In today’s portion, Behaalotecha, we find the people of Israel on the way to the Promised Land after leaving Egypt.
But by this time they’re no longer grateful for having escaped slavery.
In fact, they have started to groan and moan. They’re complaining to Moses, their leader, that life in Egypt was actually better.
Despite the fact that G-d has given them manna to eat, they are dissatisfied.
They cry out to Moses: “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost – also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”
The fact is, they have become spoiled. They are so used to Moses leading them and G-d providing for them, that they start to take this for granted.
It’s easy to say, “How could people be so ungrateful?” But if we’re honest with ourselves, this kind of behaviour is human nature.
We all like to look back to previous times in our lives and think that things were better in ‘the good old days’.
In South Africa, for example, we like to complain. People often say life was better in the past. But there was the cruelty of apartheid. In those times we would not even have been allowed to sit together as we do today.
Some Jews even look back at pictures of the shtetls in Eastern Europe where our great-grandparents came from. They say it must have been a wonderful time. But they forget how hard life was.
Even in my own life, I look back to previous grades at school and think how ‘easy’ it was. I could play Lego and didn’t have to write tests. But at that time I definitely didn’t think school was easy!
The message I take from today is that there’s no use looking backwards unless you can learn lessons to make your present life and your future life better.
On this day of my bar mitzvah, I give thanks for the life that I have. I am grateful for the opportunity to take on more responsibility. If, like the Israelites, I become dissatisfied, I would recognize this and realise that I have to fix it myself.
In this way, I hope, I can grow into the kind of man who inspires others and helps give them courage to do the same.