May 26, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
May 26, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

“Kvetching” and challenging leadership has become a famous trait associated with the Jewish people. A story is told about the Israeli Prime Minister who met with the President of the United States. They contrasted how things got done in their respective countries. The Israeli Prime Minister put it well when he said, “In your country, you have 300 million people who follow and one president who makes the decisions. In our country, though, we have six million people who all think they should be Prime Minister and are quick to tell me their decisions and how I ought to follow.”

Moshe had to endure a lot of kvetching and challenges to his leadership. The Jews complained they had better accommodations in Egypt. They complained about the water. They complained about the food. In the parsha of Beha’aloscha, we read that, “The people took to complaining…” (11:1) This was not about anything specific. The Ramban suggested that this was just general complaining about the challenges of rough living conditions in the desert. They missed their bagels, lox and cream cheese. 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 literally said, “Just kill me now…” (11:15)

As if that wasn’t enough, in last week’s parsha, we read that Korach disputed Moshe’s leadership itself, saying, “What makes you better than anyone else?” (16:3). When Moshe heard this, he went into shock and simply “fell on his face.” (16:4)

The prophet Elijah, his generation’s leader, had a successful showdown with the 400 false prophets of Baal, (Kings I, 1:18). He had just debunked their idol worship practices and miraculously proven that Hashem was the true God. Yet, the following day, when Jezebel challenged his authority and threatened to retaliate against him, he ran into the wilderness, hid under a tree and also asked God to, “Just kill me now!” (Kings I,19:4). God had to ask him, “What are you doing here?” (19:13). Hashem had to reassure him that he was to return and resume his position of leadership.

We see from these examples that being a leader for the Jewish people can be exasperating even for the greatest of our heroes, Moshe and Elijah. Still, in our own time, we have worthy Jewish causes that need board members and presidents. How do we encourage people to step up and take responsibility, without falling on their faces and exclaiming, “Just kill me now?”

The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 25b) quotes the Torah verse that states, “You shall come to the leaders who will be in those days,” (Devarim 17:9). The question is raised, “Who else would we go to? Someone who was not in our days?” Rather, we are admonished to show respect to our current leaders and not to even reminisce about the former leaders “in the good old days.” The Gemara goes on to teach that, “even the most insignificant person, once he has been appointed as leader of his community, becomes like the most powerful ruler.”

A second Gemara (Sanhedrin 8a) tells us that Moshe encouraged Joshua and the elders of the generation to enter the land of Israel and assume leadership. He, in effect, told Joshua not to take any backtalk from anyone. “Take a stick and bang it on their heads” if need be. He directed Joshua to “Be strong and take courage. Hashem will be with you. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed.” (Devarim 31:7-8).

There are many Jewish organizations and causes that need volunteers to step up and help run things smoothly. Hillel tells us in Pirkei Avos (2:6), “In a place where there are no men, step up and be a man.” Men and women are always needed to take on such responsibilities, despite the occasional kvetching and challenges. We need not be afraid or dismayed. In the merit of fulfilling this sort of mitzvah, may Hashem help us to be strong and take courage. May we be rewarded with all of the good blessings in life.


Rabbi Dr. Avi Kuperberg is a forensic, clinical psychologist and a member of the American Psychology-Law Society. He is acting president of the Chai Riders Motorcycle Club of NY/NJ. He is the coordinator of Bikur Cholim/Chesed at Congregation Torah Ohr in Boca Raton, Florida. He can be reached at [email protected].

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles