Some people just never learn. Pharoah had been given opportunity after opportunity to allow his Jewish citizens the right to emigrate so that they could worship G-d. Despite repeated warnings about the severe consequences that would follow his disobedience-and the actual fulfillment of these warnings-Pharaoh stubbornly refused to budge. Economic ruin and physical deprivation was his and his people's lot. Finally, at the stroke of midnight, every Egyptian household suffers the loss of a child. At this point even Pharaoh has had enough. "Get moving", he said. "Get out from among my people - you and the Israelites! Go! Worship G-d just as you demanded" (Shemot 12:31).
One would think this would be the last we hear of Pharaoh and the Egyptian people. Alas, this was not to be. "And it was told to the King of Egypt (as if he didn't already know) that the people had fled; Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds regarding the people and said, what have we done? How could we have released Israel from doing our work?" (14:5). Had the Egyptians not yet learned their lesson? Did they really think they could get their free labour back?
Unfortunately, this memory loss afflicted the Jewish people as well. Despite G-d's benevolence and clear outstretched hand, they tested G-d at every moment. The Jewish people consisting of approximately 3,000,000 men, women and children left Egypt in broad daylight with the gold and silver of their former masters. Surely they had nothing to fear from their former taskmasters. Yet Pharaoh foolishly chased them and did so with a scant 600 chariots. Even without the hand of G-d on their side, the Egyptians would have been no match for the Jews. And yet the Jewish people "became very frightened and cried up to G-d, saying to Moshe: Weren't there enough graves in Egypt ?" (14:11). What audacity, lack of faith and ingratitude, after all that they had witnessed.
Nonetheless, G-d split the sea for them while drowning the Egyptians, allowing the Jewish people to safely continue their journey. While they did sing a song of praise to G-d they were back to their complaining ways a mere three days later. "The people complained to Moshe: What shall we drink?" (15:24). A mere three weeks later they began to wax nostalgic for the 'wonderful' life they had in Egypt : "there at least we could sit by pots of meat and eat our fill of bread" (16:3). G-d patiently provides them with food and water yet again upon their arrival at Rephidim, as the Jewish people were once again complaining "Give us water to drink". Moshe, exasperated, cries out to G-d, "What shall I do for this people?" (17:4).
Complaining is quite easy. Without a resolve to act, complaining becomes the preferred mode of "action". It is a much easier route and one that allows one to avoid actually doing something about the issue at hand. But it is quite a useless and counterproductive approach. Thus G-d said to Moshe, "Why are you crying out to me? Speak to the Israelites and let them start moving" (14:15). You have a problem, do something about it. Move forward. Even Torah study gains much of its importance from the fact that it leads to action.
Unfortunately we live in a world where it is hard to find people of action, and when we do find them, they are often the target of our complaints. Committees, sub-committees, meetings, more meetings, royal commissions, studies and reports are often methods used to stifle action. The appearance is that of something being done but often these are methods used to delay and defer taking meaningful action.
It is understandable that slaves complain; they are unable to act to better their positions. Free people are enjoined to act. "And it is not study that is most important but practice" (Pirkei Avot 1:17). Action involves work, work that is often difficult and unappreciated. But such is the purpose of freedom. May we be up to the task.