you put a potato in boiling water it disintegrates until it becomes mush. These are the people who fall apart when they encounter tough times. They feel sorry for themselves, they get depressed or they cry “woe is me.” The rebbetzin said that no one likes mush. These folks get no respect.

Next are the eggs. When you put them in water they get harder and harder. They have a tough outer shell. When these people encounter challenges in life they react by becoming angry and bitter. They go through life upset at all the hardships they have been doled out. They never smile anymore.

Lastly, there are the people who integrate their challenging experiences and grow from them. They learn from each experience and become better because of their experiences. She called these people “coffee.” When you mix coffee with boiling water you get a delicious drink. These are the people everyone wants to be around. After all, who doesn’t like a nice cup of coffee?

So, the next time we encounter life’s trials and tribulations, how are we going to react? What are we going to do when, like the people in the parsha, we do not get our lox appetizer, our salads and our meat main dish? Will we become a potato? Will we become an egg? Or will we deal with life’s challenges and grow from them? Will we kvetch or will we make coffee?

By Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg

 Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist. He serves as the president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He also leads the Summit Avenue Shabbos gemara shiur and minyan in Fair Lawn, NJ. He can be contacted at [email protected].

 

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