In one of the most famous mass performance reviews in written history, the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) starts out with Moses doing a recap and overview of the Jewish people sinceWe have the luxurious vantage point of hindsight they left Egypt, and the review was hardly favorable. In re-telling one of the lowest moments of that period, the “incident of the spies” (when the Jewish people were afraid of entering the Land of Israel after hearing the fearful report from the infamous spies), Moses pointedly reminded the people how they spoke against G‑d when they said: “Because of G‑d’s hatred for us did He take us out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorite to destroy us.

This is tantamount to claiming that the whole thing was a setup from the start—in that G‑d freed us from Egypt only to deliver us into the hands of a much worse enemy and certain death. We have the luxurious vantage point of hindsight and may judge their distorted perceptions critically.But in defense of the masses, which had been manipulated into a state of terror by the spies, can we empathize with their pain when they “claimed” G‑d hated them? What was really going on?

The Longing Behind the Complaint

When our children come home from school, smarting from a bad grade or being disciplined, and they cry out with unwavering certainty, “My teacher hates me!” are they making a statement of objective fact or are they really expressing an unspoken fear of not being loved by the teacher? What is the unexpressed longing underneath their complaints?

While it’s very challenging to remain centered, conscious and nonreactive when someone is bitterly complaining, look under the hood of a complaint, especially an irrational one, and you will likely find someone who is insecure, wondering if he or she is loved.

If G‑d Only Loved Us ...

When seen in that favorable and compassionate light, you can then consider the irrational complaints and accusations the Jewish people made against G‑d as evidence of very insecure people questioning their relationship with G‑d. In their minds, in their logic, it made sense that if G‑d really loved them, He could have kicked the Egyptians out of Egypt, and let the Jews live free and safe in the fertile Nile delta. If G‑d really loved the Jewish people, why were they the ones wandering in the desert? Why were they attacked and beset by people trying to destroy them? And why did they have to face years of battle to establish their homeland? At Mount Sinai, G‑d called us His beloved. Is this what love looks like?

When my husband was a little boy, he lived in the DP (Displaced Persons) camps in Germany after the war. “The bad Germans lost the war,” he was told. And yet, it was these “bad” Germans who walked around freely, seemingly doing as they pleased, while he could only peer in bewilderment at them from behind barbed wire, confined to the grounds of a concentration camp that was hastily upgraded to house the Jews that had nowhere else to go. The little boy was confused. Is this what winning looks like?

And when we read the news today—with worldwide terror a commonplace event, and anti-Semitism rising up with a terrifying velocity—isn’t it possible to wonder whether G‑d really loves us as well? So are life’s challenges proof of G‑d’s hate or evidence of His love?

A Mother’s Blessing

Every Friday night, I lovingly lay my hands on my daughter’s head, and I ask that G‑d should bless her like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Isn’t that beautiful? But if you think about it, how exactly were our foremothers “blessed”? They had lives of unbelievable challenges, hardships and adversities that seemed much more like curses than blessings, as well as having to endure dysfunctional family dynamics that would compete with any sensational tabloids we see today. Why would I want any of that for my daughter? Wouldn’t it make more sense for me to find a better role model? I racked my brain to come up with a female figure of merit and distinction in any arena that would exemplify an “easy” life, and I couldn’t. And not in the fictional world either.

Life’s Bigger Purpose

G‑d had, and has, other plans for us. He wants us to have a real, meaningful and fulfilling life. G‑d wants our lives to shimmer with transcendence and holiness, endowed with purpose and service. G‑d wants us to have a life where we overcome adversity, where we choose and grow.

You can’t move up theYou can’t move up the ladder by yearning for a life of ease ladder by yearning for a life of ease. And so, while our forefathers and mothers didn’t have easy lives, they had profoundly meaningful and spiritual lives—lives that charted our very course and destiny, and whose qualities are embedded in our spiritual DNA. When we don’t confuse the “good life” with an “easy life,” then we can embrace challenges as a means of self-discovery. And when we don’t expect our lives to be simple, then we can tap into our significance. In giving us the Torah, you could say that G‑d was the first life coach ever, exhorting us to live our lives by design and not by default. That sure looks like love to me.

And therefore, while the complaint of the Jews in the desert against G‑d was perhaps understandable, in the end, it was ultimately unjustifiable because the longing underneath the complaint equated easy street with G‑d’s love, and adversity and challenge with G‑d’s “hatred.” So even if its origin was fear, such thinking was distorted and immature. And when others were looped into the negativity, these complaints were rightfully deserving of Moses’s derision.

Whenever you may face individual and national challenges, do not fall prey to insecurity that doubts G‑d’s love and connection. Remind yourself of times in your life when you have endured suffering that led to blessings or growth, and ponder the ineffable survival and spirit of the Jewish people over the millennia. Life is not a “set up.” The Kotzker Rebbe is famous for saying that there is nothing more whole than a broken heart. But don’t worry—that’s how the light gets in.

Internalize & Actualize:

  1. Think of a time that you acted out or behaved in a certain way, which really was a defense mechanism for how you were truly feeling. Write down the adjectives to describe your behavior, and then alongside it, write down the adjectives that represented what was really going on in your head and heart.
  2. With the above in mind, think about a situation where someone else behaved towards you or responded with the negative behavior that was similar to yours. Knowing that your behavior did not represent how you were actually feeling, rewrite that situation and how you feel towards that person when you believe that their true feelings were hurt, fear, insecurity (etc.), rather than rudeness, anger or blame (etc.).
  3. When in your life did someone push you well out of your comfort zone? And as much as you may have resented it at the time, did you eventually come to recognize strengths in yourself that you would not have discovered without that challenge? How can you apply this lesson to situations you are now facing, when you would rather take the “easy” path as opposed to the one less traveled?