BEHA’ALOTKHAH: Don’t be a murmurer!
Address to Barmitzvah Gregory Belmont
by Rabbi Dr Jeffrey M Cohen
Shabbat 18th June 2005

My dear Gregory,

Mazal tov to you and your dear parents, Gina and Alex, and to all your family on attaining your Barmitzvah, and on the excellent manner in which you read your maftir and haftarah.

Now, although your family name is Belmont, your family has had a very long association with our Stanmore & Canons Park shul, spanning four generations. Your paternal great grandparents, Gay and Leon Belmont became members in the early days of the community, in the 1950s. Your grandma Brenda, and your late g’pa John of blessed memory, were married here in 1957. Your dad was Barmitzvah here; your dear parents were married here, and your brother Zachary was Barmitzvah here three years ago.

This is quite a record, Gregory, and I am sure that you are very proud if it. Certainly the confidence with which you read your portions this morning suggested that you truly felt at home in your and your family’s synagogue.

In addition to grandma Brenda, whom we have mentioned, we also welcome your maternal grandparents, Nina and David, who have been respected members of Palmers Green shul for over 40 years, as well as all the other members of your family and all your friends gathered here today to wish you well.

I have no doubt that your strong Jewish identity, nurtured I am sure by your JFS school, will prompt you to follow closely in the footsteps of your older brother Zachary, and take an active part in our youth, educational and leadership programmes. You already attend SMILE, and I’m sure you will also go on to FILE – unless by then it is called by some similar-sounding acronym dreamed up by Rabbi Shaw, such as MILE, PILE, BILE, who knows?

I know, Gregory, that although you may come over as a fairly quiet and reserved young man, you do have a great sense of fun, as well as quite extraordinary powers of observation. Unlike most of your peers, you don’t watch much TV, but prefer to spend as much time as possible out of doors. You are practical and patient, and can spend hours repairing and cleaning your remote controlled car. You enjoy your trampoline in the garden, and playing tennis and golf, and, according to your mum, although I have to admit I didn’t hear it from your lips, you enjoy school and its discipline. So, it is clear to me that you have the right values and a clear sense of priorities.

And one of the messages that I wish to extract from your Barmitzvah sidrah is about values and priorities. I refer to the story that I’m sure you’ve learnt about the manna, the heavenly food that God sent each day to feed and nourish the Israelites and to stop them dying of starvation in the bleak desert.

But the Israelites could not appreciate just what a miracle was being performed for them, and they started to hallucinate about all the delicious delicacies that they dreamed they had enjoyed in Egypt. We know that they had to make do with matzah, bread of affliction, and that they had no money to purchase delicacies; but when they looked back on their time in Egypt, they suddenly had this idealistic vision of sitting at banquets of the finest and freshest of fish, fruit and vegetables. And they came murmuring against Moses and crying and lamenting outside their tents.

This is what we mean, Gregory, by misguided values and priorities. What did they expect in the desert? Fish, fruit and vegetables? Not for a moment did they face the reality that they were on their way, through a desert, to the achievement of their freedom, and that, to reach The Promised Land, when they would indeed enjoy all those delicacies, they had, of necessity, to endure some inconvenience. It is like a Jewish prisoner in jail complaining that the authorities were not ordering a Kae Feng take-away for him! The Israelites should have been more than satisfied that food of any kind was provided for them. Perhaps this is what our rabbis meant when they said, Eisehu ashir, hasameach b’chelko, “Who is a wealthy man? He that is content with what he has.”

You know, Gregory, our present generation is probably the least content of any generation in the history of man. No one seems satisfied with what they have, because no sooner have they acquired it when an up-dated, more sophisticated, greater capacity, version hits the market. We have no relationship with the things, and often the people, around us. We are the ‘throw away society.’ So no one is totally content with what they are given, with what they achieve, with the designer goods they are wearing. Everyone is on the look out for the up-dated version, for the way they can be one-up on their friends and neighbours. No one has the time to enjoy what they have, because no sooner than they have unwrapped it, when someone is advertising or telling them about what they are missing.

That is the message I would like you to take away from your sidrah, the message of the murmurers.

Gregory, never be a murmurer. Be content with and enjoy to the full what you have; share what you have with others. Value the things in life that are of eternal value, and that do not evaporate with changing fashion. Value human beings, value family, value knowledge, value friendship, value values, of kindness, of truth, of tolerance, of love. Above all, value your relationship with your God, with your Torah, with Israel. Be a same’ach b’chelkekha, someone who is content with what he possesses, whatever its size or value, and who never envies the possessions of others.

May you grow up to be content and blessed in every way, and a source of continued pride to your dear parents, grandparents and family, to your community and your people.