My favorite menu notation is in one of those classic New York kosher delis. Under the sandwiches it lists the costs for all the extras–club bread, lettuce and tomato, extra extra lean meat–along with a warning: “Aggravating your server: $1.” Apparently, “waiter, there’s a fly in my soup” would be a tame interaction in this eatery.
When it comes to complaining about food, we can look to this week’s parshah, Beha’alotekha, for the ur-text. As they embark on their journey through the wilderness, the Israelites begin giving the Divine caterer grief. “The rifraff in their midst felt a gluttonous craving; and 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 11:4:6)
In the wonderfully irreverent collection of thoughts on the weekly Torah portion called Unscrolled, the essay on Beha’alotekha and our penchant for complaining is written by a Rutgers University Yiddish professor, the aptly named Eddy Portnoy. He notes that while the parshah also includes the menorah, our national symbol, and the playing of national music on trumpets, the focus of the portion inevitably turns elsewhere. “It’s a wonder that our national symbol isn’t an image of someone with a deep frown and a wagging finger telling a waiter to send the meal back, or that our national anthem isn’t called “It’s Not Good Enough.”
On Shabbat morning, we’ll look at this Portnoy’s take on complaints, and think about whether our “combative” nature is a curse or a blessing.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise