Rabbi Mark Kunis’ 2021 Rosh Hashanah Message
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Rabbi Mark Kunis’ 2021 Rosh Hashanah Message

Read community insights, perspectives and opportunities seen as we enter into the 5782/ 2021 New Year.

Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis
Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis

21 Day No Complaint Challenge

Undoubtedly, the main character of this past year has been the Coronavirus. After the easing of restrictions following the distribution of the vaccine, the new Delta variant has brought new cases and hospitalizations close to all-time highs. And so there has been a heated debate this summer as to whether shuls should be open for the High Holy Days and under what conditions. I decided to get the advice of the medical community. Here’s what they were saying:

The Allergists were in favor of scratching it.

The Gastroenterologists had sort of a gut feeling about it.

The Obstetricians were certain we were laboring under a misconception.

The Ophthalmologists considered the idea shortsighted.

The Psychiatrists thought the whole idea was madness.

The Cardiologists didn’t have the heart to say, “No!”

In my shul, since just about everyone is vaccinated, we’re planning to mask up and pray for a good year.

Since we’ve had so much to complain about during this pandemic, I looked for a way to challenge our culture of complaint. It’s 21 days from Rosh Hashanah till Simchat Torah — the end of the Jewish holidays. I’d like to challenge you to stop complaining about anything — not your children, your spouse, your extended family, your gardener, your mailman, Netflix, Facebook, your friends, and so on. Just stop your kvetching NOW and take my “21-day-no-complaint challenge.”

I got the idea from Reverend Will Bowen, author of “A Complaint Free World: How to Stop Complaining and Start Enjoying the Life You Always Wanted.” As Bowen writes: “Complaining is an epidemic that is destroying our happiness, relationships, health, and success.” It’s estimated that on average, we make 15-30 complaints a day and 30-40% of our conversations consist of complaining. Bowen had started a revolution. Eleven million people in 106 countries have taken the 21-day challenge.

When we complain, our brain activity is rewired, we find it harder to identify the positive, and so we dwell more on the negative. Unchecked, this can spiral and place us in a world of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. But when we remove the complaints and negativity the opposite happens: we become happier, more content with our lives and find gratitude in what we do have, rather than focusing on what we don’t have. Since Rosh Hashanah is about doing teshuva and changing ourselves for the better, this is a great time to accept this challenge.

We Jews are famous for complaining — or, as we say, kvetching. Would it startle you to know that according to our sages, kvetching is a sin — and not just a sin, but a great sin. Rabbi Avraham Pam, z”l, taught that we learn this lesson from the creation of human beings on the 6th day, where G-d said, v’hiney tov m’od, “G-d saw all that He created and behold — it was very good.”

Very good? Do you know what happened on the sixth day? The Midrash says Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden fruit and were thrown out of the Garden of Eden; and Cain killed his brother Abel! And yet G-d says it was very good! In other words, G-d was saying, “I could complain, but you don’t build a world by complaining. Rather you do it by recognizing the good, by how wonderful things are.”

My son, Rabbi Joshua Kunis, asked his 92-year-old grandmother Tzivia — a Holocaust survivor — how she was handling the pandemic. She said, “After everything I’ve been through to survive the Holocaust, I’ve learned that we have to thank Hashem for everything He gives us.” She proceeded to talk about how difficult things were then and how good they are now:

There were stay-at-home orders, but you can stay at home and be in your own bed? No bunker? No ghetto? No sleeping under a pigsty? You can go to sleep at night and expect to find yourself and your family in the same place in the morning? You can take a hot shower and sleep with air conditioning without worrying that Nazis with guns are looking for you? You have shoes? No holes? More than one pair? Really?

You see, it’s all a matter of perspective.

My friends, sometimes people don’t realize that their complaint is someone else’s dream. People complain about their children — that they don’t listen to them or that they’re having a difficult time at school. I know people … for them just to have a child is a dream. Once someone came to me and complained that he lost $750,000 in one week in the stock market. I asked him, “Do you have $750,000 left?” And when he told me, “Yes,” I told him, “I know of people who dream of being able to lose $750,000 in a week and still have $750,000.” Your complaint is their dream. What are you complaining about?

My friends, even good people take blessings for granted. They forget that there’s so much good in their lives. On Rosh Hashanah we must rid ourselves of the great sin of kvetching and serve G-d without complaints. So, unload your complaints on Rosh Hashanah and leave them behind till at least Simchat Torah. Instead, come to shul and count your blessings. Amen!

Rabbi Mark Kunis is the rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim and author of “Dancing With God: How to Connect With God Every Time You Pray.”

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