Don’t Complain – Do!

There was a family I once knew.  Mom, dad, and three delightful young children lived in a small home they rented in a really rotten part of our town.  It wasn’t rotten because it was poor. No, this part of town was poor because its inhabitants lived by rotten values.  These five beautiful people made up one of the very few intact, functional families in that neighborhood where fatherlessness was the rule. Of the men to be seen, almost none were working or married.

My friends worked very hard; dad devoted himself to his job all day and studied accounting at night. Mom fed her children both body and soul, nourishing them and educating them with facts and morals while providing a warm nurturing home for her husband.

Then, eventually one day—a breakthrough!  Dad’s employer, rewarding years of diligence, dedication and integrity, allowed him to participate on favorable terms in the company’s initial public offering.  From then on their financial fortunes soared. After a few years, the family moved into a large and comfortable home in the most prestigious suburb of town.

Each of the children, now young teenagers, was given their own room.  I remember their mother telling me that during their first few weeks in the new house, she’d find all her children sleeping in one room every morning.  They were close siblings and instinctively drifted together as they were unaccustomed to being alone in a big empty room.

That was what mom told me. What dad told me was much more surprising.  He went right back to the old neighborhood and made the owner of their old house an offer he couldn’t refuse.  He then put the house up for rent at below-market with one proviso: for one night each year, his family could move back into the house while the renters were put up in a hotel.

Sure enough, I saw it with my own eyes.  Once each year, on the anniversary of the date they moved out of the little old house, they moved right back in.  Clutching their sleeping bags and blankets, the family drove across town.  Dad parked his car right there on the street where he used to park every night for so many years.  The five of them slowly walked up the short concrete pathway, mounted the steps to the front door and went in.

After a plain sandwich supper eaten while they sat on the floor of the living room, they unrolled their sleeping bags right there on the carpet and spent a weird and uncomfortable night.  The next morning, they arose and without much conversation, each wrapped in his own thoughts, the family returned to its lovely new house.  The slightly heavy atmosphere lasted until they walked through their elegant front door whereupon a happy bedlam ensued.

Let me have dad explain in his own words why he led his family on this bizarre annual ritual. 

“I didn’t want my kids to become spoiled by our luxurious new lives and my wife and I didn’t want to forget where we came from.  We decided to create a family tradition of spending one night a year where we once used to live with the intention of building a family feeling of gratitude and as a regular reminder of our good fortune.  An added benefit is that our children have absorbed into their very bloodstream the belief that there is always a way out. That no matter how tough and dark things seemed to be, there was always a way up towards hope and light.”

No sooner did I hear his words than I thanked him profusely. 

“With your wonderful family tradition, you have taught me the meaning of the Biblical book of Exodus, the second book of the Torah.”   

Just think about it.  A full 30% of the Book of Exodus is taken up by a long and detailed description of how Israel got out of Egypt.  Not only do we read it repeatedly every single year, but once each year we actually live out the entire experience in a ceremony known as the Passover Seder.

The Book of Exodus serves to instill into our bloodstreams the belief that there is always a way out.  Each of us suffers in our own form of Egypt but it is not terminal.  There is always a way out allowing us to emerge from darkness to light and from slavery to freedom.

Verses that may not make sense when Exodus is viewed as just a storybook, begin to shine bright beams of brilliance when we realize the book is not a storybook but an instruction manual.  An escape manual directing each of us how to pave our own pathway from stagnation to growth and from despair to triumph.

For example, look at this verse:

And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and He issued a commandment to Israel
and to Pharaoh king of Egypt for the Children of Israel to exit the land of Egypt.
(Exodus 6:13)

The basic understanding might have been that God spoke to Moses and Aaron and instructed them to make Pharaoh allow Israel to leave, but why is God issuing that commandment not only to Pharaoh but also to the people of Israel themselves?

After all, Israel is the victim, right?  Pharaoh must be made to release his slaves, which is exactly what God directs.  But His directive is also issued to Israel. Why?

Ancient Jewish wisdom supplies the shocking answer.  Israel was not to be a passive people being delivered by Moses and Aaron and expelled by Pharaoh.  God never wants His children to be inert tennis balls floating down the gutter of life.  God commanded them to become instruments of their own deliverance.  Passivity never propelled anyone anywhere.

Today we need this reminder more than ever.  We are culturally indoctrinated to think that a job is a right that someone else has the responsibility to deliver to me.  Many politicians extend this principle to a right to basic income without even having a job. They call it Universal Basic Income and proudly place it on their platforms.  The more that citizens reject the principle of responsibility for their own lives, the more they transfer those responsibilities to government.  It follows that they are increasingly comfortable with government growing ever bigger, ever more powerful and ever more intrusive.

Put another way, the line of people in front of the window where they are giving away stuff for free will grow longer and longer.  Is there hope?  Yes; it has to do with replacing rotten values with real values. 

15 thoughts on “Don’t Complain – Do!”

  1. Greetings!
    Thank you for the enlightenment on this passage. I am also looking at my own situation as a husband and parent and always depend upon biblical commandments and truths to answer all that takes place around us.

  2. I love this story and the application to the children of Israel’s exodus out of Egypt. I plan to adapt it for a sermon to my congregation about remembering how the Lord has brought many out of a life of spiritual darkness and moral bondage into His marvelous light of truth, and His subsequent abundant blessings as we obey His commandments. Even for those who are currently struggling in areas, we can always look back and remember where the Lord has brought us from, and know if He delivered us before, He can do it again.

  3. My dear jack-of-all-trades husband passed away from cancer this year. This granny was left with quite a challenge – living in an unfinished remodel including holes in the ceiling and floor and no budget for it, just bills. The following message, inspired by your writings, of personal responsibility and hope, will soon be a plaque adorning my unfinished wall: Become an instrument of my own deliverance. Passivity never inspired anyone anywhere.
    –inspired by Rabbi Daniel Lapin

    Thank you for all the years of insight and inspiration along this rocky, joyful path of life.

  4. Rabbi
    Your Torah quote
    “And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and He issued a commandment to Israel
    and to Pharaoh king of Egypt for the Children of Israel to exit the land of Egypt.
    (Exodus 6:13)”
    I cannot find anywhere. I use artscroll and checked other versions and they don’t match. Hashem did not command Israel as your quote says which does not do your point any good. I love your show and all that you do but if your teaching does not match Torah, I cannot put my trust in it.

    1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

      Dear Larry,
      Relax and allow me to explain that every translation legitimately attempts to make sense in and of itself. Translations are translations not commentaries so translators will when necessary, fudge the translation rather than open a huge Pandora’s box of mystery and confusion. In other words, every verse of Torah requires about a page of explanation (See Mikra’ot Gedolot) so a translation has to adjust meaning in order to achieve its mandate of one verse per one verse. The Torah doesn’t lend itself easily to translation which is why the day of its first translation (into Greek) is sadly observed as a fast day in the Hebrew calendar. This is an acknowledgement that it cannot be translated whilst retaining its deeper meaning. For instance see this very commonly found translation of Genesis 13:11 “ So Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they parted from each other“. The Hebrew MiKeDEM clearly says “FROM the East” not eastwards, however the full explanation took me nearly 600 words in another Thought Tool on this website. Clearly no translator can spend hundreds of words on each verse, thus the common custom of fudging the real Hebrew meaning in favor of a simple and short translation at the expense of accuracy. My translation was entirely accurate but as you saw, needed a few hundred words to be explained. ArtScroll, which you cite, is an admirable publishing house run by distinguished rabbis but when they translate, they suffer exactly the same tribulations I describe above and solve it in just the same way. For an example, see their “translation” of Song of Songs and compare to Hebrew original. Hope this relieves your exasperation, Larry.

      1. I agree with you Rabbi. Out of interest, I read the Hebrew and then about a dozen or two translations into English, most of which give the gist, but some translation are subtley quite different. Knowing the shoresh and how lack of vowels and context all play a part, mis-translation is always a problem

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          Absolutely, Tony,
          You’re light-years ahead by knowing how to read and understand the Lord’s language, Tony.

      2. Thank-you – I note that the old King James version has it your way and the fact that the ‘unto’ is applied to speaking to Moses, Aaron, and to Israel and Pharoah – in fact as far as I can see, the ASV, RV etc have it that way, it is only the more modern translations who try to play game with ‘spoke about Israel’ – how do they do that when all of them use the same Hebrew \word. אל

        1. Rabbi Daniel Lapin

          You’re exactly right, John,
          I too just yesterday checked the wonderful King James translation an was delighted to see how they did it.

  5. Your concept in this story is very good and one that this society needs attitude of thankfulness and gratefulness!

  6. Rabbi Lapin
    Thank you for the wonderful article. I can relate to this personally since my parents were considered poor when they first married and had to live with my grandparents. Both of my parents worked hard and were able to provide for my brother and I. We were taught to live frugally and help others. I often drive past the first home I owned in a bad neighborhood to never forget where I came from and be thankful for what The Lord has given me.
    Having worked in the inner city in Ohio I met and interacted with thousands of able bodied people getting government handouts. Only a few had the drive and determination to better themselves and get away from that type of life. Our Left Wing Media and Politicians tell these people they are hopeless and helpless victims of the system. It always boggled my mind the vast amounts of money and freebies people can get if they know how to play the system. Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was a total failure and I saw a video clip where he said ” If we keep giving them money they will vote for us the next 100 years”
    I have also met a lot of Legal Immigrants. They are always so grateful for the opportunities in America and they work hard and prosper. Seldom are their stories told by the media because it would be a conflict of interest with telling citizens they are victims.

    I will be eternally grateful for the Work Ethic and Family Values taught to me by my parents and grandparents that have kept me self sufficient. I will also always be grateful for Ancient Jewish Wisdom taught here.

  7. Thank you Rabbi Lapin for this wonderful message. I was beginning to think that no one noticed the problem of free stuff for all. I’ve worked hard all my life and have little respect for folks who feel entitled or are on the dole. I hope this message spreads far and wide. God bless you Rabbi Lapin and your family!

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