Parshat B'shalach: Let There Be Complaining...
Parshat B’shalach - The Israelites have left Egypt in a blaze of glory. God has brought them out of slavery, destroyed their enemy, and is guiding them toward the Land that has been promised. The People take a moment to celebrate and dance with Miriam and her timbrel and then… immediately there is whining. “There’s no water!”
“There’s no food!”
“There’s no water AGAIN!” “It’s too hot with the pillar of fire and too cold with the pillar of smoke.”
And on and on and on….
Throughout it all, God continues to insist that everything is going to be fine. God’s attempts at reassurance are not landing. The People clearly do not believe that God has “got this”. And really, why should they? They’ve been enslaved for generations, have just watched Egypt succumb to the plagues, and are now dragging all their belongings out into the desert like some wary band of Clampetts. They know not where they are going, only that God says it’s “all under control.” In fairness to the Israelites, there’s no food or water to be found, and it’s not hard to imagine why they don’t have total faith. Complaint is not always an expression of dissatisfaction, but rather a natural response to feeling unmoored.
God’s desire to reassure by saying “Don’t worry I will take care of everything” feeds the Israelite’s anxiety rather than calm it. Synagogue professionals often find themselves in positions to say “It will all be ok” in a well intentioned attempt to care for our congregants. What if the key to relieving anxiety is for people to be part of the solution?
God meets this need by instructing the People to gather manna with specific parameters: Gather in the morning, take one omer for each member of your family, eat it that day or it will spoil, gather double on Friday morning, and none on Shabbat.
Adding structure, sharing information, and encouraging people to play an active role in the work of the community diminishes worry (and complaint). This enables people to feel integral to the process and knowledgeable about the path ahead.
How can leaders respond to complaints through a lens of opportunity and compassion?
In what ways can congregations support their members’ need for information and involvement?
When working with lay leaders, what is the balance between positive reassurance and transparency?
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