Have you ever walked around at a party’s cocktail hour and said, “What no lamb chops?” Or exclaimed, “Where is the sushi table?”
The Torah portion strikes a similar tone: “Then the Israelites wept and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!’” (Numbers 11)
It is remarkable that people can be so ungrateful. It is remarkable that we are oftentimes ungrateful. The Israelites are unaware of the many blessings they have. They just earned their freedom, and yet all they wanted was to go back to Egypt. They complained and complained, and then complained some more. They could not see their blessings but instead what they no longer had. They could not see their freedom. They grew nostalgic for the foods of yesterday. How quickly they forgot the sufferings of their enslavement.
Freedom is of course an enormous blessing. We often forget that freedom comes with enormous responsibility. At times this responsibility overwhelms the blessings. We rebel under the weight of our duties. We complain, “I have so much to do…”
Abraham Joshua Heschel called this the “insecurity of freedom.” He wrote about our responsibility to speak out against injustices. Freedom is not about doing whatever you want. It is about doing what needs to be done. It is about being inconvenienced to vote in even the most mundane of elections. It is about stopping to aid those less fortunate than ourselves. Give some manna to the hungry and poor! It is about speaking out against Syria’s atrocities (or Syria being named chair of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament).
It is about doing what the world needs you to do. It is rarely about doing what you want to do.
Let us look more at what we have rather than what we do not have. Let us affirm our many blessings each and every day, rather than curse the few things we have not yet achieved. Let us live up to the responsibilities of freedom.
Then we will never say, “What! Where are the lamb chops? Where are the cucumbers or the melons?” You can look at the world like the Israelites did. Or you can look at the world and the many things you still have to do and count them as your blessings. Our blessings are many. Our blessings are especially plentiful when you look at all the things the world needs you to do. Then you will say, “Wow look at the many blessings I can achieve by virtue of the responsibilities God gave me.”
Then nothing is a burden and everything looks to be a blessing.
The 19th century poet and preacher, Phillip Brooks, wrote: “Do not pray for easy lives; pray to be stronger men [people]. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers; pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you yourself shall be a miracle. Every day you shall wonder at yourself, at the richness of life which has come to you by the grace of God.”
The world requires some heavy lifting. There is no one but you to do the lifting. There is no one but those granted the responsibilities of freedom.
It is up to you whether you see this lifting as a blessing or a curse.