How many of you like to kvetch—you know, complain? Kvetching, for some, is one of the singular pleasures of life. When Cheryl and I come home in the evening after a hard day, we often kvetch to one another about all the trials of our day. She kvetches at me. I kvetch at her. Sometimes after only 15 minutes or so, we just look up and laugh.
There’s a story about a man named Morty who takes his dog to a veterinarian saying, “My dog has a problem.
The vet replies, “So tell me about the problem.”
“First you should know,” says Morty, “that he’s a Jewish dog. His name is Irving and he can talk.”
“He can talk?” the vet asks.
“Watch this!” Morty points to the dog and commands: “Irving, Fetch!”
Irving, the dog, begins to walk toward the door, then turns around and demands, “So why are you talking to me like that? You order me around like I’m nothing. And you only call me when you want something. And then you make me sleep on the floor, with my arthritis. You give me this fahkahkta food with all the salt and fat, and you tell me it’s a special diet. It tastes like dreck! You should eat it yourself! And do you ever take me for a decent walk? No, it’s out of the house, a short pish, and right back home. Maybe if could stretch out a little, the sciatica wouldn’t kill me so much! I should roll over and play dead for real for all that you care!”
The vet is amazed and asks. “This is remarkable! So what’s the problem?”
Morty says, “Obviously, he has a hearing problem! I said ‘Fetch,’ not Kvetch!’”
Yes we all love to Kvetch, but today the crown of champion kvetchers has to go to Rabbi Binyomin Ginsberg. He’s such a kvetch that if he applied for membership here, I’d probably tell him to go to Beth Jacob! Rabbi Ginsberg is from Minnesota and travels around the country as an educational consultant. He travels on Northwest Airlines about 75 times a year—giving him a special place in Northwest Airline’s Frequent Flyer Program. But Northwest dropped him and he lost his Frequent Flyer points because in addition to being a Frequent Flyer he was also a Frequent Kvetch!
During one 7-month period, Ginsberg complained to the airline 24 times demanding compensation for delays, lost luggage and losing seats on overbooked flights that Northwest said the rabbi had reserved “with the purpose of being bumped so that he could get vouchers for new flights.”
Rabbi Ginsberg sued and lost. But he appealed and won. Last week he found himself standing before the US Supreme Court. It was reported in all the media—including The Atlanta Journal Constitution. My colleague, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg asks: what’s bugging him? Why did he make a Supreme Court case out of it? Lately we’ve seen enough rabbis in the news—rabbis accused of child molestation, money laundering, embezzlement, etc. And now we have a rabbi with a yarmulke and beard having his picture splashed across the country with headlines like: “Kvetching Rabbi Will Have His Day in Court.” I ask you, how does that make us look?
One blogger writes (TheUglyTruth.wordpress.com.): Once again, as history has proven over and over and over again, it is the Jews and their incessant whining, griping and complaining…that is one of the sources of all their problems and of anti-Semitism. Now, you don’t have to tell me that the guy who runs this blog is an anti-Semite. And you don’t have to tell me that Jews don’t have to watch everything we do, because the anti-Semites in this world will hate us nonetheless. But what I do have to tell you is that it is a responsibility for each Jew to act in a way that does not bring shame or envy to our people.
In last week’s Torah portion, Jacob teaches this lesson to his sons as they were about to go down to Egypt to buy food because of the famine in their land. The Torah (Gen. 42:1) tells us: “Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt and said to his sons: ‘Why do you make yourselves conspicuous?’” Rashi, in his commentary, explains that although they still had some food left, he was asking his sons not to flaunt it before the Ishmaelites and the children of Esav as they passed through their lands on the way to Egypt to buy more food. Jacob impressed upon his children the importance of being sensitive to the feelings of others—even if they did nothing wrong.
Rabbi Ginsberg should take this lesson to heart. Instead, in the eyes of many, he has made Jews look bad. What kind of person complains to an airline 24 times in 7 months? That’s one complaint every 9 days! Would you want to be married to this man? Would you want him to be a member of your shule?
Remember when you were a child, if you would complain to your mother that your brother hit you…if you told your teacher that someone shot a spitball at you in class…the advice you used to get was: “Don’t make a Federal case out of it!” Don’t go around complaining. Learn to live with it.
Anyone who has traveled has had his problems with an airline. An El Al flight attendant once asked me whether I wanted dinner, and I asked, “What are the choices?” She responded, “Yes or no?” Should I have called her supervisor and made a Federal case out of it? No, but others might. Rabbi Ginsberg took it all the way to the Supreme Court!
There’s a character trait our sages advise us to emulate called, vatranus. A rough translation would be “passivity” or “easy-going.” It means being willing to forgo something you are actually entitled to in order to avoid argument and disagreement—being personally hurt or wronged, and overlooking it. There are times when you have to let things slide and say: “Fahgetaboutit!” And this is especially true if you’re wearing a yarmulke in public.
Our Torah portion this morning has a tender scene with all of Jacob’s children reunited around his death bed. That’s some picture when you consider the circumstances! Joseph’s brothers threw him into a pit and tried to kill him, which you must admit, is an even greater sin than complaining and losing your airline miles, and yet he forgave them despite the fact that they never asked for forgiveness. Could you do that?
Nelson Mandela did! He was no great friend of Israel, but I do so admire that when he was released from prison after 27 years he said: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind I would still be in prison.” I guess Joseph felt the same way.
Rabbi Yisroel Reisman tells the story of a very religious woman who was waiting for a flight. She went to the airport concession and bought a package of kosher cookies. The bag of cookies lay on the seat next to her and she noticed that another religious woman sitting in the next seat nonchalantly reached into the bag and took a cookie without even asking. Soon the 1st woman reached into the bag for another cookie, and sure enough the other woman then took a cookie. The 1st woman then took another cookie and out of the corner of her eye, she watched as the “the cookie monster” took yet another cookie. “What chutzpah,” she thought, “she’s eating half my cookies!”
This went on till there was only one cookie left. The other woman then reached into the bag, took the last cookie, broke it in half…ate that half and put the other half back in the bag! Incensed, the 1st woman was about to rebuke the other one when the loudspeaker announced that their flight was about to board. She rushed to get in line and as she reached into her handbag for her boarding pass, she looked down, and there in her handbag was her bag of cookies untouched!
She then realized that the cookies on the seat were not hers, but belonged to the other woman! She was the cookie monster! She rushed over to the woman to apologize and the other woman laughed it off, saying that she was on a diet anyway and didn’t need all those calories. Rabbi Reisman comments: “That is true vatranus.” That kind of attitude can get you a free ticket—not on an airline but—into paradise.
The Talmud records that the students of Reb Zeira asked him, Bameh harachta yamim, “How did you live so long?” He replied to them, Miyamai lo hikpidati b’toch beyti, “In all my years I never lost patience in my own home.” That’s a good lesson for all of us—especially Rabbi Ginsberg. There are enough things in life that we have to stand up for and fight for, but as the book says: “Don’t sweat the small stuff!” For the most part, you will live longer if you forgive, forget and get a life! Amen!
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis